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Would Nationalising Railways Help Labour? New Poll of “Commuter Marginals”

A new Survation poll of 4 key “commuter belt” marginal seats has examined the impact that a rail nationalisation policies might have on the tight race in these key areas. On behalf of the RMT, between 17th-19th June Survation polled 1011 constituents by telephone across 4 key battleground seats essential for Labour to win in the pursuit of an overall 2015 majority. Seats selected were Crawley (CON), Stevenage (CON), Reading West (CON) and Milton Keynes South (CON) – all seats high on the Labour target list. They all have broadly similar demographics and a high proportion of rail commuters among their residents, which makes the issue of rail ownership highly relevant to many of the voters in these areas.


It has already been previously established in polling by Survation, YouGov and others that continued private ownership of the UK’s train operating companies is generally unpopular. In this research Survation were interested as to what extent this issue would assist a party electorally that advocated change from the current status quo.


In 2010 the Conservatives had an average lead of 10 points across these four seats. In our poll, the combined voting intention across the four Seats was as follows. Note that we have combined the voting intention across the four locations, as each individual seat only had a sample of 250 respondents, which is too low to draw a very reliable voting intention from.

CON 34% (-8)

LAB 38% (+6)

LD 2% (-15)

UKIP 19% (+15)

AP 7% (+3)


Currently Labour have a lead of 4 points across the four seats polled. Were the election tomorrow, this would be enough to probably win some, but not all, of the four (as Labour’s vote is not distributed exactly evenly across all four seats). However, just a 2 point swing nationally from Labour to the Conservatives would be enough to put these potential gains in doubt. As these seats are potentially such tight marginals, every possible 1% increase to Labour’s vote here would make a big difference.


RMT (1)


After asking constituents about their personal usage levels of their own area’s train operator, we asked

If your local train operator were under public rather than private ownership, do you think it would be better or worse run than it is today?”


– 74% of respondents that expressed an opinion (removing “don’t know”s) did not believe their service would be worse run in public hands compared to how it is run privately.

– 71% of respondents that expressed an opinion thought fare prices would be either the same or cheaper than now and over half thought fares would end up cheaper.

– 60% of all respondents expressing a view told Survation they wanted their own operator to be brought back under public ownership at the next opportunity, a view shared by 62% of Lib Dem 2010 voters, 71% of Labour 2010 voters and even 47% of 2010 Conservatives.

– When questioned, even among respondents with a view that wanted to see their own operator kept in private hands, over a third nevertheless do not believe that all the UK’s railways should be under private ownership. Meanwhile, 93% of those that did want their current operator brought back into public ownership and had a view, want fully publicly owned rail across the country.


What are the potential benefits to Labour of adopting pro-public ownership policy?


It is always difficult to judge the benefits of a single issue or policy in the way it might translate to real electoral support, as multiple factors always influence voters, but moving to oppose a continuation of the status quo of privatised rail operators seems for Labour to have a very powerful risk/reward profile.


In these key Conservative/Labour battlegrounds, 37% of current Conservative voters told Survation they wanted their local operator brought back into public ownership at the next opportunity, and of this group, 69% said they would be at least somewhat more likely to vote for a party that had such a policy. In contrast, only 22% of current Labour voters said they would rather their current operator remained in private hands and, of this smaller group, only 5% said they would be at least somewhat more likely to vote for a different party advocating private ownership rather than a Labour party that favoured public ownership.


That over a quarter of current CON voters in these 4 battleground seats are even somewhat likelier to switch parties on this issue, and the potential tiny margin of victory in these seats this policy is clearly of interest. Meanwhile there seems little to no risk of current Labour voters deserting the party over what some might have thought would be perceived as a strongly “left wing” policy. Meanwhile, another key group of Labour interest – Lib Dem 2010 voters – wanted their local operator brought back into public ownership by 55% to 25%.


UKIP supporters are another interesting factor to consider. Across all seats, 19% of voters told us they would vote UKIP in an election ‘tomorrow”. Regarding the policy at hand, this research confirms previous studies that UKIP’s support base has shifted “left” to the point where 74% of current UKIP voters that had an opinion told Survation they wanted their local rail service taken back into public ownership.  60% of this group told Survation they would be either somewhat or much more likely to vote for a party pursuing this a policy that took their own rail service back into public ownership.


In  closing, this research suggests that the only real electoral danger that this issue poses to Labour is if another party were to beat them to advocating taking train providers back into public ownership. If UKIP, for example, were to adopt rail nationalisation to add to a manifesto of populist policies, but Labour were still to back the status quo, our polling suggests that up to 28% of current Labour voters would consider defecting over this issue; something which ought to give Labour policy makers pause for thought.


Data were weighted to the profile of all adults across the 4 seats and data were weighted by age, gender and an adjustment made to account for relative constituency size. Full tables are available here.

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