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The Party Leaders, 2: The Conservatives

5 July 2016

I’ve been following politics since late 1978 (I was an unusual eight-year-old). During all that time I’m fairly sure that there has never been a time when the three parties that had secured the most votes at the previous general election were all, simultaneously, having contests for the party leadership. However, that is the situation in which the UK may soon find itself.

Given this context, for the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll we thought that it made sense to ask some questions about the potential contestants for the leadership of both the Conservative and Labour parties. I’ll deal here with our findings on the Tories; a later post will look at the Labour party.

We asked two relevant questions on the Conservative leadership. First, we asked respondents to our poll:


“Which of the following do you think would make the best new Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative party?”


In the table below I’ll give three sets of results for each leadership contender. These are the percentage of our overall sample who chose that individual; the percentage of current Conservative supporters (for Westminster) who chose that person; and the percentage of those in our sample who indicated that they voted Leave in the recent referendum.


Candidate % Overall % Among Conservatives % Among Leave Voters
Theresa May 35 63 33
Stephen Crabb 10 10 12
Michael Gove 7 8 14
Andrea Leadsom 5 4 9
Liam Fox 3 3 4
Don’t Know 39 12 28


This is clearly a very strong result for Theresa May. She does very well with the sample as a whole – although it is probably unsurprising that many people were uncertain in response to this question. But among Conservative voters her performance is quite astoundingly good. Stephen Crabb comes in a respectable second place. But given that he is Welsh, and a former Secretary-of-State for Wales, he might reasonably have expected to be rather closer to the front-runner in a poll conducted solely in Wales. The other candidates all perform moderately at best. Even when we look at those who voted to leave the EU, May is well in front – although among this sub-sample Michael Gove does narrowly move into second place.

The second relevant question we asked in the poll was our standard 0-10 popularity question. We asked this about all the leadership contenders, and also about three other prominent figures in the Conservative party: David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. The table below again gives three sets of results. This time it is the percentage who simply chose Don’t Know about a leader (a broad measure of their public visibility); their average score out of ten among the whole sample; and their average score out of ten among Conservative supporters for Westminster.


  % Don’t Know Average /10 Average /10 Conservatives
David Cameron 11 3.6 7.1
Boris Johnson 11 4.1 5.9
Theresa May 19 4.7 7.3
Michael Gove 20 2.8 4.5
Andrea Leadsom 59 3.9 5.4
Stephen Crabb 33 4.1 6.1
Liam Fox 41 3.5 5.4
George Osborne 18 2.5 5.2


There are a number of things that are really interesting in these findings. The first is, once again, the strength of the position of Theresa May. She scores comfortably the best in terms of public popularity with our sample as a whole, and is also well ahead of all her fellow leadership contenders among Conservative supporters in Wales. Indeed, among Conservative supporters the only individual who approaches her level of current popularity is the current Prime Minister. David Cameron’s ratings have improved significantly in this poll, amongst Conservative supporters and over the entire sample. This possibly reflects some public sympathy for him, and also the dignified manner in which he has behaved since announcing his resignation. For him, though, it is too little and too late.

Across the whole sample, Chancellor George Osborne’s ratings are quite extraordinarily poor. Only UKIP’s Neil Hamilton has done this badly in recent Welsh experience. Yet among Conservative supporters, Osborne is still not the worst-performing individual in this poll. That dubious honour goes to Michael Gove, who is a long way behind all the other leadership contenders in popularity with current Conservative supporters. Mr Gove is actually more popular with supporters of UKIP (amongst whom he averages 4.9 out of 10) than among supporters of his own party. This is likely a reaction to recent events – both Gove’s active campaigning for Leave in the referendum, and the shenanigans that surrounded Mr Gove’s candidacy for the leadership.

The one respect in which Michael Gove does better than all the other leadership contenders except for Theresa May is public visibility. Most people know who he is – even if they don’t like him. Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and even Stephen Crabb remain anonymous to much of the Welsh public. These latter three individuals also trail well behind messrs Cameron, Osborne and Johnson in public visibility. If anyone other than May or Gove do win the Tory leadership contest, we will find ourselves with a new Prime Minister about whom large sections of the public are currently unaware.


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