What do we know about the Conservative Party leadership election? [First Round]

Dr David Jeffery
Jun 4 · 7 min read

This information in this is correct as of 17:00, 13/06/2018. As the first round has already taken place, this blog post won’t be updated — although the figures might be, so if the text doesn’t fully match the graph, that’s why!

If you’re interested in reading an academic journal article I’ve written about the 2016 Conservative leadership election, click here!

The contest to be the next leader of the Conservative Party — and hence the next prime minister — has begun.

10 candidates managed to clear the first hurdle of submitting nomination forms with the backing of 8 MPs. They are favourite Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock, Mark Harper, Rory Stewart, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom.

The first round saw three of those candidates eliminated since they failed to reach the 5% support threshold (16 ballots). They are Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper, and Esther McVey.

This blog will outline the geographic, social, and ideological splits in support as it currently stands, drawing on the Guido Fawkes data.

The Field

We’ll start with a brief overview of the field, as it stands. I’ve assumed that candidates would support themselves, although in the crazy world of the Conservative Party, that assumption might not hold…

The chart below shows the current level of support for each candidate, with data taken from Guido Fawkes’ blog and ConHome’s guesstimates. I prefer Guido’s, for the simple reason that it is based on explicit declarations. Click on the Actual Results/Guido/ConHome/Sky button to see the differences in predictions, and you can hover over the dots for more information.

So far, it seems that support does not have a geographic bent to it — although if you can notice one, do let me know! (You can click through to the full map here)

(Ps. Hold down Ctrl to zoom. Sorry about the colours, but with so many candidates and only so many colours the eye can process, there’s not much I can do. Don’t come for me, blame evolution.)


Link to the interactive table is here. The parliamentary Conservative Party is 20% female — unsurprisingly both female candidates have a greater-than-proportionate share of women making up their supporters, but so does Dominic ‘not-a-feminist’ Raab.

In fact, women are more likely to have backed a candidate than male MPs have — and only Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, and Mark Harper have fewer women as a proportion of their total support than the party as a whole.


Link to the interactive table is here.

If we look at where candidates are drawing support from, a few interesting trends emerge.

Just 13% of Conservative MPs represent constituencies in the North of England, despite accounting for 24% of constituencies. On the upside, the Conservatives as a whole are doing better than Leadsom, who has no supporters in the North of England. McVey draws 33% of her support from the North of England (including herself, in Tatton), and Rory Stewart draws 25% of his support.

Middle and South England throw up few surprises — Harper and Raab underperform in the former and overperform in the latter, whilst the reverse is true for Javid and Stewart.

Gove’s support is Scotland-heavy, although he fails to win any support in Wales — of 8 Conservative MPs, 3 have backed Johnson, 1 Raab, 1 Javid, and 3 are keeping us guessing. For now.

Who are new MPs supporting?

Link here.

Note: New MP means those who had never been an MP before entering in 2017 — so, Esther McVey and Zac Goldsmith are not included in the above.

Of the big hitters, we can see that Gove and Hancock are doing disproportionately well from those who entered the House of Commons under PM May, whereas Javid and Harper are both drawing a large amount of their support from those who entered under Cameron.

Johnson’s support looks like a microcosm of the PCP more broadly.


There are a fair few ways to measure the Euroscepticism of MPs— so I’m going to use a fair few of them.


Everyone’s favourite, we can look at support for candidates based on how they voted in the 2016 referendum. Link here.

Of the Big Four, Johnson and Raab have won over more Leave MPs and Gove and Hunt have won over more Remain MPs. Javid and Hancock seem to be fighting it out for fifth based on the support of Remain MPs.

The bottom three candidates see their support being much more biased than most of the leading candidates; Stewart on the Remain side, McVey and Leadsom on the Leave side. The key question here is where will their support go, when they are inevitably knocked out?

At the moment, no candidate is drawing equal or proportionate support from Leavers and Remainers.

Euroscepticism Score

The next measure is a Euroscepticism Score, based on the series of indicative votes held in the House of Commons at the end of March. This is taken from the Twitter feed of Alexandre Afonso:

I’ve taken this data and put it in the below chart — link to a full-screen version here. You can click on the labels at the top to remove those MPs from the chart.

Interestingly, we can see that of the main candidates, Raab has the most concetrated support — he draws overwhelmingly from those who have a higher Euroscepticism score. Johnson has the widest spread, with Gove failing to win over the most Eurosceptic MPs, and Hunt scooping up more Remainers.

We can also present the same data in a bubble chart — because why not? Link here. This scatter chart shows us candidate’s average Euroscepticism score vs the average Euroscepticism score of their supporters, with the size of the bubble representing their level of support. You can click the legend at the top to remove certain candidates.

There is a positive correlation. Unsurprisingly, it seems like the more Eurosceptic candidates are picking up Eurosceptic MPs as supporters — who’d have thought it?

We can see two clusters emerge —those who were in government for the bulk of the Brexit drama (Gove, Hancock, Hunt, Javid and Leadsom) and those who were not (Johnson, Raab, Harper and McVey).

Interestingly, those MPs who remain undeclared sit closer to the less-brexity candidates — however, this might just be a function of there being more cabinet/government ministers who are yet to declare, and hence who would have had restricted voting behaviour due to collective responsibility (yes, it still exists).

Meaningful Votes

Link here. Raab and Johnson seem to have won over the largest chunk of ‘no meaningful votes’, whilst Gove, Hunt, Hancock and Stewart are supported by those who are most likely to support it.

Shame the Commons won't.

Party Politics


This measure of loyalty is taken from The Public Whip, which measures it as:

a vote against the majority vote by members of the MP’s party. Unfortunately this will indicate that many members have rebelled in a free vote. Until precise data on when and how strongly each party has whipped is made available, there is no true way of identifying a “rebellion”. We know of no heuristics which can reliably detect free votes.

So, in a situation where the Government whips one way, but backbenchers are having none of it and rebel in greater numbers, then it is the Government MPs who will be classed as rebels. Until better data becomes available, the below chart should be read with that in mind. Link here.

Joyously, I’ve had to delete Ken Clarke from this analysis because he rebelled so much that he skewed the whole chart. His rebellion rate was 24%. YOLO indeed.

Confidence Vote on Theresa May

Link here.

Of the big four, Raab seems to be picking up the support of those who did not support May in her confidence vote in December — aka the hardliners — while Gove and Hunt seem to be picking up loyalists.

European Reform Group

Arguably the UK’s most influential — yet uncool — group. Link here.

Raab’s strong showing here is probably linked to the above chart.

2016 Leadership Vote

Link here.

There are a few things I like here — the first is that Boris Johnson currently has the support of MORE MPs who supported Michael Gove in 2016 than Michael Gove had (7 to 6), and Raab is level pegging with the Govester.

Johnson and Raab both have more 2016 Leadsom supporters than Leadsom has now — and they’re not even mothers! This is quite strange, considering Leadsom has had a fairly decent three years in the Commons too. It probably shows the lack of serious leavers in the 2016 contest.

The Payroll Vote

Despite mass resignations, there are still some MPs in government. How did they vote?

Electoral Politics

You can make this chart a touch simpler by clicking on the legend to remove some candidates. Circles mean the MP voted Leave, crosses mean they voted Remain. Diamonds? Unknown.

Constituency leave votes and 2017 GE performance

Link here. This chart shows the constituency leave vote across the x-axis and the change in Conservative vote share from 2015 to 2017. The average values for each are shown by the dotted line.

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern here. In the bottom left quadrant — the remain constituencies which saw a reduction. or a less than average increase, in vote share, there is support for each of the Big Four, including Dominic Raab.

Similarly, in the top right quadrant — leave areas where the Conservative vote share increased, each of the Big Four also put up a decent showing — although it’s notable that Hunt’s support there comes from Remainer MPs, whilst Raab’s comes from Leavers, and Johnson and Gove’s support is more mixed.

Conservative lead over Labour in 2017 and Conservative lead over UKIP in 2015

Link here. I included this chart, which shows the Conservative lead over Labour in 2017 on the x-axis and Conservative lead over UKIP in 2015 (as a proxy for the ‘latent’ threat from the Brexit Party) on the y-axis because I thought it might be interesting. It isn’t, sadly.

If we look at the Big Four once again, there’s no real pattern of who is in the bottom left quarter — constituencies where the Conservatives were under threat from UKIP in 2015 and from Labour in 2017.

If there is any information you’d like to see here, DM me (@DavidJeffery_) or email me at djeffery[@]liverpool.ac.uk.

Dr David Jeffery

Written by

Lecturer in British Politics @LivUniPol. I research voting behaviour, populism, and local government. Hobbies include triathlon, parkrun, and acting.

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