The Copeland test: Labour’s core vote

Copeland is core vote country: Labour should win comfortably and the Tories should struggle.

Copeland has a lot of working class voters. They make up 56% of the constituency, compared to an average of 45% for England and Wales (source).

Copeland should be stony ground for the Tories. In the middle of a second-term Tory Government, Copeland should be easy for Labour.

However Labour’s core vote is in crisis. It is collapsing on a scale that is worse than any point in history.

Labour’s working class support ebbs and flows but it has never been lower.

Source: Pollsters categorize the ‘working class’ as skilled-workers (C2) and semi-skilled, un-skilled & non-workers (DE). This graph shows C2 and DE ratings according to IPSOS MORI surveys, 1974–2010, 2015, and 2017.

By contrast, working class support for the Tories is higher than it has been since the 1980s.

Source: as above.

Take a look at what is happening with skilled workers. Labour only wins General Elections when it pushes the Labour C2 vote up and keeps the Tory C2 vote down. This chart shows why Labour should be terrified.

Source: as above.

The red area represents those times when Labour had more of the C2 share. There are big red areas in October 1974 and 1997–2005. The blue area shows when the Tories had more. It is currently the largest it has ever been. The Tories have a 12 point lead over Labour among C2s.

Something astonishing is happening among the working class who are semi-skilled, unskilled or out of work. Labour has always led this group comfortably, even at the lowest points in the 1980s. The latest IPSOS MORI survey puts Labour lead down to just one point.

Source: as above.

Labour’s core vote rises and falls but the drop in Labour’s working class support in the last 18 months has been catastrophic. Jeremy Corbyn may claim to represent the working class but they do not agree. Under his leadership, working class support for Labour is down to 23 points: the lowest it has ever been.

Source: YouGov. September 2015; November 2015; March 2016; July 2016; October 2016; November 2016; February 2017

Since September 2015, Labour has gone from 5 points ahead to 15 points behind the Tories among C2DEs.

Some might argue that this fall was largely driven by Brexit (or even by the Labour coup) but the big change came in the first two months of Corbyn’s leadership.

Source: YouGov. September 2015; November 2015

Working class voters looked at Corbyn and made up their minds in the first two months .On the left, in September 2015, 32% of C2DEs had no opinion on whether Corbyn was doing a good or bad job. Only 30% thought he was doing a bad job. By November 2015, only 14% didn’t know. 63% thought he was doing a bad job.

The impact on Labour’s vote share was immediate.

Source: YouGov. September 2015; November 2015

Among working class voters, Labour went from a 5 point lead to 7 points behind in the first two months of Corbyn’s leadership.

In November 2015, 63% of working class voters thought he was not up to the job. In February 2017, exactly the same proportion — 63%- have still not changed their mind.

By contrast, the change in the leadership of the Conservative Party has transformed their support among working class voters.

David Cameron put off working class voters, Theresa May does not.

In April 2016, Cameron had a net satisfaction rating among working class voters of minus 35%. 62% of them thought he was doing a bad job (nearly as many as Corbyn).

In July 2016, in her first month as Prime Minister, Theresa May’s net satisfaction rating among working class voters was +16%.

So while Labour flat-lined under Corbyn, the Tories changed their leader and their working class approval leaped by 51 points.

Worse still for Labour, whereas working class voters liked Corbyn much less after two months, they like May more now than they did in July.

Source: YouGov. July 2016. February 2017.

May’s approval rating between July 2016, on the left, and February 2017, on the right, has risen.

Labour’s problem is not only that Corbyn is driving away working class voters. Worse, they like the change in Tory leadership: even if they couldn’t vote for Cameron, they can for May.

Copeland is a test of Corbyn’s impact on the core vote.

Labour should win the seat comfortably. The Labour share should not fall. A rise in the Tory share would show that under Corbyn, Labour is losing its core.

Changing leader won’t in itself solve Labour’s core vote problem. But sticking with Corbyn is making things worse. Never has the Tory party had such a big lead among the working class. The longer Corbyn chooses to stay, the more damage he is doing to Labour’s claim to be the party of the working class.