Has Labour’s Rise Anything to do with Brexit?

Posted on 18 May 2017 by John Curtice

Until now, at least, it has not received a great deal of attention, but quietly Labour’s position in the opinion polls has strengthened during the course of the election campaign so far. In seven polls conducted in the three days immediately following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 18 April that she wished to hold an early election, Labour stood on average at just 26%. In contrast, in seven polls conducted during the last seven days the party has averaged 31%. That certainly means that, so far at least, it has fought a much more effective election campaign than it did the last time it was led by someone on the left of the party – under Michael Foot in 1983, its support slid away during the campaign, albeit from a higher starting support than the party enjoyed at the start of this campaign. As a result, Labour has more or less reversed the loss of support it suffered in the weeks and months following the EU referendum, and may now be no more unpopular than it was in 2015.

Of course, the improvement in Labour’s poll position has done no more than enable the party to play catch-up with the increase in Conservative support occasioned by the decision of many a UKIP voter to switch to Mrs May’s party in the wake of the election announcement. Labour are still 17 points behind the Conservatives, just as they were in the polls conducted shortly before the election announcement. Still, that does not mean we should not investigate why the increase in support for Labour has happened. Of particular interest to us here is whether there any evidence that the increase in Labour support has occurred primarily amongst those who voted to Remain. Given that the increase in Conservative support since the beginning of the campaign has occurred almost entirely amongst those who voted to Leave the EU, such a development would suggest this election is becoming even more of a Brexit contest.

The table below addresses this question by summarising the distribution of party support amongst Remain and Leave voters in YouGov’s polls since the beginning of March. (We use YouGov’s data because it is the company that has polled most often during this period, while it also regularly breaks down its figures by how people voted in the EU referendum.) For each of the two groups of referendum voters the table shows the average level of support for each of the four largest parties across three time periods; these are, in the six weeks immediately before the election announcement, in the fortnight immediately thereafter, and, finally, in the first half of May. Amongst voters as a whole in YouGov’s polls Labour’s support increased over this time period from 25% in March and early April, to 27% in late April, and most recently to 30%, an increase of 5 points.



First of all, we can see, in line with our previous analysis, how support for the Conservatives has increased sharply amongst those who voted Leave – from 57.5% before the election to 68% now – while support for UKIP has fallen. In contrast, Conservative support has remained more or less unchanged amongst those who voted to Remain.

However, there is not so sharp a difference between Remain and Leave voters so far as the increase in Labour support is concerned. While support for the party amongst Remain voters has increased by more since the pre-election period (an increase of 6.5 points) than it has amongst those who voted Leave (up 3 points), the difference is too small to place too much reliance on, given the chance variation to which all polling is subject. At the moment, at least it can be regarded as no more than a hint that Labour may be advancing more amongst Remain voters. Meanwhile, we should also note that, although still well below what it is amongst Remain voters, support for Labour amongst those who voted Leave is apparently now as high as it has been at any point since the EU referendum.

So, the rise in popularity that Labour is not confined to Remain voters in the way that the increase in Conservative support has occurred entirely amongst Leave voters. The party appears to have made some progress amongst both groups. Given that well over two in five voters are not clear where Labour stands on Brexit and only around one in four correctly identify the party as being in favour of a soft Brexit, this perhaps is not surprising. But the fact that Labour has managed to win over some Leave voters as well as some Remain ones is, perhaps, a reminder to the Prime Minister that while she might want voters to focus on who they think can best deliver a good deal on Brexit, it will not necessarily be the only issue in voters’ minds as they make their final choice on June 8.

John Curtice

By John Curtice

John Curtice is Senior Research Fellow at NatCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, and Chief Commentator on the What UK Thinks: EU website.

5 thoughts on “Has Labour’s Rise Anything to do with Brexit?

  1. I am trying very hard to imagine Corbyn as an effective negotiator with the EU. I am also trying very hard indeed to imagine the EU working to protect UK citizens. I am failing badly at both.

    It is certainly correct that negotiations mean that each side makes its case and then a compromise is found. But in what Galaxy would the EU’s opening bid be “Our policy is to protect you”? That would be negotiating incompetence of a very high degree. Weare past the point where we can pretend to beleive that the EU exists to protect the UK and its citizens; the daily bullying messages from Berlin are enough to make that impossible to believe.

    Similarly, in Corbyn, we have a man who has been a long-time opponent of the EU, who then got EU religion very late in the game during the referendmm campaign, but who completely failed to campaign effectively for Remain, and even announced that he had an “open mind”, only to demand an immediate invocation of A50 the day after the vote. And since then he has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of the A50 process, at different times talking about second referendums, and also seeming to think that the UK can unilaterally withdraw its A50 invocation, which is specifically counted out by the wording of A50 – in reality, we would not even have a *vote* on such an event; it would be entirely up to the other 27 with no input from us.

    Corbyn has demonstrated two different, but equally damaging kinds of confusion. He was unable to make up his mind whether EU membership was a good or a bad thing, and so managed to undercut Labour’s Remain team. And since the vote he has shown himself to be just as confused about the technical process of leaving the EU, which has led to Labour being sidelined and dismissed by the Press.

    At the end of the day, all Labour is left with is what some comments here express – a willingness to pretend to believe things we all know are not true. Maybe noble, but not very effective.Report

  2. I think Roger Kendrick may be missing the point. He asserts the “EU has and never will put UK citizens first” yet the first and principal item in the EU negotiating guidelines seeks agreement on the protection of all current citizen rights in the EU and in UK. That alone refutes his assertion. Effective negotiation requires skill in making the case for one side, in listening to the case presented by the other side AND in finding a place in the middle which each can live with. The evidence so far would suggest that Jeremy Corbyn has the strength and stability to succeed while Theresa May has an awful lot to learn.Report

  3. Kate Mann has missed the point. The EU never has and never will put UK citizens first; JC is the last person in this country capable of protecting UK citizens’ interests unless you believe that Communism is best for any citizen! Report

  4. I voted to leave the EU as I know how dangerous the EU troika is. They are going to give us an extremely hard time over Brexit. Rather than mutual threats and games, we need a PM who will negotiate strongly on behalf of this nation (and have the bottle to walk away if necessary), rather than with an eye on their future directorships and pensions. Cameron came away from negotiations with nothing, so even he has an inkling of what’s to come. I’m even starting to wonder if TM is deliberately trying to throw this election before she has to deal with those with whom no deal is likely. I’m going to vote in the GE for the first time (I’m 53). I’m voting for Labour, because the more I see of the EU’s shenanigens and hardball tactics, I feel I can only trust JC to puts his citizens first. In time, people will realise what a lucky escape we’ve had. Report

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