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Here’s how Labour can win election by backing People’s Vote

by Peter Kellner | 21.09.2018

Peter Kellner is former president of YouGov.

Labour could win over 1.5 million new voters and gain more than 60 seats by campaigning for a public vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Here’s how the numbers stack up.

This is based on an exceptionally large sample of 10,215 people, polled by YouGov on behalf of the People’s Vote campaign between August 28 and September 4. Half of them said that the EU will be the single biggest issue facing Parliament this autumn. If you scale up YouGov’s data to the whole electorate, that means Brexit is the most important issue for 20 million people.

This Brexit-focused group was then asked if they would be “more likely or less likely to vote Labour if it supported a public vote on the outcome of [the Brexit] negotiations?”

7.4 million said they would either definitely vote Labour, or be more likely to vote Labour. But 10.5 million would either definitely not or be less likely to vote Labour.

This looks like bad news for advocates of a People’s Vote. But hang on, don’t forget these numbers include two groups that need to be stripped away if we’re to get a more realistic picture:

  • Those who currently support Labour anyway and are pro-referendum (4.6 million people). Labour backing a People’s Vote would strengthen their loyalty, but not add new supporters to the party’s overall tally. Taking them away leaves 2.8 million non-Labour voters who say that Labour backing a People’s Vote would increase their chances of voting Labour.
  • Those non-Labour voters who would be deterred by a People’s Vote campaign (10.3 million voters). Most of these will be committed pro-Leave Conservatives. Once they’re taken out, that leaves 200,000 current Labour supporters whom the party is at risk of losing.

So we’re left with 3 million voters in play: 2.8m non-Labour voters who might be attracted to the party if it backed a People’s Vote, and 200,000 party supporters who might desert it.

Now it gets a little fiddly. In a separate question, we asked people how likely they were to vote Labour at the next election.

Comparing responses to the two questions, we found that just over 1 million voters gave the rather confusing answers that they would: a) “probably not” or “definitely not” consider voting Labour; but b) then go on to say they would be attracted to Labour if it backed a People’s Vote.

Now there is a case for including some of these 1 million people as possible Labour voters. However, I prefer a more cautious approach and have excluded them all.

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In other words, to qualify as a potential new vote for Labour, a person must meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • Consider Brexit to be the biggest issue facing MPs this autumn;
  • Not be a current Labour supporter;
  • Say they “will seriously” or “might” consider voting Labour at the next election; AND
  • Say they are “more likely to” or “definitely will” vote Labour if it campaigns for a People’s Vote.

These are deliberately far more restrictive criteria than normally apply to “more likely” projections. It is therefore striking that even this cautious calculation still yields significant gains for Labour – about 1.75 million.

But we still haven’t knocked off the voters who might desert Labour. A substantial minority of Labour supporters voted Leave in 2016. Many Labour MPs have clocked this and fear that support for a referendum could cost them votes at the next election.

But YouGov’s figures do not bear this out. Of the 2.6 million Labour Leavers who cropped up in the YouGov poll, only 6% put Brexit at the top of their concerns and say they would not, or be less likely to, vote Labour if the party backed a popular vote. This is just 2% of all Labour supporters, or just 200,000 voters in all.

In other words, the non-Labour voters that the party could win over outnumber the Labour voters that the party risks losing by almost nine to one.

Subtract the 200,000 voters at risk from the 1.75 million that the party stands to win over, the net gain is 1.5 million new voters. That works out at 2,400 voters per seat.

On those figures, Labour stands to gain around 50 seats from the Conservatives and up to 16 from the SNP. Applying these changes to the result of last year’s election, Labour would have 328 seats and a small overall majority. The Conservatives would be down to 268 seats and the SNP 19.

Like all such hypothetical exercises, different ways of asking the questions and doing the sums will yield different results. But the nine-to-one gulf between the non-Labour target voters and the at-risk Labour supporters leaves no doubt that by backing a popular vote on Brexit, the party would end up making significant gains in votes and seats. In a tight general election it could make the difference between returning to government and remaining in opposition.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “Here’s how Labour can win election by backing People’s Vote”

  • Labour is not a trusted party in this matter because of a long period of sitting on the fence about Brexit and having a leader who deludedly thinks the EU is not democratic (enough?) and who supported leaving. Anyone who wants the certainty of a political party that supports a vote on Brexit should not go to Labour but the LibDems. Anything else is supporting yet another fudge.