Labour leadership: past member polls bode well for Keir Starmer

Polling evidence of leadership elections over the last decade suggests party members don’t change their minds much during leadership elections. The candidate who led in the first poll has always won the election:

  • In the 2019 Tory contest, three YouGov polls asked members who they would choose between Johnson and Hunt. They gave Johnson 67%, 74% and 74%. The first poll was done just over two months before the ballot closed.
  • In the 2016 Labour contest, there were two polls that asked about Corbyn and Smith. They gave Corbyn 56% among members in the first poll, and 57% in the second poll. The first poll was done just over two months before the ballot closed.
  • In the 2015 Labour contest, the first poll gave Corbyn 40% among members (a 13pt lead) and 57% among affiliates. The second poll gave him 49% (a 17pt lead) and 55% among the two groups. The first poll done was nearly two months before the ballot closed.
  • In the 2010 Labour contest, the two members polls gave Ed Miliband 38% and 38%, ahead of David on 32% and 31%. The first poll was done nearly two months before the ballot closed.

All of which is to say, Keir Starmer is in a strong position to become the next Labour leader. He’s 13pts up, on 36%, in the first poll.

One reason you could say the historical comparison doesn’t work is that this poll was done just over three months before the ballot closes, so there’s more time for a swing. But in all the contests above, the leader in the first poll extended their lead over the campaign – suggesting the swing seems to favour the front-runner.

Of course: maybe there are more unknown candidates this time so there’s more chance the electorate will like someone they didn’t already know; maybe the trauma of the election loss will unsettle members and shake things up; maybe many new members will join and the polls will have been asking the wrong people ; maybe Momentum and Unite will bring an awesome ground game that turns it around for Long-Bailey.

But Starmer’s rivals are certainly fighting uphill.


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