Tories begin election campaign trailing Labour by 20 points in polls

The Conservatives begin the General Election campaign trailing Labour in the opinion polls by around 20 percentage points – as they have done for most of the last 18 months.

An average of polls for the seven days to May 22 puts Labour on 45%, the Conservatives on 24%, Reform on 11%, the Liberal Democrats on 10% and the Greens on 7%.

The gap between Labour and the Tories is typical of the lead Sir Keir Starmer’s party has enjoyed since the autumn of 2022, when the 49-day premiership of Liz Truss saw the government’s poll ratings slide from the low 30s to the mid 20s.

(PA Graphics)

There has been no significant movement in the polls by the two main parties for the past year-and-a-half, with the Conservatives’ weekly average remaining below 30% while Labour has stayed above 40%.

The ratings for the Lib Dems and Greens have also remained stable, at around 10% and 6% respectively.

The one new development in recent months has been the rise in popularity of the Reform party, which was averaging around 6% in summer 2023 and is now close to double that rating, at 11%.

The story of the polls over the course of this parliament has been one of two halves.

The first period lasted from the general election in December 2019 to December 2021, and saw the Conservatives mostly ahead of Labour, sometimes by a large margin – for example, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – and sometimes narrowly or level-pegging.

Conservative top 20 targets at General Election
(PA Graphics)

Then came the “partygate” scandal, which broke at the end of the 2021, since then, Labour has been consistently ahead of the Tories.

Labour’s lead swelled briefly to 30 points in October 2022, during Liz Truss’ short tenure as prime minister, but has been around 20 points since Rishi Sunak succeeded her as PM.

The lack of movement in the polls for such a long period does not necessarily mean this trend will continue during the election campaign.

Once voters start to be bombarded with leaflets, videos, posters and social media messages – and become more aware about what the parties stand for – attitudes can change.

This happened most recently at the 2017 general election, which was called by Conservative prime minister Theresa May when her party was around 20 points ahead in the polls, only for that lead to dwindle to single figures by polling day.

Opinion polls are snapshots of the prevailing public mood, not projections or forecasts.

With the election not due to take place until July 4, there is plenty of time for the numbers to change – something that is likely to give all parties cause for both hope and concern right up until the moment voters have their say.