Rishi Sunak vs. Keir Starmer: How do they measure up in the eyes of voters? | PoliticsNews

The mood music in Westminster is that Rishi Sunak will win the Tory leadership contest and become the next prime minister of the UK.

This could be the right decision for the Conservative Party, if the most recent YouGov poll is to be believed.

Released just this morning it says voters familiar with all three candidates favor the former chancellor over Penny Mordaunt, who remains in the race, and Boris Johnson, who dropped out late last night.

But there are two stings in the tail for Mr Sunak and his colleagues.

Sunak tight-lipped as he arrives in Westminster – live updates

Firstly, it would be fairer to describe him as the least unpopular candidate.

While 36% of those surveyed said they had a “favourable” opinion of him – compared to 34% for Ms Mordaunt and 30% for Mr Johnson – 64% said they had an “unfavourable” one – slightly lower than the 67% and 70 % for the Commons leader and former prime minister.

Secondly, his net favorability of -28 still trails behind Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, who with the same group of voters is only at -12.

In fact, another poll released yesterday by Redfield and Wilton Strategies showed it would be a much closer contest between Sir Keir and Mr Johnson.

Asked who would be the better prime minister, 42% favored the Labor leader compared to 39% for the former prime minister.

The gap widened between Sir Keir and Mr Sunak – 44% to 33% – and widened further still between him and Ms Mordaunt – 49% to 22%.

The former chancellor took a stronger lead over the Labor leader when it was just 2019 Conservative voters surveyed, with 58% saying he’d make a better prime minister to Sir Keir’s 25%.

But Mr Johnson was even further ahead among this group, with 69% saying he would be the superior choice over 19% for Sir Keir.

There was a similar conclusion from YouGov’s polling on Friday.

Mr Sunak came out on top of the three candidates who were then expected to enter the Tory leadership race – with 43% saying he would do a good job, compared to 34% for Mr Johnson and 26% for Ms Mordaunt.

And he was the only candidate whose percentage for doing a good job was higher than those who thought they would do a bad job – 40% for Mr Sunak, 56% for Mr Johnson and 35% for Ms Mordaunt.

But yet again, the public preferred the Labor leader to all three, with 43% choosing him over the former chancellor, who got the backing of 34%.


Numerous polls taken during the chaos of the last few weeks have put Labor on eye-watering leads over the Conservatives, with the highest claiming they were 36 points ahead – unheard of since the days of Tony Blair.

So some Tories are understandably worried about the steep hill the party has to climb to win back voters before the next election comes around.

Writing in the Times, former chancellor Sajid Javid said the long-term consequences of a Labor victory would be “disastrous”, adding: “We know that support for proportional representation, a lower voting age of sixteen, and changes to rules on political donations is deep-rooted within Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.

“We would be left in the political wilderness for years under a series of coalition governments.”

Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid leaves his home in south west London following his resignation on Tuesday.  Picture date: Wednesday July 6, 2022.
Sajid Javid issued a warning to his party to unite behind the new leader

Mr Javid believes Mr Sunak is the right man to “provide the leadership that we desperately need”, but he said it would be up to MPs and members to “set aside their differences and look to the future”.

“If we cannot do that, and unite behind Rishi, the party as we know it will be on the cusp of an extinction-level event.”

But what wider direction should Mr Sunak take to get the public back onside?

According to the Conservative think tank Onward, it is about breaking away from so-called Trussonomics and moving back to the center ground on the economy to win back the voters they have lost.

According to its research, those who have moved away from the Tories since 2019 lean to the left on economic policy, with strong support for the state intervening to tackle low pay and rising inequality, and for tax and spend, especially when it comes to taking from large businesses to fund the likes of the NHS.

Meanwhile, tax cuts are only popular in 15% of constituencies across the country, and culture war issues around being “woke” or gender identities are not a priority.

Onward survey

“Liz Truss misunderstood Britain,” said Onward’s chief data analyst James Blagden. “The next prime minister cannot make the same mistake.”

He said it may be “unpalatable” to some in the party, but voters care about well-funded public services and stagnating wages “rather than waiting for growth to trickle down”, and they want the government to “proactively reduce the gap between rich and poor”.

Mr Blagden added: “The result of the last leadership election and the libertarian experiment that followed brought the Conservative Party close to oblivion.

“If MPs and members hope to survive as a serious fighting force then they cannot make this mistake again. They need to listen to the electorate.”


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