Sunak’s Hail Mary Plan to Cut Poll Gap to Labour Falls Flat

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak has failed to make a dent in the large polling lead enjoyed by Keir Starmer’s Labour Party in the first two weeks of the UK general election campaign, suggesting the premier and his governing Conservative Party remain on course for a landslide defeat.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Labour’s lead stood at 21.9 points on Wednesday — marginally higher than the 21.4-point gap two weeks ago, when Sunak sprung a surprise by calling the election for July 4. That’s according to Bloomberg’s polling composite — a rolling 14-day average using data from 11 UK polling companies.

The lack of early movement in the polls shows Sunak’s strategy, which Bloomberg previously reported was to try to win back core Conservative voters and those considering backing the right-wing Reform UK party with a policy blitz in the first two weeks of the campaign, has so far not delivered.

Since calling the vote, Sunak has pledged to bring back national service, issued a tax guarantee for pensioners and promised to cap immigration — policies aimed at coaxing back voters who backed the Conservatives at the 2019 election but are now undecided, as well as convincing those sympathetic to Reform to choose the Tories.

Tory strategists’ thinking was that this approach could quickly narrow Labour’s consistently large poll lead showing the opposition party on course for a big majority, giving Sunak some momentum into the final four weeks before polling day. But the polling composite shows no indication the strategy has paid off, with little evidence voters are changing their views based on the opening skirmishes.

In an effort to find a game-changer, Sunak is now considering further measures such as cutting inheritance tax and taking a harder line on Britain’s relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights — a bugbear of some right-wingers. Both the Conservative and Labour manifestos are expected to be published next week.

But Tory aides have privately warned that going after their core vote so obviously risked alienating other undecided voters in the middle ground and pushing them toward Labour, nixing any chance of narrowing the opposition party’s poll lead.

What’s more, the return of Brexit architect Nigel Farage as Reform’s leader this week — which surprised many in Westminster including Sunak’s strategists — as well as his decision to stand as a candidate in Clacton, eastern England, means it’s possible the insurgent party shores up or even increases its own vote share in future polls.

There was no clear winner in the first televised debate between Sunak and Starmer on Tuesday night. Of three snap polls released in the hours after the debate, one had Sunak shading the debate, while the other two suggested Starmer won, implying that there was no knockout moment for either candidate. But given his polling deficit, it’s Sunak who needs one the most.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.