Rishi Sunak faces struggle to retain both red wall and blue wall voters
Rishi Sunak will struggle to retain the support of both wings of the Conservative party’s 2019 coalition after next week’s autumn statement, with “red wall” and “blue wall” voters starkly divided over what they want on the economy and the cost of living.
A report by the thinktank More in Common reveals the prime minister is winning back blue wall voters who had abandoned the Tories under Boris Johnson over Brexit and Partygate, with the same proportion (45%) as in 2019 now saying they would back the party, despite a 16-point swing against the Tories among the wider public.
However, the research also found that typical red wall voters had not warmed to his government. While 56% of this group backed the Tories in 2019, fewer than a third (32%) said they would do so today, according to a poll by Public First for the report, titled Sunak’s Choice.
The findings, which will heighten the fears among some Tory MPs that Sunak is poorly placed to retain the red wall vote, means that for the first time since the 2017 election Labour is ahead of the Tories among that group of voters on 41% support.
While only 18% of blue wall voters said they would never vote Conservative, double that (36%) in the red wall said they would never vote for Sunak’s party.
Sunak faces a bigger challenge from the Lib Dems in the blue wall, with 37% of voters there saying there was a “reasonable chance” they would back them, while 35% said the same about the Tories and 24% about Labour.
The difficulty of the prime minister’s task next week is underlined by varying expectations of the autumn statement. Those in the blue wall tend to be more supportive of public spending cuts, by 64% to 39%, than voters in the red wall, who believe there is no mandate. The majority of Britons want health, pensions and education protected from cuts.
However, red wall voters prefer spending cuts (39%) over tax rises (25%) as the best way to balance the books. Support for tax-raising measures is significantly lower in blue wall areas. But there is relatively strong support across the UK for increasing windfall taxes, income taxes on high earners and corporation taxes on business.
Red wall voters want more help with the cost of living, with nearly seven in 10 (69%) saying that too little is being done. But those in more traditional Tory areas disagree, with 58% saying either “enough” or “too much” is being done to help. Red wall voters blame the government for the cost of living crisis, while those in the blue wall do not.
Support for increasing benefits is higher in blue wall areas, where voters are more likely to say they should rise with inflation (38%) than red wall voters (35%). A majority of Britons (51%) think benefits should either only be increased in line with wages (33%) or not increased at all (18%), while four in 10 think benefits should rise in line with inflation (40%).
Significant numbers of red wall voters think Sunak is “out of touch with people like me” (58%), puts the interest of rich people first (55%) and will do what is best for himself rather than the country (50%). In focus groups his personal wealth continues to be raised as a reason that red wall voters do not think he can relate.
Luke Tryl, the director of More in Common, said: “The budget will define the Sunak premiership and it’s clear he has a choice to make. Does he continue to shore up support with more traditional Tory voters in the blue wall, who are flocking back to the party under his leadership?
“Or does he try and repair his standing with red wall voters who aren’t convinced he’s in touch with their lives and struggles? Our polling finds these two groups want to hear quite different things from the chancellor next week and it’s hard to see how the government keeps both sides of the Tory camp happy.”