27 May 2016

London election poll shows party colours matter more than skin colour in British elections

View all news

Sadiq Khan’s clear victory in being elected Mayor of London, writes Sunder Katwala, was achieved by securing a strong swing from the Conservatives among white British voters in London, according to new analysis of YouGov’s final polls of the 2016 and 2012 London elections. This was combined with a continued lead for Labour in London from ethnic minority voters – but with a narrower share of non-white votes than in 2012.

Voting in the Mayoral election of 2016 was less polarised by race than the 2012 mayoral race between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, according to British Future’s analysis of YouGov’s final polls of the 2016 and 2012 London elections.

The results show that Sadiq Khan’s pitch to govern as a ‘Mayor for all Londoners’ did resonate across white and non-white voters. Khan succeeded in appealing to a broader spread of Londoners than Ken Livingstone in 2012, when Labour relied too heavily on its appeal to ethnic minority voters. London’s choice of a British Muslim Mayor generated headlines around the world, but these results appear to confirm that ethnicity and faith were not dominant factors in the choices made by most Londoners. Party colours continue to matter much more than skin colour in British elections – and it’s clear that London’s voters see ethnic diversity as a ‘new normal’ in politics and society, rather than something exceptional.

Labour achieved a 10% swing from the Conservatives among white London voters on the final count – and a 5.5% swing on first preferences. Goldsmith was unable to hold on to floating voters and Labour voters who had voted Boris Johnson for Mayor, nor to win as many transfers from the LibDems, Greens and other candidates as his party had achieved in 2012.

Where Livingstone had trailed by 40% to 60% in 2012, Khan led Zac Goldsmith among white voters by 37% to 35% on first preferences for Mayor, and then tied 50-50 among white voters on the final count, including second preference transfers. Labour’s lead among ethnic minorities was narrower than the 76% to 24% lead reported in YouGov’s final London Mayoral poll in 2012 – so it was Khan’s advance with white Londoners which transformed Livingstone’s minority vote in defeat in 2012 into a winning coalition for Mayor in 2016.

The poll also found modest Conservative improvement in the ethnic minority vote in London between 2012 and 2016. The overall failure of the Conservative 2016 London campaign, however, reflected a failure to appeal beyond those who had voted Conservative in May 2015. Doing so was essential to run a competitive race for Mayor, given that Labour had been ahead in London in the general election – and so London Conservatives are now debating the lessons for how to extend their reach if they are to win in the capital again.

Ethnic minority voters have rising electoral power but demographics are not political destiny. Parties who want to get elected will increasingly need to appeal to voters across all ethnic and faith groups, and to govern in a way which finds common ground.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign was controversial and has faced criticism from within his own party and beyond it. But these results show that the Conservatives are making long-term progress in building-up support among ethnic minority voters from a historically low base. The partisan allegiance of middle-class and working-class ethnic minority voters to Labour is now eroding, with more Asian and black voters considering themselves floating voters, willing to shop around with their votes.

The 2016 mayoral election appears to call time on the ‘doughnut politics’ of the 2012 race. Sadiq Khan’s increased share of the white vote reflects a considerably improved position in outer London than in 2012. Similarly, a viable Conservative pitch for Mayor in 2020 or 2024 may need to do more to challenge Labour for votes in inner as well as outer London.”

The poll also found a strong consensus among voters across ethnicities in London on the top priorities for the new Mayor – with housing (64%) (white 63%/non-white 62%) and transport 42% (41%/43%) followed by public health 35% (33%/36%) being the top three issues. Ethnic minorities give higher priority to economic regeneration (29% – non-white 34%, white 27%) than policing (29% – white 32%, ethnic minority 27%).

Ethnic minority Londoners do have more distinct priorities in national politics – with immigration falling to fourth place (31%) behind health (32%), the economy (37%) and housing (49%), while white voters in London placed immigration (50%) ahead of housing (41%) and the economy (40%) on the national agenda. Overall, housing was just ahead of immigration as the top national issue for Londoners. When it comes to national issues affecting their family, white Londoners put health (38%), housing (31%) and the economy (31%) ahead of immigration (25%). For ethnic minority voters, housing (37%), the economy (35%) and health (31%) are also the top three, with immigration (10%) falling to joint 8th place with Europe, behind tax (20%), education (16%), transport (15%) and pensions (13%) when it comes to issues having a personal and family impact.

British Future’s latest activity on Twitter