Unity: Parties divided

Unity: Parties divided

Last month David Cameron suffered his largest backbench rebellion of this Parliament, which was also the largest ever backbench rebellion on the issue of Europe.

Our polling elsewhere found public support for the rebels and for the calls for a referendum on Europe… but what of the effect on perceptions of party unity?  During the 1990s, the Conservatives were deeply divided over Europe ‒ and there is the risk that rebellions such as these will once again lead to perceptions of the Conservatives as a divided party.

The week following the revolt, we asked whether people saw the Conservative and Labour parties as united or divided, repeating a question that YouGov has asked semi-regularly since 2003.

Do you think the Conservative Party is united or divided at the present time?
    Oct 2003 Sep 2004 Oct 2004 Nov 2005 May 2006 Sep 2007 Sep 2008 Nov 2011 
                     
United   20 30 23 16 44 n/a 56 18
Divided    58  44 52 58 27 n/a 17 64
Don't know    22  26 25 26 29 n/a 27 18

64% of people now see the Conservative party as divided, compared to just 18% who see them as united. This is the most divided the Conservative party has been seen since YouGov started asking the question, down from a peak in 2008 when 56% saw the party as united (though given we have only been asking the question since 2003, they may very well have been seen more negatively during the infighting over Maastricht in the 1990s).

 

Do you think the Labour Party is united or divided at the present time?
    Oct 2003 Sep 2004 Oct 2004 Nov 2005 May 2006 Sep 2007 Sep 2008 Nov 2011 
                     
United   14 18 25 17 6 46 3 25
Divided   76 68 62 70 83 30 88 45
Don't know   11 14 13 13 11 24 9 29

While negative, the perception of the Conservatives as divided is not nearly as widespread as that the Labour party suffered in government. At its worst in 2008, we found that only 3% of people thought that Labour was united, compared to 88% who thought it was divided – though of course, this was after 11 years in power. While Labour’s ratings have improved since going into opposition, they are still negative - only 25% of people see Labour as united, compared to 45% who see the party as divided. 

 

See the survey details and full results here


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Authors

Anthony Wells

Associate Director in the Political and Social Research Team

Works in the YouGov London office