While campaign focus has often drifted onto culture war issues, members are looking for less tax and spend and more honesty from their next leader
Ahead of crunch rounds of voting which will decide which Conservative leadership candidates will progress through to the head-to-head runoff in front of the party membership, new YouGov qualitative analysis sheds light onto the priorities of those very members for their next leader.
We asked Conservative Party members to tell us, in their own words and using as much detail as they liked, “What are you looking for in the new leader of the Conservative Party”?
Half (52%) of respondents gave answers which included themes around the leader’s “personality”, while just under a third (32%) mentioned topics which we can classify as “conventional conservatism”.* Just under one in five expressed the importance of “delivering Brexit” (19%) or specific “policy proposals” (19%).
Though it has dominated much of the leadership debate so far, issues surrounding “woke” topics (such as critical race theory or transgender rights) do not appear frequently at all as priorities for the next party leader among Conservative members. Just 8% told us that this was what they were looking for. Similarly, continuing the legacy of Boris Johnson (or indeed returning directly to him as leader) was also a low priority (7%).
But what do these top two priorities actually mean? Breaking the topics down themes by sub-themes gives more in-depth analysis of the responses.
The dominant sub-theme within the personality topic was “honesty and integrity”, with half (51%) of party members who focused on personality mentioning these issues, a figure which represents 27% of all members. It is perhaps not surprising that a quarter of members overall directly discussed this, given the parade of scandals the government faced under Boris Johnson.
Following from this, a third (34%) discussed wanting their next leader to have a “strong personal character”, while a quarter (25%) told us they wanted someone with strong leadership skills. These figures represent 18% and 13% of all party members, respectively.
One party member told us they were looking for "Someone with honesty and integrity, who is willing to tell the truth without fear of the consequences. Someone who is not in it for personal gain and sees it as a duty to serve. Someone who is committed to all parts of the country but willing to be realistic about what government can actually do and what we should do personally."
Meanwhile, another kept it short and sweet, telling us they wanted "Honesty. Integrity. Trustworthiness. Leadership."
One in three Conservative members gave answers around the theme of ‘conventional conservativism’
Looking deeper into the ‘conventional conservativism’ theme uncovered other insights into the mindsets of Conservative Party members ahead of the final stages of MPs’ voting. The most dominant sub-theme within this topic was “reducing levels of taxation and spending”, with around one third (32%) of those discussing conventional conservatism mentioning these topics (equivalent to 10% of all party members).
One member said they were looking for the leader to go "back to traditional Conservative activities, reduce taxation levels (personal and business) to give individuals the choice of how to spend their own money" while another said they wanted "less government, lower spending, freedom to succeed".
Just over one in five members who gave conventional conservatism answers (22%, or 7% of all members) talked about their new leader “staying true to conservative values”. For instance, one particular party member told us they were looking for a "traditional conservative who wants to reduce the role of government promoting and rewarding people for work, innovation and investment."
The qualitative data from YouGov’s Conservative Party members panel tells us quite plainly that personal characteristics and a return to more traditional conservative ideals and policies are their most important priorities for their next leader. As we move closer to finding out who the final two candidates will be, candidates will no doubt need to push their personal characteristics and conservative values ahead of the members’ ballot.
*Data for this article was collected from a poll of 855 Conservative Party Members running from 12-14 July 2022. An open ended question on the poll asked “What are you looking for in the new leader of the Conservative Party? Please be as detailed as you wish, typing your answers in the box below.”
Responses were analysed by Hey Yabble Count – a tool using advanced AI methods to create themes and subthemes. Responses without an open end response or which expressed no opinion were coded as “Don’t know/no response”, and amounted to 7% of the sample.
More information on Hey Yabble Count can be found at www.yabble.com
See full results here