How is Britain voting as the 2024 general election campaign begins?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
May 24, 2024, 11:58 AM GMT+0

The Conservatives have a mountain to climb, with support low even among their traditional supporters

After Rishi Sunak’s surprise announcement on Wednesday of a general election on 4 July, a new YouGov mega-poll – combining all voting intention polling we have conducted since the local elections at the beginning of the month – sets out a detailed look at the state of the race as the 2024 campaign begins.

The sample includes more than 11,000 respondents, with fieldwork conducted from 3-21 May.

Voting intention by age

Age has been a defining voting characteristic at recent elections, and will continue to be so in 2024.

Only the over-70s now tend to support the Conservatives, although even here just 39% say they will back the party. This is down from 67% in 2019, with Labour growing their vote share among the oldest Britons from 14% to 25%.

Reform UK also finds more support among older age groups, gathering 20% of the vote among Britons over-60. The Brexit Party vote share was very low at the 2019 general election, having stood down candidates in more than 300 seats after Boris Johnson committed to leaving the EU by 2020, but the party had been polling 14-16% among older voters in 2019 at the beginning of the election campaign.

Labour are the most supported party among each age group under 70, with Keir Starmer taking an outright majority among voters under 50.

Support for the Greens is higher among younger people, reaching 13% among the under-30s. This is significantly above their 2019 general election tally, although the figures are very close to our pre-election polling in October 2019, suggesting a similar direction of travel to last time is possible.

Liberal Democrat support is largely consistent across age groups, at 8-10%.

Voting intention by gender

As happened in 2019, Labour have a slightly higher vote share among women (47%) than men (44%). Reform UK has a greater vote share among men (15%) than women (10%), while for the Tories the split is about the same – 19% of men and 20% of women.

As we have already seen, 18-24 year olds are more likely to favour the Greens, and this is particularly true of young women, 16% of whom back the party.

While right wing parties are unpopular among younger voters, they do have greater support among men than women. Among 18-24 year old men 10% intend to vote Conservative and 10% Reform UK, compared to only 5% and 2% respectively among women the same age.

Voting intention by education

Education likewise remains a key factor in voting intention, with people more likely to vote for Labour or a left wing party the higher a level of education they have.

Unlike 2019, however, Labour are favoured over the Conservatives at every education level. Among graduates – with whom they traditionally have an advantage – Labour beat the Tories by 55% to 13%, while among those with the lowest level of education (people whose top qualification is at most a GCSE), they lead by 35% to 28%.

While the graduate population of the UK is increasingly trending younger with the expansion of higher education, the preference for Labour among those with higher levels of education is not explained solely by their youth. Among Britons over 50, there is a marked increase in support for Labour among graduates (45%) compared to those without degrees (30-33%).

Across all age groups, the fewer educational qualifications a voter has, the more likely they are to vote for one of the two right wing parties. In some cases Reform UK has caught up with the Conservatives – they are tied with the Tories among under-50s who are educated to GCSE level or below.

Voting intention by past vote

Please note figures for headline voting intention only and do not include don’t knows

Looking only at those who currently know how they’d vote in an election, the Conservatives are only holding on to 49% of their 2019 vote. One in four (26%) are abandoning the party for Reform UK, and a further 16% for Labour.

Meanwhile, Labour are retaining fully 83% of their 2019 vote – their largest leakage currently is 8% of voters to the Greens (although they are in return taking 33% of 2019 Green voters).

When it comes to the EU referendum, the Tories in 2019 managed to attract 74% of Leave voters; now only 34% would pick the Conservatives. Roughly a quarter apiece are instead turning to Labour (26%) and Reform UK (27%).

Voting intention by housing tenure

Britons have been hit by increased housing costs over the last two years, so it is no surprise to see that the Tory vote share is highest among the group that is most insulated from that issue; those who own their home outright.

Even among these voters, however, Labour and the Conservatives are neck and neck, with the former on 32% to the latter’s 32%. Age will also play a role, of course, as those who own their homes outright are likely to be much older on average than those who do not.

Half of those who own their home with a mortgage (52%) say they intend to vote Labour, compared to only 15% who back the Conservatives. Private renters are the most likely to support Starmer’s party, with 55% expecting to cast their ballot for Labour compared to only 12% for Sunak and co.

Voting intention by work status

Given that age is the dominant factor in voting behaviour in the current era, it is no surprise to see that the Conservatives are most popular among retired Britons.

However, that is a relatively modest achievement – only a third of retirees (34%) say they intend to vote Conservative, with 28% saying they will back Labour and another 21% intending to cast their ballot for Reform UK.

Labour dominates among all other work status categories. Among those Britons currently in employment, 52% say they will back Keir Starmer’s party, compared to just 15% for the Conservatives.

Voting intention by social grade

While class was once the primary prism through which voting behaviour in Britain could be explained, this has not been the case for the last few elections – and remains so.

Breaking down voting behaviour into the NRS social grades, AB, C1, C2 and DE, shows a limited trend for Labour and the Conservatives. Among each group the Conservative vote share stands at 18-21%, while for Labour the score ranges from 42-49%.

The most notable difference between social grades is the Reform UK vote, which is almost twice as high among C2DE voters (17%) than it is among AB voters (9%).

See the full results here

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Photo: Getty