A rather gloomy picture for Cameron

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
July 08, 2013, 1:58 PM GMT+0

It would be easy to imagine that political party members would by definition be supporters of the party leadership, the most devoted and enthusiastic of anyone in the country. This is not necessarily the case, especially since winning elections normally requires a party leader to reach out beyond his or her party's natural support and take decisions the members may not like. Sometimes the relationship between party leaders and their party membership can be a fractious one.

Last month YouGov surveyed 852 Conservative party members for Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary, University of London and Professor Paul Webb from Sussex University, and funded by the McDougall Trust, to measure the current mood of ordinary Conservative party members. The results paint a rather gloomy picture.

Some of the important symbols of Conservative modernisation are far from popular with Conservative party members. For example, David Cameron's pledge to protect the overseas aid budget from cuts is supported by only 18% of party members - though on that front their opinion does at least echo that of the general public. On the more politically contentious issue of gay marriage, which tends to have majority support amongst ordinary voters, only 24% of Conservative party members are supportive.

Having to accept compromises in order to win or retain power is part and parcel of politics, but that depends on the belief that it will translate into power - the survey also found Conservative members dubious about the party's chances at the next election. Only 19% of party members think the Conservatives will win an overall majority, though 69% expect the party to remain in government one way or another (either through a majority, a minority government, or some form of coalition).

Doubts over the next election and a few of the government's policies are probably compounded by negative media reports, such the claim that a senior party figure considered party members to be "mad, swivel-eyed loons". Asked whether they thought the party leadership respected ordinary members and only 45% of party activists felt they are respected (and only 7% think they are respected "a lot"). Over half said they are not respected much if at all.

Anyone who has ever been to a meeting of party members will know that grumbling about the leadership or the direction of the party is far from unknown. It becomes an issue if those activists stop delivering and door knocking, or even leave the party. The survey found 39% of party members said they were less active than they were five years ago, with 26% saying they were either more active than five years ago (18%) or had joined the party in that time (8%).

Perhaps more worrying, asked to say how likely they were to consider voting for other parties on a scale of 0-10, 19% of Conservative party members said they were 8/10 or more likely to consider voting for Ukip at a general election. Of course, "considering voting" is not the same as actually voting, and however grumpy they are, these are at least people who are supportive enough to continue paying the Conservative party a subscription each year (44% of those we surveyed are "armchair activists", who said they do not spend any time on party activity). The most worrying group of people for David Cameron will not have appeared in our poll at all - those people who have already left the Conservative party.

Anthony Wells is associate director in YouGov’s Political and Social Research team, and creator of the blog UK Polling Report.

See the full Conservative Members Survey results

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