Starmer vs Corbyn: how does Labour’s new leader stack up?

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
July 13, 2020, 8:23 AM UTC

As Keir Starmer approaches 100 days in office as leader of the Labour Party, what do Labour voters, and the general public, make of the former lawyer?

Since taking office as leader of the Labour party, Sir Keir Starmer has been presented with a tough set of challenges; unite the party following a crushing general election defeat, tackle the issue of antisemitism, and win back Labour’s key voters. Add to that list the COVID-19 pandemic and a resulting surge in support for the Government, and you’ve got a truly monumental task ahead of you – so what do Labour voters and the general public make of him 100 days in, and how does he stack up against his predecessor?

How do Starmer’s early days compare to Corbyn’s?

Firstly, looking at whether adults thought Jeremy Corbyn was doing well or badly in the months following his election on September 12th 2015 shows that the majority of Brits thought he was doing poorly – with his net score firmly in the red. Roughly four months after his election in December 2015 Corbyn held a net score of -32, with 60% of adults saying he was doing badly compared to just 28% who said he was doing well.

Looking at the equivalent data for Keir Starmer shows the start difference between the two leaders. Starmer, unlike Corbyn, has maintained a positive net score (meaning more Brits think he is doing well than badly) since his election. As of July 6th, 47% of Brits said Keir Starmer is doing well as leader of the oppositon, with 23% saying he is doing badly leaving Starmer with a net score of 30, compared to the -32 net score Corbyn had at a similar stage of his tenure. However, it is worth noting that Starmer has a higher percentage of “don’t know” answers for this question than Corbyn did at the same point in his tenure as Labour Leader.

Starmer is also seen as having got off to a stronger start than Ed Miliband, who became leader of the Labour party back in September 2010. Miliband's rating of 28% saying he was doing well is far behind Starmer's 47%, and was identical to Corbyn's after the same time period.

Other polling shows that 42% of adults think Keir Starmer is competent as leader of the opposition, compared to 12% who say he is incompetent, giving him a net score of 30 – with 45% of the population still undecided.

Among Labour voters, 59% see Starmer as competent, with only 4% seeing him as incompetent, resulting in a healthy net score of 55 among Labour voters – but as mentioned many Labour supporters are still undecided, with 37% answering “don’t know”.

Even among Conservative voters the plurality of those with an opinion see Starmer as a capable foe, with 39% saying he is competent compared to 20% of Conservative voters who say he is incompetent – while 41% remain undecided for now.  

How similar are they as leaders?

Starmer has made no small effort to distance himself from the legacy of his predecessor, most notably and recently in the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey - and our polling shows that the difference between the two in the eyes of the public is crystal clear.

Starmer is seen as starkly different from Corbyn by the majority of voters and the public. When asked how similar Jeremy Corbyn is to Keir Starmer, 61% of the public say the leaders are different, with 46% saying the pair are very different. Only 8% of the public think the two are similar to some degree – with Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill the only previous party leaders seen as less comparable than Keir Starmer and Corbyn. 

Of the political leaders we asked about, Keir Starmer is seen as most akin to Tony Blair, with 33% of Brits saying he is similar to Starmer to some extent, followed by 22% who say Ed Miliband is similar to Keir Starmer.

Among Labour voters, 69% see Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer as being different, with 51% saying they are very different. This is reflected among both Conservative (66%) and Liberal Democrat (78%) voters, the majority of whom agree Keir Starmer is not at all similar to Corbyn. Once again however it is worth noting that many Britons have yet to make up their mind on what kind of leader Keir Starmer is similar too. 

Who is seen as more appealing to voters?

Distancing himself from Corbyn could prove a winning strategy for the new Labour leader. When compared to Corbyn, Starmer is seen as universally more appealing to both Labour voters and general voters, by both the general public and Labour voters themselves. Overall, 60% of the public think Starmer best appeals to the general voter, compared to 56% who think he appeals to Labour voters more than his predecessor.

Among Labour voters, 73% back Starmer as most appealing to the general voter, while only 7% still hang on and say Jeremy Corbyn had a better appeal.

When it comes to who Labour voters think best appeals to the party, the majority still side with Starmer (65%) however 14% of Labour voters still opt for Corbyn.

Looking at younger adults under the age of 25, while a sizeable portion back Starmer in both cases, the group is split (40% and 39%) on which leader they see as most appealing to general voters and labour voters respectively.

How has Starmer shifted the Labour party? Could that win back the “leant” votes from 2019?

As Starmer begins to make his mark on the party, voters are already noticing how the party has shifted under his leadership – with a third (35%) of the general public thinking Starmer has already moved the Labour Party more towards the political right, with only 3% saying he has shifted the party towards the left. Approaching a fifth (19%) say the Labour Party has remained in the same place for now.

Among Labour voters, two fifths (40%) say Keir Starmer has shifted the party towards to the right, with 18% saying the party has stayed the same under his leadership. Interestingly, Liberal Democrats are the most likely to have perceived Starmer’s changes as shifting the Labour Party towards the right.

Will this shift help Starmer win back voters? The general public is split on whether they think Starmer should move the party to the right (25%) or keep it where it is (23%). Among Labour voters themselves however, only 15% think the party should be shifted towards to right with the plurality thinking Starmer should keep the party where is it now – another fifth (20%) think he should push the party further left.

Unsurprisingly, the plurality of those who voted Conservative in the last general election (41%) think Starmer should move to the party to the right – a move that could help the new leader win back the votes of those who, in Boris Johnson’s words, “lent “their vote to the Conservatives by backing the Tory party for the first time in the 2019 general election.  

Across the Midlands and Wales, as well as the North, where the Labour Party lost a lot of its traditional voter base to these “lent” votes this opinion is reflected. In both regions, over a quarter (26% in The North and 27% in the Midlands and Wales) think the Labour Party should shift towards the right.

See full results here
See tracker results about Keir Starmer here 
See historic polling on Jeremy Corbyn here