Voters want May to negotiate Brexit and not Corbyn and that’s all you need to know

Voters want May to negotiate Brexit and not Corbyn and that’s all you need to know

A new poll shows that UK adults overwhelmingly trust Theresa May rather than Jeremy Corbyn to negotiate Brexit by a margin of 51% to 13%. All else is secondary writes Keiran Pedley.

On this week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast (see below) I spoke to Chris Hanretty from the University of East Anglia about events in France and the prospect of a Tory landslide in June. As part of the show, I also unveiled some new polling from our Polling Matters / Opinium series that, in my view, tells you all you need to know about this General Election. It’s worth going over some of it again given the furore over YouGov ‘only’ showing a 13 point lead this weekend.

A Brexit election

Our poll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,006 UK adults and asked how closely they were following the election, what they thought the key issues were in deciding  how to vote and who they trusted most to negotiate Brexit. It is this latter question that I think is the most telling. UK adults trust May over Corbyn by a margin on 51% to 13%. The rest either don’t know or trust neither.

Who would you trust more to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the EU? All UK adults

Remain voters

Leave voters

Theresa May 51% 40% 69%
Jeremy Corbyn 13% 20% 7%
Don’t know 14% 13% 11%
Neither 22% 27% 13%

These numbers are striking. Not only does Theresa May lead Jeremy Corbyn on this measure by 62 points among Leave voters but she also leads among Remain voters by a 2:1 margin as well.  At a time when the EU is setting out its negotiating stance ahead of Brexit talks it is impossible to understate the importance of these numbers. The context of this election is that Brexit negotiations are about to begin and Theresa May is overwhelmingly the most trusted figure to represent Britain at those negotiations. In my view, all other issues are of secondary importance in this election and in our understanding of the eventual outcome.

If you need further evidence, we also asked respondents to choose the top three issues of most importance to them in deciding how they will vote. To be clear, we asked this question before the one above to avoid any question order bias. Here is what they said:

 Most important factors when considering how to vote in the upcoming General Election? All UK adults Remain voters Leave voters
Who will negotiate the best Brexit deal as Britain leaves the EU 38% 28% 53%
Which party I think will form the most effective government overall 37% 40% 36%
Which party has the best policies on the NHS 31% 36% 29%
Which party has the most policies I like 25% 30% 22%
Which party has the best economic policies 23% 31% 17%
Which party has the best policies on immigration 20% 8% 33%
Which party will promise to stop Brexit 14% 26% 2%
Whether Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn will be the next Prime Minister 13% 11% 16%
Which party has the best education policies 9% 13% 6%
Don’t know 6% 4% 7%
I don’t plan to vote 4% 1% 3%
Something else (please specify) 4% 4% 4%
None of the above 3% 3% 3%

There are two clear winners here: ‘who will negotiate the best Brexit deal’ and ‘who will form the most competent government overall’.  We have established that May leads Corbyn on the former and although we didn’t specifically ask, I think we can safely assume she would win on the latter too (the two points are essentially related). In short, the issue of day, outside general perceptions of competence, is Brexit and May is the most trusted on this issue.

But hold on. Perhaps I am oversimplifying a little. There is some interesting nuance to mull over when we look at the results split by Remain and Leave voters. For Remain voters, stopping Brexit entirely is almost as important as negotiating the best Brexit deal, with the overarching question of competence and policies on the NHS the most important factors driving Remainers to the polls. However, for Leave voters, the Brexit deal is convincingly THE most important issue (by 17 points) alongside the competence question and policies on immigration (unsurprising given what we know about the Leave vote).

Why am I convinced the Brexit question matters most? Well, firstly because it comes out on top in the question above and secondly because we won’t be able to escape it in the coming weeks. As we approach polling day, I expect the Tories to increasingly focus on this idea of ‘who do you want to negotiate Brexit’? In my opinion, it is a far more effective message than this ‘coalition of chaos’ idea. It brings into sharp focus the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn being responsible for negotiating Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and I suspect that this will be enough to drive Conservatives to the polls. Meanwhile Remainers – unlike Leave voters – are not consolidating their support in one party.

Brits are of course concerned about other issues – not least the NHS – but given that Labour agrees that Brexit should happen, it is hard to see how the central question of this election is not therefore who leads that process. Voters clearly think that person should be May and not Corbyn, which suits the Tories just fine and is really all we need to know about what happens next aside from the scale of the Tory victory.

Keiran presents the PB/Polling Matters podcast and tweets about polling and public opinion at @keiranpedley

Listen to the latest Polling Matters podcast with Chris Hanretty here

About the poll: Opinium surveyed 2,006 UK adults online between 21st to 24th April, 2017. Tables will be on the website in the next 2 days.

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