Suburban women over 60 who voted for Boris Johnson in 2019 could prove decisive at the general election, a think-tank said this week.
Polling by More In Common suggested the coalition of voters that gave Johnson a majority in 2019 has now fragmented, leaving the Conservatives struggling to improve their support amid dire polling.
While several voters appear to have switched directly from the Conservatives to Labour, and others have opted for Reform UK, a larger proportion say they don't know how they will vote. Of this group, which makes up 6% of voters, most are female, older than average and likely to live in towns or suburbs.
More In Common’s UK director Luke Tryl said: "Whilst winning back this group won’t be enough to keep the Conservatives in power... they will determine the size of any likely Labour victory, from a hung parliament to a landslide.”
It comes as the latest polls continue to emphasise a remarkable downturn in fortunes for the Tories, who had a 21-point lead over Labour in YouGov polling in April 2020. That margin has since been flipped, with Labour now holding a 26-point cushion.
Ahead of the next election, which will almost definitely be held this year, Yahoo News UK looks at how the polls have changed, what is behind this and the latest odds.
What do the opinion polls say?
YouGov's voting intention tracker (see chart, below), which has been regularly surveying voters since January 2020, demonstrates the extent to which support for the Tories has collapsed – and backing for Labour has ascended.
In the latest poll, released on Thursday, Labour's polling dominance under Sir Keir Starmer continues – and makes grim reading for Rishi Sunak.
The most recent data – covering 20 and 21 February – show Labour on 46%, the Conservatives on 20%, Reform UK on 13%, the Lib Dems on 9%, the Greens on 7%, SNP on 4% and Plaid Cymru on 1%.
Meanwhile, a separate YouGov survey of 14,000 people, published in The Telegraph last month, indicated a a 1997-style wipeout is on the cards for Sunak. It projected the Conservatives would win as few as 169 seats, with Starmer entering Downing Street with 385 Labour seats.
What are the latest odds?
As of 25 February, Oddschecker – a website which compares odds across different bookmakers – had Labour at 2/17 to win the most seats. This means a £10 punt would return just £11.18.
The Conservatives are 15/2 to win the most seats. Bookmakers see this as so unlikely that a £10 bet at these odds would return £85.
What went wrong for the Tories?
So, why have the polls changed so dramatically? It's worth looking back on an extremely eventful four years in UK politics.
Tory support peaked at 53% (with Labour on 32%) in April 2020, months after the party's stunning success in the 2019 general election and Boris Johnson fulfilling his pledge to “get Brexit done”.
This was also during the height of the COVID pandemic and a spirit of national unity amid the onset of a deadly virus which nearly killed Johnson himself. The then-PM had been released from hospital five days before this particular survey was taken.
Over the rest of the year, there was a downturn in support amid chaos over COVID rules, with the Tories falling as low as 35% in November 2020, compared to Labour on 40%.
However, the UK’s successful COVID vaccination programme provided a pathway out of lockdown and with it, improved poll ratings. Tory support peaked at 41% in June 2021, with Labour at 30%.
In October that year, there was a sense Johnson was untouchable. At the Tory party conference, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg remarked how the PM was "in total command of his party, and politically dominant in the country".
But this fell apart quickly with the Partygate scandal, which emerged in November that year. Time and again, reports emerged of government and Tory staff – including Johnson – having taken part in lockdown-era social gatherings when their own COVID rules had prohibited them. By January 2022, Tory support had plummeted to 28%, with Labour on 38%.
Johnson struggled on, but never recovered and a wave of ministerial resignations forced him to resign in July that year.
His successor, Liz Truss, then embarked on arguably the most disastrous prime ministerial reign in history, characterised by the catastrophic "mini-budget", containing £45bn of unfunded tax cuts, which prompted an economic crisis. Like Johnson, she lost the confidence of Tory MPs – and voters – and had to resign.
Her 49-day spell as PM was the shortest in history, with Tory support plummeting to 19% (with Labour on 56%) the day after she announced her resignation in October 2022.
Sunak, who had lost to Truss in the previous month's Tory leadership election, took over. However, as the above YouGov voting intention chart indicates, he has failed to cut through with voters. Tory support was at 23% two days after he assumed office, with the most recent survey showing it has dropped to 20%.
In short, the polls, not to mention other factors such as notable by-election victories for Starmer's Labour, are pointing to a Labour government.
The end of Boris Johnson’s premiership (Institute for Government)
When is the next general election? Everything we know (Yahoo News UK)