04 Jun 2024

Labour and Reform battle for the Super Distruster vote

80% of traditionally Conservative-voting Super Distrusters have abandoned the party

Nick Barron

“Read my lips — I will bring immigration numbers down. If you trust me with the keys to No10 I will make you this promise: I will control our borders and make sure British businesses are helped to hire Brits first.”

Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s promise to Sun readers, made earlier this week, was a pitch directed straight at the 30% of the UK electorate classified as ‘Super Distrusters’, for whom record levels of immigration have become totemic.

Crime, too, has become a motivating issue for Super Distrusters. They are net distrusters of the police, who they see as having abandoned their core duties to engage in political persecution of the system’s enemies.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s recent vow to “take Britain’s town centres back from thugs and thieves” with visible community policing was therefore a well-calibrated appeal to the Super Distruster voter.

Super Distrusters are a cluster of voters identified by Cambridge University’s Political Psychology Lab, through our work on the long-running MHP Polarisation Tracker. They are defined by their belief that the UK is heading in the wrong direction fast and that this is the fault of an incompetent and malign elite class, who operate as a single system to oppress and exploit them.

Super Distrusters increasingly see institutions as politicised and incapable of acting on behalf of the people. Labour’s pitch is that they will make the system respond to public concerns once more.

Super Distrusters also see the Conservative Party as a big part of the problem.

We asked the public to rate a range of institutions in terms of how “elite” they are and how much they trust them. The Conservatives were clustered with ‘banks’ and ‘ big business’ in the Distrusted Elites quadrant, while Labour were clustered with ‘trade unions’ and ‘political activists’ in the Distrusted Non-Elites quadrant, but with significantly higher levels of trust, reflecting the statistically significant correlation between perceptions of elitism and distrust. Despite the best efforts of Matthew Goodwin, et al, the public perception of the elite is still dominated by “old elites” (Jacob Rees-Mogg caricatures), rather than “new elites” (Kath Viner archetypes).

Consequently, our most recent Tracker survey, conducted in the spring, found that a huge 80% of those Super Distrusters who voted Conservative in 2019 say they will not vote for the party this time around, with a third defecting to Reform and a fifth saying they don’t know who to vote for or don’t plan to vote.

These voters prefer the politics of Suella Braverman to Penny Mordaunt at a 2:1 ratio and are relatively left-wing in terms of economic policy. Their hostility towards elites means they prefer outsider candidates to establishment ones. Rishi Sunak is the perfect Conservative Super Distruster-repellent.

Under Richard Tice’s milquetoast leadership, it seemed Reform were determined not to capitalise fully on this opportunity. Keen to earn media legitimacy, Tice steered Reform towards the mainstream and eschewed populist language. But yesterday, Farage changed all that.

Announcing that he was taking over the leadership of Reform and standing for election in Clacton, Farage gave a speech that was Super Distruster catnip.

Like Labour, he attacked crime, immigration and economic underperformance, but his real target was “a career political class”, who are “poisoning the education system” and whose thoughts are dominated by “just half a dozen multinationals.”

His words conjured the idea of a uniparty with a cosy relationship with big business, incapable of offering new thinking or responding to public opinion. This is the Super Distruster critique, on both the left and right, as Farage knows:

“I know that you all think that our votes will come from the Conservative Party,” he said. “We are appealing to Labour voters. Above all, what we’re appealing to is those who intend not to vote. They know, and they’re right, that nobody in Westminster is on their side. Nobody in Westminster even understands what they do.”

“What I intend to lead is a political revolt. A turning of our backs on the political status quo. It doesn’t work. Nothing in this country works any more.”

We are about to find out whether Britain really is the European exception when it comes to the politics of revolt. Ironically, the architect of Brexit may prove Britain has a lot more in common with Europe than many of his opponents like to imagine.

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