May 7, 2010 1:51 pm

Support of key groups eludes Tories

“All mankind”, runs a proverb sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “is divided into three classes, those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.”

Unfortunately for the Conservatives – and possibly even more painfully for the Lib Dems – too few of the voters they hoped to bring on board ended up switching their allegiances.

A comparison of the initial and final polls of the election campaign gives us at least a hint of which key groups – geographic, socio-economic, and demographic – the Tories managed to win back and which they struggled to win over.

The Conservatives are still some way from solving their image problem in the north. The polls, like the results, suggest that nothing they did in the campaign itself did them any big favours there. Labour was always going to suffer a swing against it but managed not to make it any worse than it would otherwise have been. In Scotland, it may even have gained support over those four-and-a-half weeks.

It would appear, on the other hand, that David Cameron’s attempts to woo middle class “defectors” away from Labour with a more socially tolerant and inclusive approach paid off, especially among AB voters. Support among professionals and managers has not only increased since 2005 but appears to have held up well during the campaign.

The electorally vital C2s, however, were less keen. Polls suggest that Labour’s support among skilled manual workers, although it was clearly down on 2005, simply did not slip as much as the Conservatives needed it to.

Another group in which the Conservatives will have been hoping to do much better than last time was first-time voters. Polling suggests that when the election was called the huge deficit they faced in 2005 had shrunk somewhat. But it also suggests that over the course of the campaign the Conservatives (like Labour) lost a fair few younger people to the Liberal Democrats. Fortunately, it looks as if, as usual, many of these virgin voters actually stayed pure on polling day.

What about the gender gap? This is often overstated, but in as much as there was one in 2005, it probably operated, on balance, in the Conservatives’ favour, primarily because the party’s striking failure to persuade young women to support it was narrowly offset by its advantage over Labour among older women, who are more likely to turn out on election day. In 2010, it would appear, at least from early indications, that David Cameron’s attempts to make his party more female-friendly did not result in a stampede of women towards the Tories.

What is clear from the polls, however, is that, David Cameron, despite leading a party that engendered less enthusiasm than Labour attracted derision, was preferred to Gordon Brown as best prime minister by about 10 percentage points. Meanwhile, eight out of 10 voters agreed the party with the most votes should form the government. A misunderstanding of the constitution, maybe, but politically crucial.

Tim Bale teaches politics at Sussex University

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