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Conservatives face leadership dilemma as polls show Boris Johnson appeal flattens out | Boris Johnson

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Tory MPs in marginal seats will enter 2022 with a nerve-racking dilemma. Are they staying loyal to Boris Johnson, who helped them win two years ago, or are they removing him to keep their seats next time around?

Opinium numbers show Johnson has lost his personal appeal, at least for now. Opinium’s normal voting intention question, reported in the Observer on Sunday, showed Labor at 39%, seven points ahead of Tories at 32%.

But when Johnson’s name is added to the question on voting intention, Conservative support falls below 30% and Labor’s lead increases five percentage points to 12%.

One would expect that simply reminding voters of the names of the two main party leaders would make little difference in voting intentions. The fact that this displaces the party’s lead by five points suggests that Johnson is now a major drag on Tory fortunes. Some rather conservative respondents may intend to stay in the party if he runs before the next election, but not if he stays.

Opinium then asked people how they would vote in three other scenarios: whether Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss or Michael Gove were leading the Tories. (Each scenario assumed that Keir Starmer remained the Labor leader.) Sunak appears to be by far the most attractive successor. Labor remains in the lead, but by just three points.

The nine point difference between a 12% and 3% lead is worth around 60 seats which the Tories would lose with Johnson but retain with Sunak – the vast majority for Labor, but a handful at risk for the Lib Dems and the National Party Scottish.

Liz Truss is much less popular with the general public than with conservative activists. The latest survey of party members conducted by the Conservative House website shows her as their preferred successor to Johnson, with Sunak in second place.

However, Opinium’s numbers suggest she would do even worse than Johnson, and much worse than Sunak, and lead the Tories to a crushing 16-point loss. His only solace is that Gove would do even worse: with him as leader, the Conservatives would fall 18 points behind Labor.

As with all of these surveys, the numbers are subject to change. Truss could reasonably claim that she is not yet as well known as Sunak; if she were elected leader of the party, she would have ample opportunity to restore her image. In contrast, Sunak could face a rough spring with falling living standards, inflation outpacing wages and tax hikes coming in April.

Even so, the gap between Sunak and Truss is currently large enough to make choosing Truss as leader an obvious electoral risk.

Meanwhile, an intriguing feature of Opinium’s numbers is that they contradict the fashionable theory that female voters have become particularly hostile to Johnson.

Admittedly, normal voting figures confirm the conclusion of other polls that Labor leads the Tories by women (11% in this poll) more than by men (4%) – a gender gap of seven. points. But it appears to reflect a general verdict on the government as a whole, more than Johnson’s personal rejection.

If Johnson were a particular target of female aversion, we would expect the gender gap to widen further when her name is added to the voting question. Instead, it disappears altogether: in a Starmer-Johnson contest, Labor leads 12% for both men and women. The five point increase in Labor’s lead is carried by men far more than by women.

With Sunak, Truss and Gove, the gender gap returns (respectively 4, 8 and 8 points): it is only with Johnson that it disappears completely. And since the same respondents answered all five voting questions, we can be sure that the additional hostility towards Johnson revealed by this survey is really more common among men than women.

Peter Kellner is a political analyst and former chairman of YouGov

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