London Mayor election 2024: Can we tell who’s winning?

London Mayor election 2024: Can we tell who’s winning?

On Friday, Savanta published a new opinion poll about the mayoral race. Naturally, I learned of this shortly after sending out last week’s edition of my weekly On London Extra newsletter to website supporters which made reference to what I called the one and only such poll to have been published so far this year – a YouGov, released in February.

So now there have been two. We could do with some more. It is, however, significant that the Savanta poll (conducted for Centre For London) and the YouGov (for the Mile End Institute) have told almost exactly the same headline story. It is that Sadiq Khan is a long way ahead of his Conservative principal challenger Susan Hall. But also significant has been much of the reaction to the two polls – essentially, that Khan’s lead should be regarded with suspicion.

Why? Why such scepticism when the two 2024 polls have given Khan almost exactly the same level of support (49 per cent with YouGov, 51 with Savanta) and almost exactly the same size leads (respectively, 25 points and 24)? Why especially when the previous three polls, which came out within 16 days of each other in November, told much the same story: Khan enjoying 50, 46 and 50 per cent support and leads over Hall of 25, 20 and 27 points.

The fact that the first of the November trio was by YouGov and the same company’s February poll produced virtually the same findings reinforces the statistical impression that Khan is cruising towards a third victory and that Hall has been making up no ground.

On top of that, Labour, Khan’s party, has, for months, been maintaining a large national lead over Hall’s, averaging around 20 points. YouGov’s February poll also asked Londoners how they think they will vote in the coming general election. By that measure it gave Labour a gigantic 35-point lead over the Conservatives. How, then, can Hall, consistently way behind Khan and representing a party that is massively unpopular in the capital, have the slightest chance of winning on 2 May?

The relative modesty of Khan’s lead over Hall compared with that of his party over hers in London provides a clue. It seems likely that support for Khan is suffering from what we might call incumbency drag. In other words, he’s had two terms as Mayor already and some Londoners who support Labour and who’ve voted for Khan before are now bored or fed up with him.

This possibility seems to be supported by Londoners’ responses to questions about Khan’s effectiveness as Mayor. More than half of the 1,510 Savanta poll respondents said he’d done badly or very badly with “knife crime” and gangs, dealing with homelessness and improving the availability of housing. As Savanta’s political research director, Chris Hopkins, has pointed out, this suggests Londoners aren’t greatly impressed by what he has achieved in some policy areas they care a lot about.

Another reason for regarding the apparent strength of Khan’s position with caution is that the two 2024 polls are telling a very similar story from polls produced at the same stage of the last mayoral election campaign, the Covid-delayed contest of 2021.

Five in a row, published in March and the first half of April, gave Khan leads of more 20 points over his Tory opponent in that race. But in the second half of April his poll lead reduced to as little as 12 points. And the actual result saw Khan prevail on first preference votes under the Supplementary Vote (SV) system by only 4.7 per cent, taking a 40 per cent share when some early spring polls had raised the prospect of his getting more than 50 per cent.

Moreover, the Tory first preference share was markedly higher than polls had hinted it might be: 35.3 per cent compared with a maximum poll finding of 31 per cent. Noting all this, Hopkins said he’s not not assuming the understating of Tory support and slight overstating of Labour’s will happen again but warns that “it could”.

Khan’s final margin of victory in 2021 was considerably more comfortable than his first preference lead, extending to 10.4 per cent once second preferences were added on. But this brings us the possible impacts of the government’s changes to the voting system, replacing SV with First Past The Post for mayoral elections and Voter ID for all elections in the UK.

Khan’s campaign has been raising the alarm about this by directly appealing to Liberal Democrat and Green supporters, characterising them as fellow progressives, to “lend” the Labour candidate their now single mayoral votes in order to ensure that Hall is defeated. It is also claiming that Voter ID could affect the Labour vote badly.

Pile all these things on one side and the Khan campaign’s insistence that this year’s mayoral race will be extremely close can be seen as a bit more than an expectation management scare tactic. It is rooted in genuine anxiety about the possible impact of low turnout by Labour supporters, whether caused by indifference to their candidate or complacency arising from a belief that he can’t lose. By contrast, the London Tory vote, though smaller, might be pretty hardcore.

But let’s not get carried away. Even if we tot up every reason why Khan might not be sitting as pretty as his opinion polls leads suggest, other evidence points to the odds being hugely stacked against Hall just the same.

We saw from last year’s mayoral election in Bedford that a Conservative can get elected with less than a third of the vote. But there the non-Tory vote was quite evenly spilt between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who finished a close second. In London, support for the Lib Dems and, for that matter, for the Greens is far lower. The necessary conditions for a Conservative to, as it were, break into the Mayor’s City Hall office through an electoral back door, do not apply to anything like the same extent. As for the effects of Voter ID, Christabel Cooper has shown for On London that although it might help the Tories in the capital, if it does it won’t help them very much.

There’s also an important big background difference between this year’s mayoral election run-in and that of 2021. It is the current, desperate state of the Conservatives nationally compared with how the party was viewed during the last one. Back then, London – and the UK as a whole – was starting to emerge from the pandemic. The “partygate” scandal that did for him had yet to engulf Boris Johnson. The brief premiership of Liz Truss was a calamity yet to come. In April three years ago, Labour nationally was up to and beyond ten points behind the Tories. Today, they are twice as far ahead. That cannot be a good omen for Khan’s Conservative challenger.

Then there is candidate Hall herself. Her broadcast media performances have been uncomfortable. She is still substantially unknown. And although the London context is different, she nonetheless faces problems assailing all Conservatives just now – attacks from the populist right in the form of Reform UK and also resembling that party rather more than moderate Conservative voters might be at ease with.

Khan’s overall satisfaction rating in the Savanta poll was just about positive, with 38 per cent saying they were satisfied with his performance compared with 37 per cent who said they weren’t. That’s pretty impressive after eight, often difficult, years as Mayor. It is a very different finding from that of the February YouGov poll, which found a Khan satisfaction rating of minus 18. But even that compared well with equivalent scores for most other well-known politicians.

There’s still a long way to go until 2 May. But whichever way you look at it, it’s looking good for Sadiq Khan. provides unique coverage of the capital’s politics, development and culture. Support it and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Photo from X/Twitter feed of Gwen Grahl.

Categories: Analysis

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