Boris Johnson is failing to convince young people and floating voters who crave “good government” from the Conservatives, polling expert Lord Hayward has said.
The former foreign secretary, who is the clear favourite to succeed Theresa May, told Tory colleagues this week that he is the candidate with the broad appeal who can take on Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn.
But Hayward’s analysis shows that Johnson’s appeal is actually waning in traditional Tory heartlands including the Home Counties.
A stunning 23% of those who backed Theresa May’s Conservatives in 2017 think Johnson would make a “very bad PM”, his analysis showed.
He stressed the party faced “destruction” if it appealed only to Brexit backers without winning over floating voters who were neither strongly Leave or Remain but want competent government.
Hayward said Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, the other two leading contenders, were doing better among floating voters.
The peer also underlined a Delta Poll which saw voters compare Johnson to the cartoon characters Pinocchio, Goofy and Dumbo.
With the Brexit Party on course to win the Peterborough by-election on Thursday, Hayward said that while it was vital the Tories won Leave voters, the party must also be “transfer friendly” and able to hang on to floating voters.
“Boris is pitching to MPs at the moment saying ‘I am the one who will win’,” Hayward said.
“What I’m saying is that you can’t stop at Brexit and win an election. You need Brexit voters, but you need the transfer-friendly voters as well.”
He added Hunt “doesn’t appeal strongly to the Brexit side” but “of the big three [Hunt, Gove, Johnson], Jeremy is the most transfer-friendly”.
“Boris Johnson does attract voters, there’s no question about that,” he said. “But he is a classic Marmite politician and there are two sides to the argument.”
Hayward also said it was “striking” that Johnson was failing to appeal to the younger voters who Corbyn convinced in 2017.
Johnson support was concentrated among those aged from 35 upward and particularly people of retirement age.
“The people who respond positively to Boris’ message are generally in the older generations, and this is a very stark problem for the Tory Party,” he said. “You have got to pick up new voters.”
Among those aged 18 to 34, Rory Stewart and Sajid Javid were picking up support, though they did not have broad appeal.
“The polls show at the moment, people like Rory Stewart and to a lesser extent Sajid [Javid] are actually doing better with those groups than they are with others.”
Hayward also stressed the Tories cannot ignore the party’s disastrous local election results, which, he said, showed government chaos had damaged the party in its traditional south east strongholds.
“The Tories lost [in the local elections] because they had failed to deliver Brexit, because Theresa May had been forced out and because a large number of people who are not strong Remainers or Leavers were just looking for good government,” he said.
“The Tories can’t win without the Brexit voters but they can’t win without the ‘good government’ Tories as well.”