Boris Johnson’s Tory supporters are more likely to back a no-deal Brexit, are more right-wing and want less focus on climate change than backers of other candidates, a new survey of party members has found.
Johnson, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Theresa May, also benefits disproportionately from a new influx of members who joined the Conservatives since the 2016 EU referendum.
Of those who backed him, some 45% said they had joined the party in the past three years, according to an academic analysis of a YouGov snapshot of the Tory membership.
In a finding that will raise fresh suspicions that former UKIP members have flocked to the Tory membership, some 75% who joined since the referendum back a no-deal outcome, compared to just 60% of more long-standing members.
The latest assessment, in a blog for The Conversation website by Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London and Paul Webb of the University of Sussex, suggests why Johnson is on course to win if he makes it to the ballot of the membership later this month.
The study suggests that his supporters prefer the ‘Bannon-Boris’ rather than the ‘Have I Got News For You Boris’, partly because he’s attracting more support from post-referendum joiners than Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and other contenders.
Bale and Webb found that the Tory grassroots are far from representative of the country as a whole, either demographically or ideologically. They are more male, southern, wealthy and white than average voters.
“Our new analysis, however, using data from a recent survey of Conservative Party members that was kindly provided to us by Chris Curtis of YouGov, reveals something that is possibly even more worrying for critics of the process,” they write.
“The party members who support the clear front runner, Boris Johnson, are even more ideologically unrepresentative of British voters than are the bulk of their counterparts.”
While only around a quarter of the wider British public support leaving the EU without a Brexit deal, a huge 85% of Johnson’s supporters within the party are keen on a no-deal departure.
Some two thirds (66%) of the nearly 900 Conservative rank-and-file members who responded to the survey said the UK should leave without a deal.
Just 37% of Hunt supporters and 52% of Gove supporters would be happy with a no-deal Brexit.
When asked to describe their place on the political spectrum, some 42% of members overall said they were on the ‘right’. But 56% of Johnson supporters described themselves in this way, compared to 39% for Gove and 15% of Hunt’s grassroots backers.
Johnson supporters are twice as likely to want tax cuts as Gove and Hunt admirers in the party membership and less likely to back same-sex marriage.
More than a quarter of them want less focus on climate change (compared to around 10% for his rivals).
In their blog, Bale and Webb say that the disparity in members who joined after 2016 suggests Johnson had the advantage.
“We can only guess as to how many of Johnson’s supporters were former UKIP sympathisers switching to the Tories; but it certainly seems possible.
“And, who knows, given that one doesn’t have to renounce one’s membership of the Conservative Party to become a registered supporter of the Brexit Party, perhaps some of them hold a candle for Nigel Farage as well as Johnson.”