John Curtice said Boris Johnson’s party has realised that the vote to leave the EU five years ago tapped into a wider set of socially conservative values.
Polling presented by Curtice suggested the Tories saw its support shoot up from 45% of Leave voters in 2015, a year before the EU referendum, to 73% in 2019.
It is a shift that is likely to have helped Johnson win an 80-seat majority in 2019 after taking swathes of largely Leave-supporting working class seats from Labour’s so-called “red wall”.
Now the party is still managing to keep the support of 66% of Leave voters even though Brexit is less of a live political issue now the UK has left the EU with trading terms largely settled.
Curtice stressed that Brexit is still important particularly to Leave voters, but that the prime minister’s plans to “level up” largely Leave voting working class areas of the country, as well as its “anti-woke” agenda is helping the Tories keep support among Brexit backers.
Meanwhile, there is “barely any evidence” that Labour is reconnecting with Leave voters any more than a slight gain in support as a result of Keir Starmer marginally improving the party’s overall fortunes.
It comes with the Tories accused of attempting to wage a culture war with the release of a race report which critics said would “fuel racism”, a refusal to directly criticise those who boo England football players taking a knee before matches, and a desire to amplify and dismiss calls to remove statues of slavers from UK cities, among other issues.
Curtice told a UK In A Changing Europe briefing: “Brexit of course now taps into a wider set of values.
“The fact that people who are pro-Brexit are willing to support the Conservative Party - yes it’s to do with Brexit in particular but it’s also of course to do with immigration.
“It’s also now, as the Conservative Party realises, Brexit is also tapping into a wider set of more socially conservative values.
“And that’s why you can see why the Conservative Party pursuing its anti-woke agenda is indeed finding other ways of continuing to connect with the views of Leave voters, as well as of course the more direct appeals designed by the phraseology of levelling up.
“So we’re probably wrong to say that it’s just about Brexit, but the point is Brexit has wrought about a change in the connection between the Conservative Party in particular and the electorate, and also Labour.
“And that although it’s now happening on a wider terrain, that terrain is still being fought over.”