Is the General Election 2019 really all about Brexit?

Polls offer new insight into what really matters to voters

Boris Johnson
Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 7 September
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Parliament’s inability to agree on Brexit was undoubtedly the trigger for the UK’s first December election in almost a century - but will Brexit be the deciding factor when voters head to the polls?

The Conservative Party’s slogan “Get Brexit Done” and the Liberal Democrats’ “Stop Brexit” puts Britain’s future relationship with the EU at the forefront of their campaigns. But Labour has argued that the election is about far more than this single issue.

The polls

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A YouGov poll published last week found that “the public are far more likely to identify with Leave or Remain than a political party”. Of those surveyed, 86% identified as a Brexiteer or Remainer, but only 68% chose a party.

Another YouGov poll from earlier this month looked at the key issues that will decide the election result. Brexit was top of the list, with 68% of respondents listing it as one of the three most important issues facing the country. Health was in second place at 40%, followed by crime at 28%. The economy and the environment rounded out the top five, tying on 25%.

By contrast to a similar survey conducted in the run-up to the 2017 general election, immigration and asylum are low on the public’s list of priorities, dropping from third place two years ago to sixth place now, while the environment and crime have risen by five places.

However, in another survey from Ipsos Mori, out today, the NHS overtook Brexit as the most important election issue for voters, with 60% prioritising the health service and 56% prioritising Brexit.

“The shift will be seen as a boon for the main opposition party, which has put the NHS at the heart of its campaign, while the Conservatives have sought to keep the campaign narrative focused on Brexit,” says the Financial Times.

Sticky identities

The various political parties are firing out new policy announcements daily as more poll findings land, but Daniel Finkelstein in The Times argues that “there is a big gap between the election that politicians think they are fighting and the election that’s actually happening”.

He points to a survey by Lord Ashcroft Polls that asked the public which news stories and announcements they had noticed from the election campaign over the previous few days. Just 12% cited Labour’s promise for free broadband, 10% said the floods, and 9% said NHS funding. But Finkelstein notes that “by far the most common response to the question (42%) was: ‘None’”.

He suggests that voters’ “membership of social groups and their partisan alignment” will still determine the ultimate choices of many. Although this election could see a vast switch, “traditional identities can be quite sticky”, Finkelstein adds.

Meanwhile The Economist warns that while it is being billed as the Brexit election, “more is at stake” than Britain’s relationship with Europe.

“The far-left Mr Corbyn promises to put the state at the heart of the economy, whereas Mr Johnson’s Tories seem to be moving towards a more freewheeling form of capitalism. At the same time, both potential prime ministers would pick at the ties between the nations of the United Kingdom,” says the news site.

“Britain’s Christmas contest is its most important in living memory.”

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