Survey suggests grassroots Tory gloom

James Landale
Deputy political editor
@BBCJLandaleon Twitter

  • Published

At Westminster, the Conservative Party has a spring in its step, buoyed by positive economic signs, Labour civil war, rare unity over Europe and the departure of Abu Qatada.

But out in the country, the mood is less sunny, at least according to a survey that I have seen of 852 Conservative Party members.

Surveys of grassroots members are rare because it is almost impossible to get hold of party membership lists.

Data protection plays a part but political parties are also loath to allow outsiders to find out what their members are really thinking.

So to get the opinions of more than 800 Conservative members - as opposed to supporters - is a rare treat. YouGov identified the members from its previous polling work and it surveyed them between 31 May and 11 June.

The survey was carried out by YouGov for Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary, University of London and Professor Paul Webb from Sussex University and co-funded by the McDougall Trust.

Startling results

Opinion pollsters tend to want a sample of at least 1000 people to reflect the mood of millions of people around the country.

So a survey of more than 800 grassroots Tories should give us an accurate reflection of the views of the estimated 150,000 Conservative Party members across the country.

And the results are startling.

They suggest that 19% - almost one in five - of Conservative members are seriously considering voting for UKIP.

More than half - 53% - feel they are not respected by the Tory leadership.

They are growing less active, with 44% saying they spend no time on party activity in an average month.

And they are pessimistic about the future, with only 19% believing the party will win an overall majority at the election.

Let's take each of those individually.

The party members were asked about their views on UKIP.

They were asked to express their views by choosing a number from zero to ten. Zero meant they would never consider voting for UKIP. Ten meant they would definitely vote or consider voting for UKIP.

Only 33% said they would never consider voting UKIP.

The rest were spread pretty evenly across the scale. But 19% of the members ticked eight, nine or ten, suggesting they were seriously considering voting UKIP.

That is a remarkable figure and will worry Conservative leaders planning for the general election.

Equally concerning for the party leadership is the lack of activism.

The party members were asked how much time they spend on party activity in an average month, including campaigning, meetings and social events. Some 44% said none; 30% said just five hours.

Now in some ways this reflects the fact that all parties have large numbers of members who just pay their subs and never do a thing.

'Pretty pessimistic'

But the survey also suggests that Tory members are growing less willing to get involved.

They were asked if they were more or less active within the party than they were five years ago. Some 18% said they were more active, but 39% said they were less active.

This means fewer Tories ready to get out and campaign and that matters.

So why? Why this support for UKIP and lack of activism?

Well, first the party members do not feel loved.

They were asked to what extent the Conservative Party leadership respects ordinary party members. Some 53% said they did not feel respected; 45% said they were respected.

Many in the grassroots are also unhappy over policy. A whopping 59% said they opposed the introduction of legislation allowing for gay marriage. And 67% said they opposed protecting Britain's overseas aid budget.

All this is making the Tory membership pretty pessimistic.

They were asked what they believed would be the likeliest outcome of the next general election. Only 19% predicted an overall Tory majority.

The largest number - 31% - predicted a minority Conservative government. And fascinatingly, only a very small number said there would be a Tory-Lib Dem coalition - 6% - and even fewer predicted a Labour majority - 3%.

Now this is just one survey. It took place before Labour fell out with the Unite union and before Abu Qatada left the country and so on. It is also not weighted for age, sex and other demographic factors in the way national opinion polls are.

A senior Tory source cast doubts on the findings of the survey. He said it was difficult to know if the respondents really were Conservative members just because they claimed they were.

He suggested some could be former members who might be disaffected and more inclined to support UKIP.

But the bottom line is that the poll suggests theree is still a large gap between David Cameron and his party grassroots.

And less than two years away from a general election, that is a gap that no party leader would want to have.