Boris Johnson’s “vaccine bounce” is being driven by the over-55s who have so far been given the Covid jab, according to new polling analysis.
A study of Savanta/ComRes surveys by polling expert Lord Hayward found that the Tories’ opening up of a seven-point lead over Labour almost exactly mirrors the age-related rollout of the vaccination programme.
And crucially, the older generations are more likely to vote in the coming set of “super Thursday” local elections on May 6.
The Conservatives are hoping that the vaccine effect, together with Johnson’s personal popularity in the north and midlands, could combine to protect them from heavy losses in key councils in Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Keir Starmer is pushing the government’s planned 1% pay cap for NHS nurses as a key theme of Labour’s local election campaign.
The UK has one of its largest ever sets of elections in May, with polls postponed last year by the pandemic combining with planned contests to allow the first nationwide verdict on the main parties since the 2019 general election.
As well as county, district and city elections, there will be votes for eight London and metro mayors, and for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments.
Hayward said that the age differential of those switching support to the Tories was notable, given how the party had been neck and neck with Labour in early December but is now up to seven points behind across several polls.
“It is the older generations who have moved most markedly to the Conservatives. Basically the cohort from [the age of] 54 upwards.
“Now the significant thing is, they are the people who vote in local elections. So not only has that group moved towards the Conservatives, or has the population moved towards the Conservatives, but the people who’ve moved most towards the Conservatives are actually the people who vote generally.”
He went on: “It is quite noticeable. It was first of all the age group from 64 upwards that moved. There’s some sign now that the 55-year-old and upwards are also moving.
“And interestingly enough, they are the people who have received their vaccinations. So there’s clearly an element of ‘vaccine bounce’. I think it goes hand in hand. I don’t think it’s chance.”
More than 90% of pensioners have had their first dose of the Covid vaccine. Everyone aged 55 and over has already been notified they are eligible for vaccination, with some projections suggesting that everyone over 50 could be jabbed by the end of this month. It could take until the end of June to give a first dose to every adult over 18.
Hayward, the pollster who first coined the phrase “shy Tories” to explain John Major’s surprise 1992 victory, said the prime minister could be further assisted by each stage of the exit from lockdown restrictions in the weeks before the May polling day.
But he cautioned that other polling evidence showed concerns about Covid were receding notably since January and it was possible that its salience overall as an electoral issue could diminish in coming weeks as a result.
In a normal year, Labour would be expected to make substantial gains in the local elections, not least as the Tories had impressive seat holds or gains in 2016 and 2017, the baseline for this year’s contests.
Yet in key “red wall” areas that Boris Johnson won at Westminster level in 2019, there are signs that his personal popularity has increased. There are marked regional differences, with the PM’s popularity still very low in London but actually healthy in the north, the new analysis said.
The Tories will be heartened by another poll on Monday, with an IpsosMORI/Evening Standard survey finding a surge in economic optimism. For the first time since 2015, slightly more people think things will improve over the coming year than think they will get worse.