Election 2017 Analysis: Ethnic minority swing towards Labour

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Pic: Still from widely shared I-D video showing Jeremy Corbyn meeting London-based grime music star JME.

Following the shock election result that saw Theresa May lose her majority amid a late surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour, Runnymede analyses the part played by black and minority ethnic voters.

Analysis of the latest polling shows Labour enjoying a massive 34-point lead over the Conservatives among visible ethnic minorities.

The findings chime with theupswing in Labour support among young voters and in London, where almost 40% of the population is black and minority ethnic (BME).

Analysis of ten ICM Unlimited polls between 19th April (last pre-election announcement poll) and 30th May shows Labour support topping 54% among non-white voters.

Runnymede notes that the polling samples for non-white voters are low, but taken together these results are useful in indicating trends.

Support for Jeremy Corbyn’s party has seen on a steep rise in ethnic minority support in each of the last three polls across an 11-day period from 19th to 30th May.

These findings echo other poll results showing a late swing towards Labour among younger voters (69% of 18-24 year olds, according to a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times); 20% of 18-24 year olds are BME compared to a UK average of 14%.

London Evening Standard analysis of YouGov polling on 1 June showed Labour (on 50%) enjoying a 17-point lead over the Conservatives (33%) in the capital.

A recent study by Operation Black Vote showed that 45 of the top 50 most marginal seats have BME electorates larger than the 2015 majority. This underlines the importance of BME voters to the size to the government majority.

Ethnic minorities have traditionally been significantly more likely to support Labour, as detailed in Runnymede’s 2015 Race and Elections study. However, there were some signs of growing BME support for the Conservatives at the last election.

Recent local and mayor elections in May (particularly in the West Midlands) had led to speculation that Labour’s support among ethnic minorities might have fallen further.

Runnymede’s post-2015 election analysis calculated Labour’s BME support to be 60%, which means that the current polling (54%) could represent a slight fall. This is consistent with studies going back to 1997 which point to a slow trickle of BME votes away from Labour.

However, the latest ICM polling - carried out for The Guardian, the Sun on Sunday and ITV’s Peston show – shows a larger points gap, and that suggests that the Conservatives have failed to make the breakthrough in BME support they would have been hoping for.

Why Labour’s support may be increasing among ethnic minorities:

· The London effect: Half of all BME communities live in the capital. London Evening Standard polling analysis showing Labour support in the capital at 50% is close to the ICM polling for Non-White voters. This could indicate that an increase in Labour support in London is being driven by BME voters, who make up almost 40% of London’s population. This could be a significant factor in key London marginal seats where there is a high BME electorate (eg. Croydon Central, Brentford and Isleworth, Ilford North, Ealing Central and Acton, Enfield North, Harrow West and Harrow East).

· The austerity effect: With Britain’s economy firmly in the recovery phase following the global financial crisis, the argument for continuing to squeeze public spending is less persuasive, especially in terms of communities that are hardest-hit. BME communities are disproportionately impacted by public sector cuts and reductions in benefits (including in-work benefits), as economic analysis by Runnymede and the Women’s Budget Group has shown. For example, African and Caribbean women in the poorest third will be over £2,000 per year worse off. Labour have a reputation for opposing the worse effects of austerity, and Conservative arguments about the need to continue to reduce budgets may be wearing thin.

· The race equality effect: Social attitude polls have consistently shown that BME citizens rate the importance of tackling racism far higher, and are more concerned about ‘security’ issues like unemployment. Runnymede are part of a 20-strong group of organisations that produced a Race Equality Manifesto. While the Conservatives have been making a stronger pitch for BME votes than ever before, it is possible that BME voters have greater faith in Labour to deliver policies that make Britain a more racially-equal society.

· The Brexit effect: Ashcroft Polls indicated that two-thirds of Asian, and three quarters of African and Caribbean, voters were Remain. The post-Brexit environment saw a spike in hate crime and casual racism that extended wider than EU immigrants. As a result, many BME voters will be concerned about the future direction of Britain after Brexit. In addition, pre-referendum talk of Britain trading more with Commonwealth countries has now given way to post-referendum commentary about further tightening of non-EU migration. This is likely to have disappointed the minority of BME voters who voted to leave Europe.

Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, said:

“A number of recent polls have suggested that Theresa May’s lead over Jeremy Corbyn has been narrowing and the race is becoming tighter than previously thought. Our polling analysis indicates that Labour’s support among ethnic minorities may well be increasing in the latter stages of this campaign.

“A more likely explanation is that as polling day approaches Labour’s BME support is reverting to levels seen in the past two elections. That means that Conservative hopes of capturing a greater share of the ‘BME vote’ from Labour may be optimistic.

“It all shows there is everything to play for in the last few days, and that ethnic minority turnout will matter.”

Click here for Runnymede's analysis of the race-focused content of the major parties' pre-election manifestos and here for the Race Equality Manifesto drawn up by Runnymede and partners.

Individual ICM polls analysed were as follows:

Guardian (poll 2) 19/04 pre election announcement

Guardian (poll 3) 24/04

ITV for Peston on Sunday (24/04)

Sun on Sunday (poll 1) 01/05

Guardian (poll 4) 02/05

Sun on Sunday (poll 2) 07/05

Guardian (poll 5) 08/05

Guardian (poll 6) 15/05

Guardian (poll 7) 19-21/05

Sun on Sunday (poll 3) 28/05

Guardian (poll 8) 30/05

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