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Election Diaries: PoliticsHome To Track 5 Key Battlegrounds

6 min read

PoliticsHome in partnership with Thinks Insight & Strategy will be tracking reactions from swing voters in five key battlegrounds throughout the general election campaign.

Starting this week, members of the public in constituencies across the UK will be sharing with us what they have seen and heard of the campaign, as well as what it means to them, before the country finally casts its judgement on Thursday, 4 July.

The research, which will feature across PoliticsHome's output over the next five weeks, will focus on 50 swing voters in five battlegrounds which could indicate what awaits Rishi Sunak's Conservatives, Keir Starmer's Labour and the other political parties next month.

The participants will submit their reactions using text, voice, picture and video messages. Occasionally, some will be asked to do a campaign-related activity which they probably otherwise wouldn't have done, like watch a TV debate, skim a manifesto, or read some coverage, and then asked for their response. 

The Seats

Three of the seats where the participants are based are controlled by the Tories and are targets for Labour. They are Nuneaton, Bolton West, and Swindon South. 

In Nuneaton, which at recent general elections has been regarded as an important bellwether, Labour needs a swing of over 14 per cent to take it from the Tories.

In Swindon South, Labour candidate Heidi Alexander needs a smaller swing of nearly six per cent to defeat former Tory Cabinet minister, Robert Buckland.

The performance of right-wing party Reform UK could be important in determining the outcome in Bolton West, where Labour needs a swing of nearly 11 per cent to take it from the Tories.

One, Wokingham, is controlled by the Conservatives and is in the sights of Ed Davey's Liberal Democrats. The seat had been represented by former Tory MP John Redwood for nearly 40 years until he announced that he was standing down from Westminster politics.

The fifth, Airdrie and Shotts, is a Scottish National Party seat which Labour hopes to win. The SNP took the seat from Labour at the 2015 general election. 

Seat 2019 Winner Target Seat Swing Needed
Nuneaton Conservative

Labour #171


Bolton West


Labour #118


Swindon South


Labour #55


Airdrie & Shotts


Labour #57




Lib Dem #35


All 50 participants voted for either the Conservatives or the SNP at the last general election in 2019, but are currently leaning towards other parties or are undecided how they will vote. They represent a range of demographics like age and socioeconomic status. They also have a range of media habits, with some getting their news from social media and others from more traditional outlets. 

Labour has enjoyed large, double-digit leads over the Tories in the opinion polls for well over a year, and so far there has been little evidence of that changing since Prime Minister Sunak called the early July election nearly two weeks ago.

Whatever happens to public sentiment between now and polling day, this research will help explore why it has happened by offering a voters'-eye view of the campaign. 

Starting Points

Before the campaign got going in earnest, we asked the diarists to take a short survey and send us a text or voice note telling us their feelings about the election, and their starting views of the parties and leaders.

Disappointed and disillusioned

By far the strongest sentiment is a sense that politicians and politics are far removed from diarists’ reality. The perception is of a country in decline – a sluggish economy, continued high cost of living, a failing NHS, potholes and broken infrastructure – with a political class who are not only failing to address these issues, but seemingly more preoccupied with in-fighting and political point scoring than with trying to improve things.

"I think the last few years, politics in the UK has just had a turn for the worse. I think all parties are kind of not really thinking about the people. And I think, in general, are moving away from the core values of what the parties actually represented, especially back in the 20th century. I think it's getting harder to distinguish between the parties of who actually wants what for who." – Cameron, Wokingham

Diarists have received the news of an election with very muted hopes and a fair amount of cynicism: Parties’ campaign activities are mostly seen as spectacle without any substance. Some note that election coverage can feel more like sports coverage – focussed on who manages to score the most points in exchanges with their opponents.

Although they all feel that it is “time for a change”, their trust in any party to really make a difference is low. At this point, these swing-voters are not fully convinced by what they are seeing from Labour or the Conservatives, with only very few considering third parties as an option.

The Conservatives are largely seen to be ‘at the end of their run’

There is a strong sense among diarists that the Conservative Party is struggling to stay electable and relevant.Week one proposals such as the reintroduction of National Service are seen as confirmation of this – an indication that the party is desperate to grasp headlines, without any coherent agenda or plan.

word cloud
What one word would you use to describe the Tory party?

Asked to liken Rishi Sunak to an animal, Diarists predominantly choose the wily and cunning fox – or the slimy snake. He is seen as style over substance. Many feel they have heard a lot from him during the campaign so far – and a few give him credit for fighting his corner – but he is seen as evasive about important details and out of touch with ordinary people.

“I think he's completely out of touch, you know, I just can't understand how anyone could think he is. He's just obviously got no idea how the common man lives and, you know, stuff about voluntary conscription and all that stuff and the whole Rwanda thing." – Fred, Wokingham

There is an expectation that Labour will win “by default”, but that they will need to get their house in order

The Labour Party is seen as confident and optimistic in the face of what many predict will be an easy win for them. Although they are hearing more from Labour now, the start point remains significant uncertainty what Labour stands for. News of Labour’s stance on immigration, commitment to cutting NHS waiting times, and creating Great British Energy have cut through, but diarists are not convinced that they can deliver.

The animals chosen for Keir Starmer – dogs and horses predominantly – are seen as reliable but unexciting. Nonetheless, there is an increasing sense that he is Prime-Minister-in-waiting.

"I have just put Sky News on and Keir Starmer was on there on his campaign trail. He came across quite positive. Yeah, he's in the running." – Claire, Nuneaton

Whilst Labour will be heartened to see the words ‘changed’ and ‘optimistic’ among those chosen by our swing voter diarists to describe the party, they should also take note of the words and phrases that convey uncertainty and doubt – empty; unsteady; mediocre. That optimism is more about the promise of change, than any tangible expectation of what Labour will deliver. Our diarists are yet to feel inspired by Labour.

What one word would you use to describe the Labour party?

By Adam Payne, Editor, PoliticsHome, Ben Shimshon, CEO, and Teresa Kuhn, Associate Director, Thinks Insight & Strategy

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