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By Bishop of Leeds
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Voters Are Split On Backing Candidate Over Party At Mayoral Elections

East Midlands Conservative mayoral candidate Ben Bradley and Rishi Sunak pictured last week (Alamy)

4 min read

New data has shown that voters are split as to whether to prioritise candidate or party in May's mayoral elections meaning the results may not prove to be the best bellwether for anticipating the outcome of this year's general election.

Research from the Centre for Cities think tank suggests that more than half of voters prioritise the candidate rather than the party they stand for when it comes to voting in a mayoral election. 

According to their figures in the Places Over Politics report, 51 per cent primarily look at the candidate, while 49 per cent look at which party a candidate is standing for first. 

But it is not expected that this behaviour will be replicated in the next general election, which must be called before the end of this year. Centre for Cities found that only one third (34 per cent) of people look first to the candidate, while two thirds (66 per cent) vote party first. 

Mayoral elections are due to be held in 10 locations in England on 2 May, the same day as local elections in parts of the country. The Conservatives are expected to suffer significant losses, with most of these seats having last been up in 2021, when then prime minister Boris Johnson’s government benefited from an electoral boost thanks to the Covid vaccine roll out. 

Paul Swinney, Centre for Cities’ director of policy and research believes that with local authority elections, Westminster-watchers and national media will use the results to try and extrapolate what they can tell us about the country-wide picture 

“What may be slightly disappointing for them – for those national journalists – is that if people are much more likely to vote for a candidate in the mayoral election, it probably means that mayoral elections aren't going to really tell us that much about what we expect to see in a general election," Swinney explained in a briefing on Monday afternoon.

"They aren’t that bellwether, in the way that maybe the local authority elections will be.” 

Conservative MP Ben Bradley is standing as the Tory candidate for mayor in the East Midlands when it elects the post for the first time in May. He told PoliticsHome that voters “prefer decisions taken closer to their communities” which supports the government’s continued roll-out of combined authorities. 

"From an East Midlands perspective, where this is entirely new for people, it shows that there's still a lot of work to be done to engage with people and to explain what this all means," Bradley, who is also leader of Nottinghamshire Council, added.

“However, the spirit of these findings – 'Place over Politics' – should tell us that the national polls don't hold sway here. Many more people will vote for the right person rather than the rosette in these elections.” 

Bradley said that he was "the only candidate with the right experience and the record of delivering for our area" in the East Midlands contest, "so it only drives me even more to be out there every day making that case, knowing that in these elections those attributes are really important for voters".

Centre for Cities' data showed that, of the areas polled, the East Midlands had the lowest proportion of people who definitely said that they would vote for the mayoralty at 33.7 per cent. Overall, 22.1 per cent of people said that they did not have enough knowledge of the election. 

The Liverpool City Region, where former MP Steve Rotheram is mayor, and the North East, which is electing a mayor for the first time, had the second and third lowest proportion of people who said they would definitely vote ast 35.7 and 39.8 per cent respectively. The North East also recorded the second highest number of people who said they had a lack of knowledge about the election at 21 per cent. 

The survey questioned 3,455 people who are eligible to vote in the upcoming mayoral elections between 26 February and 15 March this year. 

Last week, PoliticsHome reported that the prospect of Conservative mayors Ben Houchen and Andy Street losing their positions in the Tees Valley and West Midlands could leave Rishi Sunak facing another problem. 

Conservative MPs now believe the fate of Street and Houchen could also have a big impact on how Tory backbenchers respond to the results on the night.

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