Immigration figures spell electoral trouble for Rishi Sunak
A new poll suggests that Tory Leavers will be put off voting by them
Immigration is back in the public conversation. Today’s announcement that Britain’s net migration has reached a record-setting 606,000 follows news of rising numbers arriving illegally across the channel.
This will likely mark a return to something closer to the political climate prior to Brexit. Net migration rose rapidly under New Labour from its longstanding level in the tens of thousands to over 200,000 by 1999. The rise continued under David Cameron’s Tories. As net migration remained high, public concern rose concomitantly, powering the rise first of the BNP, then of UKIP, then of Brexit. In an August 2016 survey I conducted after the referendum, I found that nearly all Brexit voters wanted lower levels of immigration and that this was the most important priority for 40% of them, far ahead of any other issue.
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Net migration declined after Brexit, from over 300,000 in 2016 to just over 200,000 in 2019 to under 100,000 during the pandemic. However, in 2021 it began to climb again, surpassing 200,000 in 2021 and over half a million the following year.
The fact this has continued without immigration returning to a dominant position in the political conversation has led some to surmise that the link between numbers and issue salience has been broken. Gratitude for foreign NHS workers and a focus on economic growth, alongside a perception of control, are said to have led to a more relaxed attitude to large-scale migration.
The idea that numbers are not an issue would be a departure from conventional wisdom, since research on restrictionist immigration attitudes and populist Right voting in Western countries shows that non-economic concerns related to numbers are a key driver of both. In a 2017 survey, I found that mentioning that higher migration levels would result in slightly faster ethnic change by 2060 shifted public attitudes 20-25 points toward favouring lower numbers, even if this meant a lower-skilled immigration flow.
On the other hand, public opinion does not perfectly reflect inflows. American immigration surged in the 1990s, but did not become a high priority issue for a decade. Competing issues and party priorities played a part in delaying the response. In Britain, wonks who follow the latest ONS release often forget that shifts in numbers are not immediately noticed by the median voter — especially since most locales do not experience rapid change. Brexit, the pandemic and cost of living crisis are rare events that have consumed a lot of political oxygen, overshadowing immigration.
But the issue has not gone away. Immigration’s salience has been rising to the point where it is a leading priority for 31% of voters and 54% of Conservatives (where it is nearly tied with the economy).
The more the public becomes aware of the migration trend, the worse things get for the Tories. To illustrate, I conducted a series of two small snap polls of mainly 2019 Tory voters on the Prolific survey platform. One was sent out on Monday and one today, where I showed respondents a BBC brief about the new net migration figures.
Figure 1 compares the perception of 2019 Tory voters sampled on Monday and today. On Monday, a similar number of 2019 Tory voters thought immigration had declined or stayed the same (or were unsure) as those who thought it had “increased a lot”. Today, after reading the BBC announcement, the share saying it had risen a lot jumped to 57%, more than five times the 11% who said it had declined or stayed the same (the remainder being those saying it had risen a little).
Respondents were next asked who they intended to vote for in 2024. Prolific’s sample leans liberal, so half the Tory sample are Remainers. But when I restrict my sample to Leavers, in Figure 2, this shows that the proportion of Tory Leavers intending to vote for Rishi Sunak markedly drops, from 42% to 27%. Most of these voters go into the “Don’t Know/Won’t Vote” category, but Labour’s share rises from 12% to 19%. Reform UK’s support remains unchanged, at 8%.
Interestingly, support for Sunak among 2019 Tory Remainers rises after reading about the party’s liberal immigration policy, but not enough to make up for the decline among Tory Leavers. The announcement also did not increase Sunak’s vote among those who voted for other parties in 2019.
Given the nature of the Tory coalition, which leans heavily toward Brexit, and the importance of the Red Wall for Sunak’s path to victory, the party would be wise to ignore the advice of those who say a liberal immigration policy is an election-winning strategy. If it acts soon to reduce numbers, it may be able to turn the ship around before more of its voters notice. If not, electoral doom awaits.
The pro-immigration people are just evil.
They have been born into a relatively important country, have had a top education, have good jobs (like Archbishop of Canterbury) and now want succeding generations to give all that away. You can’t get more unthankful.
Mr Canterbury, by the use of his name alone, has even made his beliefs into a pseudo-religious rant, fully expecting his flock to follow him. This is just disgusting and people should tell him so.
Today’s announcement that Britain’s net migration has reached a record-setting 606,000 follows news of rising numbers arriving illegally across the channel.
Have a look at a map of the UK, and imagine a new city the size of Sheffield appearing every single year. And consider that a large proportion of the individual migrants will be criminals (illegal entry) and many of them will have no wish to assimilate. Then think about fuel poverty and “Net Zero”, and the appalling state of many of the public services that you and your ancestors fought and paid for. Having done that, try to recall being asked by politicians whether you agreed to this situation or not.
Well said. And the only way that the map will not become a morass of hideous concrete is by shoving the new arrivals into concentrated high rise hutches, breeding grounds of anomie and alienation – as if the generalised alienation of the multi-culti nowhere weren’t enough! Meanwhile, the poorest of our own, rump society will be forced to join them.
What we are witnessing is the decisive push of the modernist / Marxist elite for the full realisation of its utterly inhuman programme – a society denuded of identity, history, culture, religion and home – a society composed of slugs and ants, housed in sties and diverted by drugs.
And they will be “equal”, albeit ruled and managed by a veiled elite which virtually denies its own existence, but wallows, no doubt, in the choicest remaining thatched villages. Utopia is puritan and puritan means hypocrite and hypocrites are capable of all vice. And this is the formula which describes the moral filth now ruling our society.
Add to that the fact that both legal and illegal immigrants often arrive with long term, untreated health conditions. My guess is that the immigrant’s need will trump that of the indigenous population leading to the current ridiculously long waiting listsI I often ponder that for every immigrant health worker in the NHS that we are told to be grateful for, how many illegal /legal immigrants are ‘jumping the queue because they have not had the benefit of free health services in their birth country and come with longstanding serious health issues. They will inevitably ‘jump the queue and thus those of us who have paid for it all our working lives have the basic human right to join the year + backlog and patiently wait up to a year or more for treatment – if we live that long!
Not sure about that. At my last hospital appointment everyone else in the waiting room was old, fat and white. That’s the demographic soaking up resources.
But what is the point? Switching from the Conservatives means a Labour government, possibly propped up by the Lib Dems and SNP, all even more enthusiastic about open borders. Even if the government wanted to introduce policies which could curb immigration, swathes of the public services and police would simply refuse to implement them.
Agreed. It is an iron law of British politics that no matter how appalling the Tories may be, the Labour party will be even worse – and we are the long term prisoners of this law.
And yet, it is characteristic of prisoners to go mad, simply to block out the very restrictions which torment them; and in that madness they will rebel, no matter what the consequence may be.
Out there, across the remains of suburbia and deep within the beleaguered shires, is a deal of anger and despair among the imprisoned people which just yearns for expression.
Under the influence of these feelings, such voters will have to weigh the value of a partial, inadequate Tory resistance to “Woke” against the intense pleasure of avenging themselves upon that same, defeatist Toryism.
They don’t seem to care that by gorging on this moment of triumph they will be letting themselves in for a lifetime of socialist gruel, perhaps because they feel defeated already – they are old, their children have rejected them and the awful twinges of disease summon the brutal attentions of “our” NHS.
This, I can’t help feeling, is how people must have felt in the fifth century AD; or in the France of 1940, when everything looks bleak and finished. And it is on this feeling, the despair of the sane, that the criminal lunatics of the left can feed.
Not this time. Next year I’m going to sit it out. No holding my nose. We HAVE to get rid of the Conservatives to allow a right of centre cultural party to rise. I wish Farage would take back Reform. Love him or hate him he would – in a stroke – make this THE electorial issue. The only silver lining I see is that the GDP per capita, the importing Sheffield numbers and building Cromer numbers housing, 1.2m getting in the NHS queue connections are being made. When all boats rise people are more complacent, but that’s very far from the case now. I see people across the board struggling to make ends meet.
It seems to me you are underestimating the real horror of our national circumstances. Once in untrammelled power the left will transform the situation as fast as possible – remember “rubbing our noses in diversity”? They did it, didn’t they? And nobody has been able to undo or even mitigate it. So don’t imagine for one second that they will stand still.
Their next move will be to enfranchise all migrants, legal or not, and lower the voting age to sixteen. How do you fancy “Reform’s” chances after that?
I repeat: we are the prisoners of these circumstances. Destroy the Tories, inadequate as they are, and you simply bring on the final disaster – which, by the way, will also involve extreme economic hardship – worse again by some orders of magnitude than the situation of today.
Wiser far would be a two pronged strategy in which most Conservative seats are effectively defended whilst a more radical force prevents Labour from regaining the so-called red wall. Remember, prisoners are apt to go mad; to rejoice in riot rather than working patiently on the tunnel to effective release. It is to this that the deep state left has reduced us – but pretending that they have not is part of their malignant programme.
So the media have decided the time is right to highlight this, have they? Tipping point reached, Tory party obliterated for a generation so now we talk elephants in rooms? A bit late if you ask me; here’s why:
The fruits of 25 years LabCon social and education policy can be summed up today in two ways:
1) Celebrity “Mizzy the Tiktok Prankster”, who films himself entering premises illegally to be rewarded with a prime time TV shouting match with Piers Morgan and
2) Anti-oil protestors throwing paint around at Chelsea Flower Show.
Whilst Joe Biden’s latest tweet eulogising George Floyd tells you everything you need to know about the big picture of Western society.
Meanwhile my home town, full of old duffers like me, is bolstered by talented educated, mostly young East Europeans, running businesses, offering skilled tradesman services etc.
London’s been like that since the early 2000’s, the hospitality industry particularly transformed by young immigrants from that part of the world. No wonder the elites who live there hate Brexit.
I know this is the rosy “Remain” liberal view of immigration, because I am from a working class area of the North, shocked by how it looks now, and needing no convincing of the other side of the argument.
As for London it’s not like young people have ever been in short supply, nor do they lack a comprehensive transport system to get them into work. Not enough of them are up to scratch, otherwise why go 1,000 miles overseas to fill the vacancies.
I’ll believe the media is serious about the issue when we talk about stuff like that. Then we might start getting somewhere.
The reason this has happened is the Right can’t square Voter friendly with Business friendly, esp as not been honest about trade offs. No plan but to find someone else to blame. Pathetic.
What a Brexit dividend, and from the same clowns who promulgated the Take Back Control cobblers.
Did they not notice when Bojo relaxed the Visa study/family rules? Did they notice Braverman still signing off thousands of Visa requests from business?
Too busy distracted by red meat about Boats. What a bunch of mugs.
Ukraine and Hong Kong have obviously influenced these figures. Get used to it however, these numbers will continue to grow in the future as the climate crisis starts to bite.
Yes, yes, go ahead and thumb it down. However in the time being a new study suggests up to a billion people face being displaced. Can you guess where they will want to come?
It isn’t climate change that is driving mass immigration into the UK, it is government policy that is doing that.You are being thumbed down because you cannot see what is staring you in the face.
Read my post again and you’ll find I said ‘in the future’. Hope that helps.
We are discussing immigration today, not in your fantasy future.
Hope that helps.
The article is speculating on future problems. I’m uncertain how you missed that.
Okay! Okay! – The immediate future.
Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty, but Robbie enjoys it.
How do you know that migration is being driven by climate change?
There is a demographic explosion in Sub Saharan Africa that will see Nigeria, among other countries, quadruple in population in the next 80 years, while clean water, forests, and soils are all simultaneously annihilated. Nigeria will have 750 million people in an area the size of Texas by 2100.
And yet it is still fashionable to presume that the only reason people migrate is because of climate change.
Just the other day I read in the Guardian that rivers in Nigeria were drying up because of changing weather patterns. It must have taken a Herculean act of blindness on the paper’s part to avoid seeing that 200 million Nigerians have cut down all the trees and removed all the topsoil in all the key catchment areas, making the destruction of rivers a mathematical certainty.
There are hundreds of studies on the subject, the latest one published suggest up to a billion people face being displaced.
What’s happening in Nigeria is potentially the perfect storm – as you suggest, a rapidly increasing population scrambling for resources and neglecting sustainable practices. Now throw in a some droughts, flooding and conflict and there is an epic humanitarian crisis.
I don’t dispute that climate change has *some* impact. But it acts on a timescale of 50 years or so, whereas humans act on a time scale of 2-3 years.
The very real issues you raise are mostly nothing to do with climate change: droughts and floods are caused by destruction of catchment areas, and not, for the most part, changing weather patterns. I’ve seen this kind of flooding first hand in Southern Africa – and it almost always accompanies human settlements in catchment areas, followed by rapid desertification due to tree cutting and overgrazing.
Conflict, likewise, has at best a minor link with climate change. A much bigger factor is too many people competing for too few resources – and that in turn is driven by populations doubling every 25 years for the last 100 years.
But explosive population growth, as an obvious driver for these outcomes is, sadly, taboo to mention on both the right and left.
Absolutely true, your concluding paragraph especially. Unfortunately, the concept that environmental degradation is the direct result of there being far too many people on the planet remains impossible for many people to admit.
Japan gets its chosen immigration policies.
UAE (and Dubai in particular) get chosen immigration, with a clear criteria, national preference, most public services only for citizens and ZERO ways for immigrants to get citizenship
It is perfectly possible and desirable to reject immigration. And the national traitors who advocate for it.
Japan’s geographical location certainly helps greatly in its successful policy of strictly controlled immigration. It is simply too far for thousands of destitute illegals to reach in cheap inflatable dinghies.
Japan is extremeley close to Malaysia, North Korea, and formerly China or South Korea (who were bjectly poor coutnries 60 years ago)
Japn is closer to Pakistan than the UK
UAE are closer to Syria or Pakistan than UK or France are from Syria or Algeria
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