Will Sunak's pensions gambit tempt back former Tories? Probably not.






29th May 2024

Rishi Sunak calls it the “Triple Lock Plus”. Journalists have christened it the “quadruple lock”. And Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves has described it as a “desperate gimmick”. But what effect, if any, will the Conservatives’ promise to safeguard state pension payments from income tax have on the polls?

The first question to ask is which group Sunak is targeting with this policy. The data suggest that pensions are not a priority for many voters. In our latest results, only 9% rank pensions as one of the top three issues facing them and their family; when asked to consider the top issues facing the country, just 3% select pensions.

Unsurprisingly, the group which is most likely to prioritise pensions is those aged over 65, a fifth (21%) of whom say it is one of the most important issues facing them and their family. It is worth noting that even among pensioners, pensions are not the priority: the NHS, the cost of living, and the economy all rank higher. Yet the biggest problem with targeting this cohort is that they are already more likely than any other age group to say they intend to vote Conservative. Moreover, older voters can usually be relied upon to come to the polls, so boosting turnout among this group is unlikely to make much difference either. There simply are not enough votes to be won among over 65s to swing the election for the Conservatives.

If Sunak wants to close the deficit in the polls, he needs to focus instead on another group of voters: those who voted Conservative in 2019 but do not currently intend to vote Conservative this time around. These former Tories constitute a sizeable constituency which should be winnable for Rishi Sunak with the right strategy.

But fastening yet another lock to the state pension is not the right strategy to tempt this group back to the fold. Only 14% of former Tories select pensions as one of the most important issues facing them and their family, and fewer still (just 4%) say it is one of the most important issues facing the country.  This group cares more about immigration and housing – as well as the economy, cost of living, and the NHS – than it does about pensions.

Former Tories are now more likely to back Reform UK than any other party. Sunak may be hoping to recapture some of these voters, but if so his quadruple lock gambit is the wrong way to go about it. Reform supporters are even less likely than the average voter to rank pensions as a top issue, with only 6% saying it is one of the three most important facing them and their family.

So why has Sunak nevertheless chosen to kickstart his campaign with a promise about pensions? Perhaps he has decided that many of these former Tories simply cannot be won back, and that his best bet is to consolidate support among the current Conservative base. If so, we should not expect much movement in the polls in response to this announcement. Until Sunak unveils an offering which relates to the top priorities of floating voters, his party is likely to languish in a distant second place.

Deltapoll interviewed 1,517 adults in Great Britain online between 23rd to 25th May 2024. The data have been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole. Full results are available on the Deltapoll website. This poll was commissioned by the Mail on Sunday.

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Matthew PriceAuthor: Matthew Price