Ignore England’s “squeezed middle” voters at your peril, warns Policy Exchange

James Frayne

Director of Policy and Strategy 2014-16

  • Comprehensive new research examines the values and policy priorities of C1/C2 voters in marginal seats across England – those “just about managing”.
  • C1/C2 voters feel largely overlooked by politicians but they decide elections – and their votes are firmly up for grabs.
  • Paper shows Labour must do more to shake off its perception as the party of benefits and trade unionists and broaden its appeal to ‘Middle England’.
  • C1/C2 women hold stronger views than men on immigration, school discipline, weak sentencing and keeping the country safe. 

Despite their overwhelming importance, “squeezed middle” voters across England’s most marginal seats feel overlooked and unrepresented – with Labour perceived as the party that represents those on benefits and trade union members and the Conservatives perceived to be on the side of the rich and business.

A major new report, Overlooked but Decisive: Connecting with England’s Just about Managing classes, by leading think tank Policy Exchange examined the values and political attitudes of C1/C2 voters in 119 ‘permanent’ battleground seats in England that are likely to remain critical in future elections. These are the seats that both Labour and the Conservatives  need to secure workable parliamentary majorities. 2011 Census data shows that in the vast majority of these marginal seats, C1/C2 voters make up over half of the electorate.

YouGov polling in April of 2,974 voters in marginal seats, and 1,771 across Britain in an additional nationally representative poll, asked voters to reveal their attitudes and views on a range of issues. Digging into the analysis for just the 1,207 C1/C2 voters, the research found that both men and women prioritised the values of family and fairness above all – as well as hard work and decency.
They perceived the two main English political parties and their priorities as:

  • When asked who Labour represented, the top two answers were people on low incomes and trade unionists. Labour were associated more closely with the stated values of C1/C2 voters. The party was seen to stand for equality, fairness and family.
  • The Conservatives were seen as the party of entrepreneurship, followed by tradition, hard work and ambition. Other than hard work, these perceived values were well down their own list. When asked who the Conservatives represented the top two answers were rich people and business people.

Other key findings reveal:

  • The Conservatives have a potential problem with C1/C2 women in marginal seats. While C1/C2 men in these marginals were planning to vote Tory by a significant margin, C1/C2 women were split. However, the answer clearly does not lie in a “softer” approach to politics. While C1/C2 women are more interested in issues such as childcare and the cost of living, they are more concerned than men about immigration, school discipline, weak sentencing and keeping the country safe.
  • 59% of C1 voters and 56% of C2 voters in marginals said they often switch between parties or would vote for a different party if they were disappointed with their usual choice.
  • When given a list of priorities divided into five categories by financial, health, education, ‘family friendly’ and crime and justice, C1s/C2s put the following towards the top of the pile: raising the personal allowance, preventing ‘health tourism’, introducing stricter discipline in schools, increasing the number of free childcare hours and amending human rights laws to ensure the swifter deportation of criminals who were foreign nationals.

James Frayne, author of the report, said:

“Westminster politics has become detached from mainstream opinion. Vast swathes of the middle class – those just about managing – are overlooked as the parties increasingly focus their attention on those at the top and bottom. The fact is that these voters decide elections and parties that want workable majorities in the long-term need to prioritise their concerns.

“These voters are firmly up for grabs for both parties. While the Tories undoubtedly crafted a more attractive policy platform for them than Labour at the last election, they’re still seen as being for the rich and for business. While Labour’s stated values still attract strong support, their overwhelming focus on those on benefits has alienated these voters.

“The parties need to understand the values that run through the DNA of these crucial swing voters – family and fairness. Their desire to see welfare reform, lower taxes and charges, better childcare and tougher sentencing all derive from these values.”


For a copy of the full report contact Nick Faith on 07960 996 233.

Notes to editors

The 119 marginal seats are predominantly clustered around three areas. Firstly, there are 24 seats in London and the South East. Secondly, there are 16 in the South West of England. Thirdly, there are 73 seats that sit in the ‘heart of England’, concentrated in the industrial spine of the country, which runs from South of Middlesbrough to Luton, and from Birmingham to Peterborough.

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