|The Sunday Telegraph published an article yesterday based on the findings of a poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft on ‘Ethnic Minority Voters and the Conservative Party’.|
The report, Degrees of Separation finds that there is a significant lack in the ability of BME voters to relate to the Conservative Party and that this is proving costly to the party in terms of share of the vote and election seats. The findings of the report summarise the results from polling 10,268 respondents, including 3201 respondents from BME backgrounds. In addition, 20 focus groups were conducted involving 160 participants from Black Caribbean; Black African; Muslim; Hindu or Sikh backgrounds. The survey, in terms of quantitative and qualitative input is considerable, suggesting that the findings will be of significant import to the Conservatives.
In his introduction Lord Ashcroft states:
“The gulf between the Conservative Party and ethnic minorities is a well-known feature of British politics. It persists in spite of the Tories’ efforts in recent years to reach beyond their core voters.
“The political outlook of large numbers of ethnic minority voters is closely connected to class identity. This has been shaped by their communities’ history and experience since arriving in Britain.
“The Conservative Party will only succeed in this endeavour if it understands why it has failed in the past. Otherwise it will continue to be seen as a party of middle class white people which is only interested in talking to other middle class white people. As long as that situation persists, it cannot expect to attract new voters from ethnic minorities.”
Some of the key findings of the poll include the following:
• Just over a third of white respondents (34.65%) said they would never vote Conservative….Close to half of black respondents (44.88%) said they would never vote Conservative, compared to 34.66% of respondents of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, and 22.81% of those of mainly Indian origin.
• Religion was the single most powerful predictor of a respondent’s likelihood of saying they would never vote Conservative. The group dominated by those with no religion were by some way the most likely to say they would never vote Conservative: 43.64% of them said this, compared to 35.15% of Muslims, 31.54% of Christians and 22.57% of Hindus, Jews and Sikhs.
• For non-white voters who said they would never vote Tory, the single most important factor was the view that Conservative policies have shown that they are hostile to people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
• A perception that the Conservative Party does not stand for fairness, is actively hostile to people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and that its policies have shown this to be the case were the strongest factors for Muslims who say they would never vote Tory.
• Disagreement with the idea that the Conservative Party stands for fairness was a significant factor among most groups, and the single most important among Hindu and Muslim participants.
• Our participants largely doubted that the Conservatives had any real commitment to social mobility and helping people get on in life – or at least not people like them. This was particularly true of black voters, only 29% of whom in our poll thought the Conservatives believed in equal opportunity for all, though 83% of them thought Labour did.
The report also summarises some of the key findings from the focus groups:
Being in Britain
• Most participants in the groups thought that Britain was at least a tolerant and accepting place (if sometimes not much more than that) for them to live and practise their faith. Several Muslims – and a number of Hindus and Sikhs – said they had suffered more abuse or hostility since September 11,
• Most participants could not think of a single Conservative figure from an ethnic minority.
• Younger Asian participants, many of whom were the first generation of their family to be born in the UK, were particularly likely to stress that they felt British
• Some participants – certainly not a majority – said they did not feel British, or that even if they did, they did not feel that British people in general accepted them as being British, or assumed they were foreign. Muslims and those from a black Caribbean background were the most likely to say this. Some Muslims said the fact they believed in something in itself set them apart from most British people.
• Muslim participants often complained that they were portrayed unfairly by the media, and stereotyped as terrorists. In particular, they felt that news reports specified an offender’s religion if he was a Muslim, which does not happen in other cases. Some also said that media coverage of 9/11 led to an increase in tension, and that this recurred every September.
• Participants in all groups spoke of an historic allegiance to Labour dating from the time their parents or grandparents arrived in Britain.
• At the same time, their [sic] was a feeling that Labour supported them not just in class terms but as immigrants and members of an ethnic minority.
• Values also played an important part in their Labour allegiance for a number of voters. Even if they themselves were not reliant on the welfare state, they believed that Labour’s ethos and conception of community was closer to their own than those of the Conservatives.
• Impressions of the Conservative Party were dominated by the familiar complaint that the Tories were for the better off middle classes, rather than people like themselves.
• Many participants felt that the Conservatives may well not be actively prejudiced, but had displayed at best an indifference to the effect of polices on ethnic minority voters which stemmed from a failure to engage with or understand them.
• Participants in several groups, particularly those from an Asian background, spontaneously mentioned David Cameron’s 2011 speech at the Munich Security Conference. Since they regarded multiculturalism as unequivocally a good thing, a speech that that was reported as criticising multiculturalism confirmed, for some, their suspicions about the Conservatives’ attitude to ethnic minority communities.
According to the 2001 census, ethnic minorities constitute 8% of the UK population, while in London, Muslims constitute 8% of the electorate.
The report by Lord Ashcroft comes just days before local and regional elections will take place in the UK, and comes after the Conservatives announced that they will do more to target BME voters to stand a better chance of a parliamentary majority in the 2015 general elections. The report, Degrees of Separation, echoes findings of an earlier report by the Runnymede Trust, the ‘Ethnic Minority British Election Study’.
Degrees of Separation is available to read here.
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