The Conservative leadership contest is progressing with all the charm and grace you would imagine. Intra-party leaks and briefings about rival candidates, lots of truly ludicrous tax cut promises and a bit of culture war here and there.
There’s just so many of them - eleven candidates at one point before Chishti, Javid and Shapps withdrew. And despite the fact that everyone has an opinion, it’s not clear that we actually know who they even are.
A poll from Savanta ComRes asked people to name the candidates based on their official photo.
Looking at the more realistic-to-have-a-chance few, about two-thirds of people could identify Rishi Sunak, a third could identify Liz Truss and just 11% managed Penny Mordaunt.
If you look only at Conservative voters, the numbers don’t exactly sky-rocket - 77%, 45% and 16% respectively. Two people thought Mordaunt was the global soul-pop sensation Adele.
In a way this doesn’t yet matter. The British public has no direct way to select the next Prime Minister. The way the system works it’s only the 358 Conservative MPs that get a say in which candidate progresses at this stage. When it’s down to the final two then a tiny subsection of the British public - the 0.35% of the electorate that are members of the Conservative party - get to cast their votes, assuming neither of the candidates stands down. So actually there’s a way in which if 99% of Britons have no knowledge whatsoever of who any of the candidates are it might not change too much in terms of the short term outcome.
Of course the 0.35% who do get a vote are not a random selection of the population - they skew:
- Older: 40% are over 66 years old according to the Party Member’s Project, quoted by Quartz
- Whiter: 97% white vs 86% of the population
- More “middle class” 86% from the top social classes “ABC1”, vs 55% of the population (at least the latter was the figure in 2016)
- Richer: 1 in 20 of them making more than £100k a year
- Male: 70% male, vs an unsurprisingly near 50:50 split in the population
Better yet, Ipsos Mori conducted a survey designed to be representative of adults aged 18-75 in Great Britain. One of the questions, appearing on slide 3 of the output, asked about “familiarity with politicians”, with most of the questions being about the Conservative leadership candidates.
Sunak outpaces the others by quite a lot in terms of recognition. The politician least familiar to the British public in that survey was Stewart Lewis. A full 65% of people said they hadn’t ever heard of him, and only 12% claimed to know at least a fair amount about him.
The inevitable twist is that there is no British politician called Stewart Lewis, despite the fact that over a third of people made out that they’d heard of him - substantially higher than the Lizardman constant of 4%.