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What Londoners really think of the front-runners in the London mayoral election

On May 5th 2016 the capital will decide who is to succeed Boris Johnson as the Mayor of London.

Using our London omnibus, we asked 1,000 London residents to tell us exactly what they think of Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Labour candidate Sadiq Khan.

First off, we asked more than 1,000 Londoners to name the Conservative and Labour party candidates. The results revealed that both campaigns haven’t been entirely successful in making sure voters know who the candidates are.

For example, three-in-ten Londoners (31%) admit to not knowing who is running for the Conservatives. 65% were however able to name Zac Goldsmith as the Conservative party candidate, with awareness being much higher amongst older voters than younger ones.

Sadiq Khan is slightly better known with 69% being able to name him. He is also well-known amongst both white and non-white voters, an advantage over Zac Goldsmith who is less well-known amongst non-white voters:

London Chart 1

Rich, untrustworthy, good for London, out of touch…

Respondents were also shown pictures of the candidates and asked to put down the first word or phrase that came to mind. The questions were open-ended and designed to test people’s genuine, gut reactions to the candidates.

The public’s most common reactions to Zac Goldsmith focus largely on his wealth and privileged background. Slightly more Londoners say they regard him as honest and trustworthy than those that think the opposite – but only just.

Opinion on Sadiq Khan is split. The top words/phrases cluster around untrustworthy, dodgy and shifty. Further analysis of the poll indicates that white Londoners are more likely to hold this view. It’s worth noting that trustworthy was in fact the second most common response.

The wordclouds below illustrate how respondents reacted to each of the candidates.

(The larger the word, the more common the response.)

Q2 - Goldsmith

Q2 - Khan

Many of our respondents also recorded their instant reactions to the candidates via webcam.

Zac Goldsmith

Sadiq Khan


Banker, baker or candlestick maker…

Asking what roles the two candidates would have outside of politics or if they were not a politican is an approach used in political research to help understand voters underlying views of candidates.

For Zac Goldsmith, the four jobs voters think he is most likely to have are all business related: banker 21%, businessman 6%, lawyer 5%, and CEO 3%. Only in fifth place – teacher – does public service appear. Just 2% of Londoners cited the Conservative candidate’s former role as a journalist. Being an environmentalist comes 16th (again 2%).

Lawyer and businessman are the two roles most commonly associated with Sadiq Khan (9% and 7% respectively) but doctor / GP comes third (again, 7%).  Just 1% of Londoners say, if he was not a politician, Sadiq Khan would have followed his father’s footsteps and become a bus driver.

Q3 - Goldsmith

Q3 - Khan

Whose policy is whose?

The survey also reveals confusion among voters about where the two candidates stand on key policies, with many Londoners mixing up their positions on Heathrow expansion, fares, jobs and housing.

Generally, Khan has been most successful in landing his campaign messages.

More than half (57%) associate freezing TfL fares with Khan – but 10% think Zac Goldsmith has made that promise, and 7% associate it with both of them. However, Sadiq Khan’s ‘Homes for Londoners’ team is associated with him by 41%, meaning more than half don’t associate this policy with him.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has work to do to increase awareness of his flagship pledge to create 500,000 new jobs, which is associated with him by just a fifth of Londoners. 24% think that this is a promise from Sadiq Khan.

Both candidates, in reality, reject Heathrow’s 3rd runway, but 17% think Sadiq Khan supports it, 7% think they both support it, and 21% believe Zac Goldsmith – well-known environmental campaigner, and on record as signalling his intention to resign as Conservative MP if the airport expands – supports Heathrow expansion.

London Chart 2

Londoners would put their money on Khan to win

Finally, Londoners expect Labour to regain control of City Hall.  42% expect Sadiq Khan to win vs. 31% expecting Zac Goldsmith. 23% don’t know (with the remaining 4% anticipating a third party / small party win).

Commenting on the results, Populus Director Laurence Stellings said:

“Londoners expect a Sadiq Khan victory on May 5th. But with the Mayoral election only a week and a half away, time is running out for both sides to engage Londoners. Around a third can’t name the two men who are in line to control a budget of £17 billion and run transport, policing, and other services. Knowledge of their policies is even lower, with only Sadiq Khan’s pledge to freeze TfL fares cutting through to more than half. There is real confusion about where the candidates stand on key issues like Heathrow expansion.”

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