Which parts of the Conservative leadership contest have the public noticed?

The next leader of the Conservatives will be decided by around 160,000 party members, but the rest of us will live with the consequences. Are we paying attention?

A weekly Populus poll shows that we are hooked. The contest has dominated public recall of the news since mid-June, with as many as 66 per cent identifying it as their single most noticed story. That is a higher share of attention than attained by any other British leadership election in recent years, including those of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

One candidate in particular is drawing people in. While most respondents recall the contest only in general terms, those who mention its subplots focus on Boris Johnson. Last week, around one in five referred to the former Mayor of London, following reports of a domestic row, compared with only around one in 50 who mentioned revelations about Michael Gove’s past use of cocaine.

Even before the story about Mr Johnson’s personal life broke, he was easily the most mentioned candidate in our polling, ahead of Michael Gove, Rory Stewart, and current opponent Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Gove’s cocaine confession was a classic ‘Westminster bubble’ story, exciting those within it while not top of mind for most outside it. Other examples this month include controversy around Chris Williamson’s readmission to the Labour Party amid an ongoing anti-semitism row, Foreign Office Minister Mark Field’s confrontation with a climate protestor and his subsequent suspension, and the Labour Party’s narrow victory in the Peterborough by-election. Each of these was the most noticed story for less than 1 per cent of the public.

Instead, the country awaits the outcome of a Prime Ministerial race with interest heightened by an impending Brexit deadline. All eyes will be on the eventual winner and whether or not they can deliver on a mandate now three years old.

Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of at least 2,000 British adults aged 18 and over each week, and asked what news story they had noticed the most. The question was open-ended and participants could name any story. 




Will Clothier

Will is a Consultant at Populus where he has delivered stakeholder research projects for household names across a range of sectors including sport, telecoms, culture, food, and leisure – advising clients on the views of politicians, journalists, and industry leaders. Recent stakeholder clients include the Premier League and BT.

He researches public opinion quantitatively and qualitatively for political organisations, government departments, and businesses. Recently he has analysed public attitudes towards ‘populist’ economic policies post-Brexit, and the political attitudes of voters in different parts of the country. He works within Populus’s Reputation and Strategy division, having joined the company as a Research Executive. He graduated from Durham University with a first class degree in English Literature and holds the Market Research Society Advanced Certificate with a double merit.