Voter volatility is the highest it has ever been and the election outcome could rest on last-minute decisions by voters on polling day, according to Sky News’ election analysts.
Exclusive research of the country’s demographics by professors Michael Thrasher and Will Jennings has also found that people’s voting habits are now less influenced by social class and are more than ever defined by cultural factors, indicated by age, education, race, earnings and Brexit.
“This is one of the most difficult elections to predict ever, with voters becoming more volatile and behaving more like consumers,” Professor Thrasher said.
He added: “They are no longer loyal to old political parties. They will pick on the day the party and the personality that they think will deliver their preferred outcome.”
His analysis also shows that social conservatism in white working-class communities is becoming an increasingly important indicator of how people will vote.
In overwhelmingly Leave-supporting areas like Walsall, issues like Brexit, immigration and education, are determining how people will vote, rather than their economic status.
The Conservatives captured Walsall North, an industrial town and one-time Labour stronghold, in 2017. The town is an example of where social conservatism has broken down Labour’s dominance.
On the Beechdale estate we spoke to residents who said Brexit had defined their vote.
Shopkeeper Trevor Bailey used to support Labour but has now turned to the Tories.
“Corbyn is hated around Walsall. His name is hated. Just the name Corbyn, they don’t like him,” he told Sky News.
The town has the second highest Leave vote of any constituency in the UK, with 74% of people voting to exit the EU in June 2016.
Mr Bailey said the debate around Brexit has been dragging on for too long.
He added: “I don’t think the people trust any people in parliament because their lives have never changed under any government. They have seen Brexit as the big chance in life, even though no one knows what the outcome will actually be.”
In the last three general elections, more voters switched parties than ever before. According to research by the British Election Study, nearly half the population (49%) changed who they voted for between 2010 and 2017.
Saddlemaker Ray Symmonds, 64, believes Boris Johnson is the only person who can deliver Brexit.
“You’ve got to put your faith in somebody and Boris is the best option at the moment. Boris is like one of the lads,” he laughed as he spoke to Sky News.
In a tiny garage in his Walsall home, Mr Symmonds sews and stitches hundreds of leather saddles which are then sold locally. Both he and his wife Gill voted leave in the EU referendum.
Here, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party could split the vote and help Labour retain the seat.
Mr Symmonds is nervous about this, saying: “If I thought Farage would get in, I would vote for him, but he won’t get in. Boris Johnson would. It would be great if they could both team up together, but I can’t see that happening.”
The upcoming election is taking place against the backdrop of a nation divided over Brexit – voters are open to persuasion like never before – but not everyone in Walsall is abandoning Jeremy Corbyn.
Susan Stone, a Labour supporter who also lives on the estate, is worried the uncertainty caused by the current situation may have an impact on her health. She and her family voted to remain in the EU.
She said: “My choice is to stick with Labour. I’ve got my issues over this Brexit thing and if we go with Johnson we could lose a lot.
“Medication is on my list because I’m diabetic and my son is, and we need to know we’re going to get our insulin.”
It is Leave-voting areas like Walsall that will be high on Boris Johnson’s target list in the coming weeks, but if Jeremy Corbyn wants to be prime minister, the Labour leader will need to win big in Remain cities like Bristol – even among the middle classes.
Bristol West is a Labour stronghold – 79% of people voted to stay in the EU, the third highest remain vote in the country – but their seat is being threatened.
An electoral pact between the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens will see candidates standing aside in 60 constituencies so as not avoiding splitting the Remain vote.
Despite the Lib Dems being traditionally strong in Bristol they will not challenge the seat, leaving the Green Party to take on Labour and the Conservatives for the Remain vote.
Green supporter Ruth Jacobs told Sky News: “I voted to remain, as did most people in Bristol West – and we’ve got a Remain MP but her views aren’t being listened to by the Labour Party.
“I don’t think the Labour Party can possibly represent everybody. That’s very difficult for them and I think their message is getting lost, so they haven’t been viable opposition for quite a long time,” she added.
Some 47% of people in Bristol West are graduates and they are more likely to have voted remain – another increasingly significant dividing line in our politics.
Student Dylan Howell is a first-time voter who is behind the Labour leader.
He told Sky News: “Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Brexit has alienated a certain percentage of Labour, my parents included. They felt he wasn’t doing enough and he didn’t have a strong position on Brexit.
“But I think if he did, it would have alienated more people because the leave proportion of Labour is a large proportion – a minority but large one.”
Ethnic minorities make up 14% of those who live in the city and though people are switching between political parties more than ever, most will still vote for Labour. Race is becoming its own dividing line.
Judah Abundi, a Labour member of 40 years, said: “Probably 90% of African and Caribbean members will support Jeremy Corbyn. The majority of us will support Jeremy Corbyn. That’s an absolute fact. One thing we believe in is principle, we believe in truth and integrity.
“If you are demonstrating that to us you’ll always have our support.”
We are now a nation of swing voters and with politics fragmented like never before we face the most unpredictable election campaign in decades.
The Brexit Election: For the fastest results service and in-depth analysis watch Sky News live from 9pm on Thursday 12 December, with a KayBurley@breakfast election special on Friday 13 December
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