North East: Poll suggests a dead-heat between McGuinness and Driscoll

The North East Combined Authority covers County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland - an area that includes some of the Red Wall that swung against Labour at the last election. 

Our poll finds Labour’s Kim McGuinness 2 points ahead of Independent candidate Jamie Driscoll (35% McGuinness to 33% Driscoll) - meaning a win from either candidate would be well within the margin of error.  Driscoll is the current mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority which merges into the new authority. Elected as a Labour Mayor, Driscoll resigned from the Party having been blocked from standing as a Labour candidate. 

While the race might be expected to be a comfortable Labour win, our focus groups found Driscoll attracting voters cynical about politics and frustrated with politics as usual. Driscoll has criticised Labour for not offering enough hope and in particular for ditching their £28 billion climate commitment. 

Mayoral Polling Graphs

Why is this race so close?

Driscoll is drawing more from smaller parties than McGuinness and attracting more support from 2019 Conservative voters. While McGuinness is leading thanks to support from the Labour base. 

The Conservative 2019 vote is fragmenting. Of those who voted Tory in the last general election, 27% would back Driscoll, 18% would back Reform’s Paul Donaghy and 31% say they would vote for Conservative Guy Renner-Thompson.

Driscoll’s support cuts across age groups, while doing slightly better among older voters. 28% of under-35s would back him compared to 38% of over-65s. But the patterns of Labour and Conservative support are similar to the national picture, with age being a key dividing line. Labour are polling at 46% among under-35 year-old voters, falling to 23% among older voters aged over 65. And Conservatives are at 6% among under-35s and 19% among over-65s.

Driscoll is performing better in the North of Tyne Combined Authority area, where he is currently mayor. McGuinness has a lead over Driscoll of six percentage points south of the Tyne, but that reverses into a one percentage point lead for Driscoll north of the river.

Driscoll voters say they are more likely to turn out than McGuinness voters. Among all those expressing a preference, McGuinness is ahead 38% to 27%. However, when only those who say their likelihood to vote is 9 or 10 out of 10 are included it narrows to 35% to 33%. This gives an implied turnout of 40% and suggests the race may be heavily influenced by parties get out the vote operation. 

Priorities for incoming Mayor of the North East 

As is consistent across the mayoral races, reducing crime and anti-social behaviour is the top priority that voters in the North East want their new mayor to focus on in the coming years. Investment in regenerating high streets, improvements in public transport and protecting the environment also ranks high in voters priorities. 

One of those things where it's like you obviously don't see the impact until it's there. The people can say, oh yeah, we're going to put wind turbines yeah, we're going to bring all these electric cars in, and then we're like, well just do it then

Bradley, Hospital Porter, Cramlington

The road networks, the transport system is an absolute joke. The metro's always off, but people are trying to get the town and the Labour council's just totally screwed up Newcastle’s city centre transport system and the road network

David, Taxi Driver, Tynemouth

You'd have to have a functioning police force to tackle crime though, wouldn't you? They're too busy trying to catch people speeding to stop actual crime - it’s a joke

Darren, Project, Planner, Tynemouth

Low awareness of the mayoral election 

Few of the participants in our Tynemouth and Cramlington focus group had been following the election closely - one participant only found out it was happening when their polling card arrived in the post in recent weeks. Most participants intended to vote next week in the Mayoral election, though some said it would depend on how their shifts fell or if they would remember. 

Driscoll not well known but appears relatable  

No one was aware that Driscoll had been blocked from becoming the Labour candidate. When shown one of Driscoll’s campaign videos, several people commented that they liked his ‘passion’. They said the role of the mayor of the North East should be for someone who would stand up for the region and be unafraid to say what they believe in - such as Driscoll’s criticism of Labour’s rowing back on £28 billion climate commitments. 

I thought Driscoll's video was a lot more passionate and it was put together better and I think he comes across as a genuine person

Darren, Project Planner, Tynemouth

They're just the same. They just say stuff. I dunno whether I'm just disenchanted now where you just think you are just saying a lot of stuff, but it's never actually going to happen. So you could paint yourself in pink glitter and cartwheel down Northland Street for your campaign video, but it doesn't matter because I feel like they just feel very disenchanted. They just don't do anything

Alex, Suicide Prevention Officer, Cramlington

McGuinness also relatively unknown

Few were aware of Kim McGuinness, though some recognised her from her role as the Police and Crime Commissioner. Participants felt she made a good case and a solid candidate but some wondered whether someone who was neither Labour or Conservative might be a good thing for the North East. Some participants also said they found McGuinness' campaign video to be ‘too textbook’ and saw Driscoll’s as more authentic. 

It was personal. You can't knock that, but I think Jamie had more passion, if that makes sense. Again, I don't know a lot about her. I know that she was in the police job. I don't know a lot about her at all, but I think I prefer Jamie's better than hers

Laura, Family Support Worker, Tynemouth

I like the fact that obviously he was neither here nor there whether it's Conservative or Labour, whereas obviously her's was very much sort of Labour heavy. And I know now at the minute people are very much Conservative, Labour, they're all the same. And I know that obviously everyone says that people are out of touch, which they are. But hers was a bit too much for me trying to prove a point where it seemed just almost a bit textbook like, oh look at me walking into my family home and this is where I grew up. It seemed more like ticking boxes for me in the way it was put across

Nicole, Teacher, Cramlington