Mayoral races are no longer simply a proxy for national politics

  • Research
  • 28 April 2024
  • New research from More in Common finds that the public are increasingly making a distinction between how they vote on local and national politics
  • Voters want mayors to focus on crime, high streets, transport and the local environment
  • Incumbent mayors are bucking the national trend and providing an antidote to voter cynicism
  • Strong preference for local champions rather than extensions of national parties

This week More in Common conducted polls and focus groups in four key metro-mayor races - in the North East, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and the East Midlands. We looked at what people thought about mayors in their area, what issues they wanted them to focus on and how they were currently planning on voting in this week's elections.

Polling of Mayoral elections is relatively new in the UK and working out who will turn out and vote is complex - this is particularly the case for the two new Mayoral regions in the North East and East Midlands, however, the polling represents our best attempt to model what would happen if the elections were today. 

Tight Race in the North East

Mayoral Polling Graphs

Andy Street’s brand outperforms the Tory brand in the West Midlands

Mayoral Polling Graphs (1)

Burnham on course for a big victory

Mayoral Polling Graphs (2)

Labour ahead in first vote for mayor of the East Midlands

Mayoral Polling Graphs (3)

Focus groups insights 

Our focus groups in the four areas gave us a deeper insight into the forces behind the polls, whether it’s the local connection and brand mayoral candidates are making for themselves, or the specific ways that mayoral races are playing out in each area. The following analysis reflects the recurring themes across the four mayoral races explored in focus groups. 

We spoke to 2019 Conservative voters in focus groups across the four mayoral contests who were now either switching to Labour, undecided or sticking with the Conservatives Party to better understand how these key voters groups were shaping the races. 

Anti-politics mood is pervasive across the four combined authorities  

It's just sad because a lot of us have lost trust in everything, so we've just not bothered looking at anything anymore. For one, I know I haven't really took any interest in many years because I've not seen any benefits from it

Marie, Childcare Worker, Cramlington

I don’t even know any more, that’s my main problem. I’ve become disillusioned with it all. It sounds awful because women fought for the vote, but you think what’s the point of voting now?

Fran, Detective Inspector, Bury

You look at Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer and you look at the country, you've got what's almost 70 million people and there’s only like two compatible leaders leading the country and you think surely there must be someone that's more suitable for that role

Imran, Accounts Assistant, Bury

My levels of trust and enthusiasm with politicians of any persuasion are probably at an all time low

Colin, Project Manager, Mansfield

There is strong support for the principle of directly-elected local mayors. Participants felt that Mayors had an important role to play in fighting for their local area and banging the drum for investment locally

For me, I think he [Andy Street] said something about the squabbling and blah blah blah in London... I think for me I'm just a bit exhausted by it all from a national level. Whereas I guess locally we've all heard of him and there are kind of tangible things that you see

Claire, HR Manager, Solihull

One would hope if someone is from the northeast of England that they would have a bit more fight about them

Alex, Suicide Prevention Officer, Cramlington

The local mayors for those regions bring private investment into each area. Those are the ways that money's going to dribble down, if you like, through the regions, and that's going to be on the road and Greater Manchester is a perfect example of that. They've had billions of pounds invested by companies from all over the world. If that can happen in other areas, that's where you'll see a trickle down. It won't come from the central government that's just not going to be on their priority

Craig, Golf Club Manager, Mansfield

Crime, high streets and transport and potholes are at the top of voters' list of concerns as they head out to vote in these mayoral elections

I think crime is definitely one of the top ones, especially hearing about the knife incident that happened in Bury Centre recently that was appalling. Thinking that you live this close to this, this could have been any of me or my mates or anything

Ahmed, Payroll Supervisor, Bury

Say the biggest issue in Bury is the potholes…and they only get it done once after a couple of years. So you look at some of the main roads where like Hayward Street or Park Road and on that road you've probably got what, 10 potholes and they're not just small, they're quite deep puddles every and sometimes obviously you avoid

Imran, Accounts Assistant, Bury

I think the money would be better spent ploughing into electric vehicles and public transport and building on the public transport system, making that greener rather than charging us because unfortunately a lot of people don't have the funds to buy an electric car

Francis, Lifeguard, Bury

I do think that crime needs to be targeted a lot more, especially because they're getting younger and younger doing ridiculous things and I think that needs to be a massive step up

Laura, Family Support Worker, Tynemouth

Across our focus groups, voters felt that the Tories deserved to lose the next election - but some questioned whether any party deserved to win the next election 

Yeah, I'm not so sure which party, but I think change is a good thing and I personally think that a different party needs to be in power. I think a bit of trust was lost from my side with certain things, especially with the Brexit side as well, in terms of the NHS funding and stuff like that. I just think changing parties would be beneficial to the country

Joshua, Business Analyst, Mansfield

I’m at the point where certainly the Conservatives don't deserve to win. A hundred percent. But equally, I don't believe in Labour to replace them…there's absolutely no trust in either. I can't possibly vote Conservative again, but don't want to vote Labour. So rock and a hard place

Charlotte, Midwife, Bury

Rayner’s tax affairs have cut through but people are not moved by the issue. They contrast the relatively small amount Rayner might owe with PPE scandals

She's more like the average Joe I would say. When I see her chatting, speaking, she just seems like she's for the people more than anybody else and the thing that's happened to her now, I think it was a council house or something like that that…so suggests to me she's not living in a world where a lot of the MPs are, as they’ve either married into money or got a tonne of money. Yes, there might be some grey area about the capital gains tax, but it's not extreme. It's possibly a mishap somewhere. I don't know, but I don't particularly hold her against that. Yes, if it was some sort of big mansion and it was like tens of thousands of pounds... But has it been a genuine mishap?

Leanne, Teaching Assistant, Tynemouth

I do think they're just using her as a scapegoat to make themselves look better, because in reality then people like us will trust her more because she is a lot more down to earth and I do think compared to what they've done, this is just minuscule. People will forgive and forget it

Marie, Childcare Worker, Cramlington

I think it's pretty unfair to be discussing one and a half grand in tax. When I think there was a PPE contract, what was she called? Michelle Moon or something? For like 50 million pounds? I think we're talking about one and a half grand [for Angela Rayner]

Ahmed, Payroll Supervisor, Bury

I don't want to use the word witch hunt, but I think she's kind of been singled out and there was kind of vast amounts of money spent during the covid years on all these different PPE contracts. I think it's kind of like a drop in the ocean that

Francis, Lifeguard, Bury

Rishi Sunak continues to be seen as too out of touch. Voters also worry he might not be strong enough to do the job

He's completely out of touch with the normal humans who are boots on the ground running this country. He's got absolutely nothing in common with the normal working person at all. He hasn't got a clue, he's completely out of touch

Alex, Suicide Prevention Officer, Cramlington

Completely, completely out of touch. Honestly I don't even know how he's there. I don't even know how he got so high. I think he's completely clueless

Bradley, Clinical Porter, Cramlington

I just think he's weak. I think he's got no backbone. He hasn't really got any clue what the people want. He lives in a world where the average Joe wouldn't ever go into

Leanne, Teaching Assistant, Tynemouth

Personally, I did like Boris Johnson. I mean not when it all came out about partygate or whatever, but I did like him. I did like him as a leader. I just thought he was more in touch with people than what Rishi Sunak would ever be. I know a lot of things came out about him, but at the time I did really like him. I thought he was a straight shooter

Leanne, Teaching Assistant, Tynemouth

For the past 12 years, I've voted Conservative, but the party is just tearing itself apart. I don't think he's a strong enough character to lead, I don't think he has the support of the party and I don't think he's personally strong enough to lead the party. Then again, I'm not sure anybody else is, if I'm being truthful

Adam, Utilities Manager, Solihull

I think I was quite hopeful when he first came in. I just thought with his background and being a bit younger as well, I dunno, I just felt like maybe he would be a bit different and bring something different. Yeah, now I just feel disappointed

Claire, HR Manager, Solihull

Enthusiasm for Keir Starmer with these former Tory voters remained limited. Some still struggle to understand what he would stand for as PM - yet people are ready to vote for him because the desire for change is stronger 

[Moderator: What do you think of Keir Starmer?] I'm 50:50. I think - Would I prefer him over Rishi? Probably at the minute, yes

Laura, Family Support Worker, Tynemouth

I don't know about Starmer. I think like I said before, earlier on, I'm just not, I think he talks the talk but it's what anybody can deliver

Melanie, Carer, Bury

I think the problem I find now is that the lines between the parties are very much blurred together. I think they use Covid as an excuse to not be the opposition anymore and I feel like they just bend over and take it from the Conservatives. They're not really opposing. There's no a clear line between them

Darren, Project Planner, Tynemouth

I've got friends who don't like Keir Starmer and will still vote Labour because they hate the Conservatives. I don't really have an opinion on Keir Starmer, I don't necessarily like him. I think the Conservatives have been lucky over the past number of years that the Labour party have shot themselves so many times in the foot. Whether they've elected Jeremy Corbyn, they've elected Ed Millband over David Miliband. I think the Conservatives have ended dodging a bullet. I say they've got in by default

Adam, Utilities Manager, Solihull

The cost of living and NHS continue to dominate

Yeah, I've had four years now where I keep trying to register for an NHS dentist and it's just not happening. You ring them and they tell you like, oh ring us tomorrow, you ring them and tomorrow forever and ever. It's just not going to happen. So that is one of the worst issues I think. It's not about waiting lists - there is no list to be waiting on. It's just ring again and ring again. And I've been in this loop for a few years now, so I think that's one of my major issues

Ahmed, Payroll Supervisor, Bury

It's just people aren't getting the care they're supposed to get when they get it. Whether that be 24 hour waits for A&E, or having to wait eight weeks for a GP appointment or five years wait to be seen by consultants - it’s long waits, short staff, not great management

Alex, Suicide Prevention Officer, Cramlington

Environmental issues and climate remain top of mind for voters 

I'm 51 and I've got my own children who are like adults. You do think you're not going to be here long and we are just wrecking the planet and environment is really important for future generations. We can't carry on the way we're carrying on

Lisa, Cleaner, Solihull

I certainly think that there should be investment into the environment and certainly looking into it, otherwise how are we ever going to improve?

Joshua, Business Analyst, Mansfield

I do think it's really important and I think I've got five grandchildren and they're all very, very mindful of the planets and environmental issues. So it is just getting through to them and it's important. But like I say, it wouldn't be a deal breaker for me if I didn't like everything else about him, but I like that wouldn't vote for him. But it's just a bolt on really there for me

Elaine, Retired, Solihull

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

I think [climate] bringing jobs into the North, if there was a clear thing of right, we're going to attract this investment, it's going to cost us X amount, but there's going to be X amount of jobs, that's absolutely brilliant. But again, it just goes back that thing of you don't believe a word the say at all because of how much industry's being taken away from the northeast in the past few years.

Alex, Suicide Prevention Officer, Cramlington


More in Common conducted regionally representative polling in each of the following combined authority areas between April 19-24

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (N = 2,017)
North East Combined Authority (N = 1,808)
West Midlands Combined Authority (N = 1,541)
East Midlands Combined Authority (N = 2,029)

Headline voting intention includes all respondents who said they were 9 or 10 likely to vote on a scale of 0 to 10. Those who do not know who they will vote for were asked a follow-up "squeeze" question, and these responses are included in the headline voting intention if they also gave a likelihood to vote of 9 or 10.
The voting intention methodology gives the following implied turnouts: Greater Manchester (42%), North East (40%), West Midlands (34%), East Midlands (33%)


More in Common also conducted four focus groups, one in each of the areas polled

Greater Manchester (All from Bury North or Bury South)
North East (All from Tynemouth or Cramlington)
West Midlands (All from Solihull)
East Midlands (All from Mansfield)

All participants voted Conservative at the 2019 General Election and are now either undecided, sticking with the Conservatives or voting Labour. There was a mix of age, gender, socio-economic background and ethnicity in each of the groups.