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Jun 6th, 2024

Voters’ verdict on first election debate as Rishi Sunak seen as ‘out of touch’ with Yorkshire

By Matthew McGregor

With the general election just weeks away, the first TV debate between leaders Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer has left voters feeling unenthusiastic about either party’s offers on key election issues of the NHS and the cost of living. 

38 Degrees commissioned a snap study of voters in Yorkshire in the hours immediately after the debate, carried out by pollsters JL Partners. In an update to traditional polling or focus groups, this Rapid Response Voter Panel asks voters to explain their views, digging beneath the surface of support or opposition and delivering snap, detailed reaction. We chose voters in this region, in collaboration with the Yorkshire Post, because of the number of red wall and marginal seats that could help decide the election. The research suggests that Keir Starmer is most trusted to understand challenges facing the country, but voters worry that neither leader offered enough substance on these key election issues.

The debate featured questions from audience members who were struggling to cope with the cost of living, which still is still hitting people hard across the UK. Responding to the discussion, voters were more likely to say Keir Starmer understood people’s struggles with the cost of living crisis (48% said he understood it most, compared with 17% for Rishi Sunak), although more than 1 in 4 (26%) felt neither candidate understood the issue. (The rest didn’t know or offered other answers).

Leaders also discussed how they would tackle the current crisis in the NHS, with sky-high waiting lists impacting millions of patients and their families. The research showed that Keir Starmer and Labour came out on top with Yorkshire viewers, with 42% saying they trust him most to fix the NHS, compared to 17% backing Rishi Sunak. However, many feared that neither party had yet shown they could fix the national health service (25%). 

Here are a selection of results:

Asked who was most likely to address the biggest issues facing people in Yorkshire:
  • A 33-year-old unemployed male, who voted Conservative in 2019 but would now vote Labour, said: “Sunak has no new ideas and is making things worse, [Keir Starmer] is worth a shot.”
  • A 35-year-old female health care worker, who voted Conservative in 2019 but would now vote Labour, said: “Conservatives have been in power for years and the cost of living keeps going high without proper adjustments. Labour has more ability to change the inflation rate.”
  • A 71-year-old retired female Labour voter said: “My area is often overlooked so I would need to know more about how the candidates want to make things better for Yorkshire. And not just for the more affluent areas where Sunak’s constituency is.”
  • A 45-year-old male manager, who voted Conservative in 2019 and plans to do so again, said: “Starmer has changed his position too often, comparing his position to what he said during the labour leadership vote.  Sunak, whilst not brilliant, does offer specifics.”
  • A 19-year-old female barista, who plans to vote Labour, said: “Rishi Sunak is out of touch with poor people, he doesn’t understand what it’s like as he’s never experienced it or even been able to fathom it. Labour has roots in the North.”

Asked for their overall impression of the candidates:

Rishi Sunak:

  • A male chemistry tutor, 28, who voted Conservative in 2019 and now plans to vote Green, said: “Completely shambolic, no real significance in anything said.”
  • A male machine setter, 66, who plans to vote Reform UK, said: “Grovelling to save his job” 
  • A 59-year-old retired Labour voter said: “Out of touch”
  • A 73-year-old retired female Conservative voter said: “Trustworthy and knows what he will do.” 

Keir Starmer:

  • A 38-year-old male student, who plans to vote Lib Dem, said: “He wants to change and rebuild the country.”
  • A 52-year-old male prison officer, who voted Conservative in 2019, said: “Looked confident and excited that power is within grasp.”
  • A 37-year-old IT consultant and Labour voter said: “Pretty reasonable, honestly. Nobody wants 5 more years of Conservative clowns making empty promises”

Asked which candidates most understood the impact of the cost of living crisis on ordinary people

  • A male, IT manager, 42, who voted Liberal Democrat in 2019 and is currently a Labour voter, said: “Keir Starmer. Starmer’s background shows that he can relate to the sufferings of the masses but Rishi Sunak has only experienced wealth for the most of his life, so he can’t understand what the people are going through.
  • A 31-year-old female, administrative officer and Labour voter said: “Keir. Rishi is so out of touch he has no idea how ‘normal’ people live.”
  • A 31-year-old female Conservative voter said: “I do think it’s hard for Rishi to really feel the impact as he comes from so much money so would never know the reality some people face.”
  • A 66-year-old male machine setter who plans to vote Reform UK said: “Rishi came out with more confidently about the economy whereas Kier didn’t say anything concrete about what he would do”
  • A 33-year-old female nurse and Labour voter said: “Keir. Rishi is out of touch from everyday people.”

Asked who they “trust most” to fix the NHS:

  • A 40-year-old female credit manager, who vote Conservative in 2019 and is currently a Labour voter, said: “Keir, because Labour is meant to be for those who can’t afford private”
  • A male retired solicitor, 55, who plans to vote Conservative, said: “Neither. The Tories have failed to solve the issues. Labour have no answers.”
  • A 43-year-old female nurse, who plans to switch from Labour to Green, said:  “I’m concerned either way. The extra appointments Starmer promises I suspect will involve the private sector and I would prefer to see private sector involvement removed from the NHS. In the short term probably there is no other way now. The NHS will do better under Labour  but I don’t forget it was them who began selling parts off.” 
  • A 60-year-old female carer and Labour voter said: “Starmer. The Conservatives have had their shot for too long and the NHS is on its knees”

While these results show that most voters think Keir Starmer offers more plausible answers on key issues and Labour is most trusted, after this first election debate voters are still looking for more substance on how the crises in the NHS and on cost of living will be tackled. With days running out until election day, any party that wants to win must show it has the plan to bring about the change people want to see. 


The JL Partners/38 Degrees Rapid Response Voter Panel was used to ask a sample of 110 adults in Yorkshire online to share their instantaneous reaction to breaking news. In an update on traditional focus groups, JL Partners ask people to explain their views and dig underneath the surface of support or opposition. The sample is collected using web-intercept polling in accordance with MRS and BPC guidelines and data tables are available shortly after publication.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Hannah Graham, hannah.g@38degrees.org.uk, 07704 547398. 

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