Despite Tory attacks, Sadiq Khan remains on course for landslide victory
Sadiq Khan remains on course for a landslide victory over Zac Goldsmith in the race to become London's next mayor, according to a new poll out today.
The Opinium poll for the Evening Standard found the Labour candidate is five points ahead in the first round and a whopping 10 points ahead once second preferences are counted.
It suggests Goldsmith is failing to cut through with voters, even in Tory strongholds. Goldsmith and Khan are neck-and-neck in outer London, with Khan ten points clear in inner London. At the past two mayoral elections, Boris Johnson won outer London boroughs by large margins.
Today's poll follows another poll in January, which also gave Khan a ten point lead among decided voters. It comes despite Goldsmith's campaign repeatedly seeking to portray Khan as "linked to extremists". Last week, the Standard splashed on claims by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon that Khan was "unfit to be mayor" due to his alleged associations. The Daily Mail, Sun and others have published multiple stories, highlighting often highly tenuous links between the Labour candidate and Muslim radicals.
Today's poll suggests these attacks have been noticed by a significant number of voters. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents agreed with the Tory charge that Sadiq is "radical and divisive" while 27% disagreed. However, interestingly 34% agreed that such attacks on Khan are "coded racism," including 28% of Goldsmith supporters.
There are multiple reasons to believe the race is much closer than published polls suggest, however. The errors which caused Labour's vote to be overstated in the general election have yet to be corrected by opinion pollsters. There are also nagging doubts about how voter prejudice could affect the outcome. A poll last year found a third of Londoners were concerned about having a Muslim mayor. Continued Tory attempts to smear Khan by association as an "extremist" could well play into those fears.
But for all Khan's potential problems, Goldsmith has a number of problems of his own. Boris won because he was a highly popular figure who appealed outside of party lines, even in working class areas of London which would never normally vote Tory. Since Boris was first elected, London has become significantly more Labour-supporting. The Tories' performance in both local elections and the general election in London, suggests Goldsmith is starting from a lower base than Boris did in 2012. In order to win Zac needs to appeal well beyond his party's own core level of support. All of the polls we have seen so far suggest he is simply failing to do that.