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London City Hall and Tower Bridge on the Thames, under a blue and cloudy sky.
London’s City Hall. Eye35/Alamy

Sadiq Khan on track for third term as London mayor – but nearly half of Londoners dissatisfied with performance

Polls have consistently shown that the incumbent mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, appears to be on track to win a third term in office at the upcoming mayoral elections on May 2.

One poll we commissioned as part of our Polling London series in October 2023 put Khan ahead of his Conservative rival, Susan Hall, by 50 points to 25 (a 25-point lead for Khan). The next poll in our series (conducted in February 2024) had Khan leading by the exact same margin, albeit with the figures 49 to Khan and 24 to Hall this time.

While the mayoral race clearly didn’t narrow much in this period, there is reason to believe the race may become tighter as election day nears.

Low satisfaction ratings

Khan’s lead in the mayoral race is not built on high levels of satisfaction with his previous performance in the role. Our February 2024 poll showed that only 27% of Londoners say they are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the way he has performed since becoming Mayor of London. Meanwhile, 45% claim they are “somewhat” or “very” dissatisfied. Khan’s rather lacklustre approval ratings make his lead appear rather more shallow.

Mayoral candidates sit and stand on stage.
Mayoral candidates Zoe Garbett, Sadiq Khan and Susan Hall, at the Jewish Community Hustings in April 2024. Andy Sillett/Alamy

People living in outer London appear to be particularly dissatisfied with Khan. Half of residents (49%) say they are either “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied with his performance, compared to 37% of those living in inner London.

This could be due to Khan’s decision, which came into effect in August 2023, to expand the ultra low emissions zone (Ulez). We know that outer London residents were considerably less supportive of this policy. Data from our October 2023 poll shows that while 52% of those living in inner London supported the Ulez expansion, it garnered the support of only 32% of those living in outer London.

That said, the popularity of the Labour party, and the relative unpopularity of the Conservative party in London, works to Khan’s advantage. We know that Londoners tend to vote along party lines at mayoral elections. Analysis of our February 2024 polling data suggests that approximately 80% of the Londoners who would vote Conservative and Labour if there were a general election tomorrow would also vote for the Conservative and Labour candidates if there were a mayoral election tomorrow. This helps to explain why Khan is doing better in the mayoral race than his satisfaction ratings might suggest.

The Liberal Democrat and Green party’s mayoral candidates – Rob Blackie and Zoe Garbett – are currently polling at only moderate levels (10% and 9% respectively). If their vote shares were to improve, Khan’s could take a hit.

What’s more, in the 2021 mayoral race, the polls overstated Khan’s lead over his nearest rival, the Conservative’s Shaun Bailey.

In the lead up to election day, candidates would do well to pay attention to Londoners’ concerns about policing, crime, personal safety, housing, health services and the cost-of-living.

Policing, crime and personal safety

A recent poll, commissioned by the Mile End Institute, where we are both based, and fielded by YouGov from February 12-19 2024, found that 52% of Londoners felt policing, crime and personal safety was one of the most important issues currently facing the city and its population. Meanwhile 46% opted for the provision of affordable quality homes and 37% for healthcare provision in the capital.

The next most important issue, according to Londoners, was the affordability of public transport, which 25% of respondents highlighted.

Londoners’ concerns about policing, crime and personal safety are likely, at least in part, to be a reflection of their low levels of trust in the Metropolitan police service. In the same Mile End Institute/YouGov survey, just 5% of Londoners were found to have “a great deal” of trust in the Met. By contrast, 36% had “not very much” trust in the service and 14% had “no trust at all”. Trust in the Met is particularly low among ethnic minority Londoners. We find that almost one fifth (19%) of black and ethnic minotiry Londoners report having “no trust at all” in the service, compared to around one tenth of white Londoners (11%).

Londoners are also worried about the affordability of city living. The same survey found that 60% of Londoners described the city as “expensive”, up from 43% in September 2018. That represents a 17-percentage point increase. In light of the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation, this is not surprising. It suggests mayoral pledges which seek to make life in London more affordable may be popular across large swathes of the electorate.

The question is whether these same issues will be at the forefront of the minds of Londoners when deciding how to vote. Recent polling, commissioned by ITV News, and fielded by Survation from March 21-26 2024, certainly suggests so.

When asked to select the single most important issue in deciding how to cast their vote at the upcoming London mayoral election, the most popular option chosen by respondents was the cost of living (41%), followed by crime (12%) and healthcare (11%). London’s economy and housing came in fourth and fifth places, respectively, selected by just less than 10%.

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