EXCLUSIVE: What Lib Dem members think of the Coalition almost 3 years on

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 650 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

(All comparisons are with our most recent survey conducted in December 2012.)

58% of member say party on “right course”

Do you think, as a whole, the Liberal Democrats are on the right course or on the wrong track?

    58% (-3%) – The right course
    33% (n/c) – The wrong track
    9% (+3%) – Don’t know / No opinion

It’s been a dramatic few weeks for the party: from the highs of the Eastleigh by-election win to the lows of the internal row over secret courts. It has had little effect on the overall views of whether the party is on the right course or wrong track, though: a net +25% of members say it’s on the right course.

Nick Clegg’s personal ratings negative for only the second time

What is your view of Nick Clegg’s performance as Lib Dem leader?

    9% – Very satisfied
    39% – Satisfied
    Total satisfied = 48% (-10%)
    26% – Dissatisfied
    24% – Very dissatisfied
    Total dissatisfied = 50% (+9%)
    2% – Don’t know / No opinion

While satisfaction with the party may be largely unchanged, the same isn’t true of Nick Clegg’s personal ratings as Lib Dem leader. In December, his net rating stood at +17%. It has now declined to -2%, the same level as in September 2012. In particular, judging from the comments, Nick’s ratings have been hit by the internal row over ‘secret courts’ — as much his perceived mis-handling of party discontent as his support for them.

78% of Lib Dem members continue to back the Coalition with the Conservatives

Do you support or oppose the Lib Dems being in the Coalition Government with the Conservatives?

    78% (+1%) – Support
    18% (n/c) – Oppose
    4% (-1%) – Don’t know / No opinion

Whatever misgivings party members have about Nick’s recent performance, there is still remarkably strong support (all things considered) for sticking with the Coalition with the Conservatives: 78% of members continue to back the arrangement. Throughout the course of the Coalition, this figure has remained consistently high, with close on 4-in-5 members backing the Coalition. Opposition to it remains relatively low, at 18%.

Net +14% of Lib Dems back Coalition Government’s record

Do you approve or disapprove of the Coalition Government’s record to date?

    52% (-1%) – Approve
    38% (-1%) – Disapprove
    10% (+2%) – Don’t know / No opinion

While support for the principle of being in Coalition remains high, approval of its practise is less so: just over half (52%) approve of the Government’s record to date. The net approval figure of +14% is less than half what it was a year ago: in March 2012 it stood at +32%.

56% expect party to get at least 40 MPs elected in 2015

How many Lib Dem MPs do you think will be elected at the next general election (expected in May 2015)?

    7% – More than current 57 MPs
    21% – Between 50 and 57 MPs
    28% – Between 40 and 49 MPs
    25% – Between 30 and 40 MPs
    13% – Fewer than 30 MPs
    6% – Don’t know

This is the first time we’ve asked this particular question (which replaces the more generic: do you think the result of the next election will be good, bad or indifferent for the party?) so there’s no comparisons. Overall — and perhaps buoyed by the Eastleigh hold — party members take a relatively optimistic attitude, with a majority (56%) predicting the party will hold at least 40 seats after the next general election, considerably more than our current poll ratings would indicate. A significant minority (38%), however, predict a worse fate.

85% EXPECT the Coalition to last ’til 2015…

How long do you expect the coalition government will last?

    1% (-2%) – It will end in 2013
    12% (-3%) – It will end in 2014
    85% (+5%) – It will last the full term, until 2015
    2% (n/c) – Don’t know / No opinion

Unsurprisingly, given neither Coalition party is riding high in the polls, there is a heavy expectation that the Coalition will last its full-term.

…and 76% WANT it to last ’til 2015

When would you like the Coalition to end?

    11% (n/c) – As soon as possible
    2% (-3%) – It should end some time later in 2013
    10% (-2%) – It should end in 2014
    37% (-1%) – It should stop shortly before the 2015 general election so the two Coalition parties can set out their different plans
    36% (+6%) – It should continue right up to the 2015 general election
    3% (-1%) – It should continue beyond the 2015 general election
    1% (n/c) – Don’t know / No opinion

As you might expect, given the strong continuing overall support for sticking with the Coalition, more than three-quarters (76%) of party members actively want the Coalition to last well into 2015 — though there is a pretty even division on whether it should continue right up to the dissolution of parliament, or cease a decent interval beforehand to allow for full-on differentiation. Interestingly, though opposition to the Coalition stands at 18% according to our survey (see above), just 11% actually ant the Coalition to come to an immediate end.

Clear majority say Lib Dems achieving influence in Government

How would you rate the extent of the Liberal Democrat influence within the Coalition Government, where 10 is highly influential, and 1 indicates no influence.

    1 = 1%
    2 = 7%
    3 = 13%
    4 = 11%
    5 = 10%
    Lacking influence = 42% (-8%)
    6 = 20%
    7 = 23%
    8 = 11%
    9 = 2%
    10 = 1%
    Achieving influence = 57% (+8%)

Well over half (57%) Lib Dem members rate the impact the party is having within the Coalition at 6 or more out of 10; a chunky minority (42%) disagree. The graph below shows the distribution:

ld influence poll - march 2013

Here’s a sample of your views on the questions above:

First time I have answered “wrong track” here. The secret courts debacle has damaged my faith that we know what we’re doing. When “no majority in the House of Commons” is used an excuse for us NOT to vote in line with our core principles, then something has gone very wrong with the way our Parliamentarians are whipped.

The disconnect between members and MPs is worrying.

I would like to hear a more independent voice; despite party efforts, our message is still being muffled by being part of the Coalition and we are being blamed for Coalition decisions that we cannot control.

Secret courts – need I say more? I thought we were a liberal party.

Bright spots (and there are plenty) aside, we’ve made major strategic errors of late.

we need better communication between the leadership and the membership, so that we can undertand what is being done and why. the leadership need to listen to the members and reflect their wishes in their actions.

We did the right thing for the country going into coalition when the country was in financial crisis. Long term that will be good for the party as well.

Lots of good things are happening in government. Some bad things too, but generally we are doing right.

We needed to demonstrate in 2010 that we could be taken seriously as a party of Government, there was no other choice other than joining the Tories, and we need to stay in the Coalition till the end to show the benefits of having Lib Dems in Government

Broadly the right course, but it needs some modification.

Satisfied for now…but he needs to be bolder against the Tories and show greater willingness to listen and act according to the wishes of the LibDem grassroots.

Very angry about the leadership position on secret courts – in particular the failure to offer a credible defence or explanation for this illiberal policy while ignoring the concerns of the membership.

The Orange Book domination of the leadership and policies is the problem, not Clegg only.

Cool under fire, incredibly difficult circumstances. Not perfect but we should be proud of his overall performance.

Nick needs to carry on shouting about THE differences between us and the Cons

He has been assailed by a hugely illiberal press but has maintained his sense of proportion. There was no choice but to go into coalition with the Conservatives but Nick was too naive at the beginning. since then the Conservatives have shown themselves to be offensively right wing – it is a party that is absolutely in tune with Enoch Powell’s 1968 positions, for which he was expelled from the Shadow Cabinet by Ted Heath – and has latterly taken a much more realistic position within the coaliton. His instincts are Liberal.

He is the least bad option. Distinct lack of proud liberal statesmanship, however.

Needs to listen to party membership more closely on some issues e.g. secret courts not supported by the membership

I was very satisfied but the secret courts screw up has certainly made me downgrade him.

He’s the best leader we could have right now

Too interested in staying in power

More evidence of him listening to party members would be good. The British people need a senior politician who can demonstrate that he is aware of their opinions.

He’s wrong on secret courts.

He’s got a pretty hard task – steering us through coalition when our ‘partners’ hate to have LD put a check on their policies.

Old saw: don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccassins.

Glad he is distancing himself from many right-wing attitudes.

He’s made some bad mistakes but I admire his courage and determination to see the job through. I voted for Chris Huhne (twice!) Thank heavens I didn’t get my way!

Nick drank from the poisoned chalice that was the last set of election results. Nothing he did was going to be right for everyone and I think he’s managed coalition better than the media give him/us credit for.

Nick has done many good things but his attitude towards secret courts, health, education and his appalling handling of the tuition fees affair has done untold damage to the party.

I think Nick Clegg will always be an electoral liability. Too much past baggage hanging around him, and not enough emphasis on establishing influence of LibDems on Govt policy.

Clegg is beginning to learn about handling a coalition but late, late, late.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 647 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 14th and 17th March.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    12 Comments

    • Tony Dawson 25th Mar '13 - 8:21am

      So, that’s 85 per cent of us seeing the Coalition lasting till 2015 and 87 per cent of us seeing a reduction in the number of Lib Dem seats thereafter. But most us us think this is ‘the Right track! ;-)

      Four fifths of us think the Coalition should continue to the end yet only half of us are even ‘satisfied’ (let alone pleased) with the present leadership of the Lib Dem element in that Coalition. What does that say? :-(

    • Tony: I think that’s how I answered – I would like to see the coalition continue, but with different rules of engagement, with much less willingness on behalf of any leader to wave through Conservative proposals not in the coalition agreement, and without ministers being obliged to resign in order to vote against the government.

    • I am worried about the numbers supporting the idea that we can leave the Coalition a few months before the Election. What is to stop the Tories making a series of popular announcements after weve gone & then saying “Look what we can do when we dont have The Libdems holding us back ?”
      It looks to me like playing into Conservative hands.

      The main conclusion of the survey as a whole is the continuing low level of Party morale, I dissagree with the majority on this.

    • nvelope2003 26th Mar '13 - 4:35pm

      Ray North

      What a wonderful thing is hindsight. There was no alternative to the present coalition because the Liberal Democrats who had not been in a peace time Government for 80 years could not possibly have abandoned the chance to show what they could do as they might never have got another one. Things have not so far turned out as they might have hoped because of “Events, dear boy ” and of course the misjudgements we all make from time to time especially those who have less experience. The Conservatives have also messed up even with all their experience as a governing party but as they have most of the press on their side this will not matter much at a General Election when the failure to reintroduce a married couples tax break and the issue of gay marriage will all be quietly forgotten. I can see the hysterical headlinesand leaders in the Daily Mail, Telegraph etc already They were always Conservative but since the Lib Dems became a threat to the two party system they seem to have become completely irrational except to those who agree with them and the one remaining Labour “newspaper” if you can call it that, is almost as bad. They must be having nightmares which should make us all glad we are doing something right.

    • I’d been thinking that I could stomach the economic buffoonery provided Clegg et al stand up for being ‘liberal’. Secret courts and ham-fisted press regulation, however… no thanks.

      Then I thought a little more. I disagree with Ray North in that entering into the coalition was a courageous decision that served the short-term national interest and, perhaps, may have been beneficial in the longer term (with a little more nous and political skill, alas). That said, what purpose does the coalition serve now? Electoral reform was a miserable failure, the party leadership is backing fundamentally illiberal policies, a man I’ve admired since watching his endearingly shabby yet passionate defence of liberalism at a Liberty AGM seems to have totally lost his direction (Theresa May was also on the panel and also sounded pretty liberal – ho hum) and, crucially, the economy is still tanking.

      So what’s the point? The coalition was meant to settle the markets, reassure the people, provide stability. These are now either less pressing concerns or have simply not come to pass. And the Lib Dems are being crucified for it.

      My unattainable dream is to see Clegg stand up and say “I thought it was the right thing to do but it hasn’t worked out that way. The economic policy has failed and we’re not even behaving like liberals any more, so… sod off, Dave, we’re out of here.”

      And what will be will be.

    • I think it is inevitable that the dominant party in a coalition government will try to put the junior party in the position of taking the blame for everything that is controversial and/or goes wrong. Maybe we should have seen that earlier and put our ministers in areas which were less controversial although then it would be less likely we could have reaped the benfit from successful policies.

      On previous occasions when Liberals supported another party in government, either as part of a coalition 1918-22 or supporting a Labour Government as it favoured free trade in 1924 the party suffered a difficult subsequent General Election but far worse (from 159 to 40 seats)in 1924 as it was seen to have ended the Labour Government prematurely. In the election of 1922 the coalition Liberals lost more than half of their seats but the Asquith non coalition Liberals doubled their number of seats. On that occasion it was the Conservatives who had ended the Coalition prematurely and they won the election.

      About all that is left is to soldier on as leaving the coalition without being able to champion some popular policy disagreement would be of no benefit. All the major disagreements are in areas where the Conservatives or UKIP have more popular policies. There are not likely to be many votes on the issues of immigration, secret courts , electoral or constitutional reform. Soldiering on might at least have the benefit of showing the party was seriuos and determined.

    • David| Evans 29th Mar '13 - 2:17pm

      Nick’s leadership has been a disaster since “luck” gave him the balance of power in 2010. AV, Tuition Fees, NHS reform, Secret Courts, more than a thousand councillors down, and membership down by a third to a record low since the merger.

      Time to go Nick

    • David Pollard 31st Mar '13 - 11:02am

      For me the balance against Nick Clegg has started to turn. Secret Courts, dropping the amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been here a long time and weakness over the EU are illiberal. There has been a subtle change in LibDem culture at the top which I don’t like.

    • Not a single voter is going to reward the Liberal Democrats in parliament for being “serious and determined” in promoting bad and dangerous policies. “Seriousness” and “determination” are not virtues in themselves, but only in respect of the cause for which they are employed. In any case, a constant deference to the Conservatives hardly demonstrates “determination.”

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