‘Brand Clegg’ continues to out-poll ‘Brand Miliband': what it means for the Lib Dems

It’s a harsh reality that ‘Nick Clegg’ has become an easy punchline for many comedians. Nick can perhaps draw some comfort from the truth universally acknowledged that it’s better to be joked about than never to be joked about at all.

But he can draw greater comfort from some of the polling evidence showing him doing better than Ed Miliband, even though the Lib Dems’ ratings significantly trail Labour’s. The Independent’s Matt Chorley noticed this little-noticed phenomenon last week:

Most, though not all, months the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror/ComRes poll has asked voters whether they agreed or disagreed with these statements on the three party leaders.

    David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister
    Ed Miliband is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party
    Nick Clegg is turning out to be a good leader of the Liberal Democrats

The net ratings from December 2010 to April 2012, with don’t knows removed, are shown in this graph. … it is worth noting that in January Nick Clegg’s net rating overtook Miliband for the first time since we started doing these questions.

And Nick remains ahead of Ed Miliband — here is that Indy graph:

Also of interest is this ComRes polling data:

    I like the Conservative Party and David Cameron 27%
    I like the Conservative Party but not David Cameron 10%
    Net like Con Party – 37%
    I like David Cameron but not the Conservative Party 11%
    I don’t like David Cameron or the Conservative Party 52%
    Net don’t like Con Party – 63%

    I like the Labour Party and Ed Miliband 16%
    I like the Labour Party but not Ed Miliband 29%
    Net like Lab Party – 45%
    I like Ed Miliband but not the Labour Party 5%
    I don’t like Ed Miliband or the Labour Party 49%
    Net don’t like Lab Party – 54%

    I like the Liberal Democrat Party and Nick Clegg 18%
    I like the Liberal Democrat Party but not Nick Clegg 19%
    Net like Lib Dems – 37%
    I like Nick Clegg but not the Liberal Democrat Party 12%
    I don’t like Nick Clegg or the Liberal Democrat Party 51%
    Net don’t like Lib Dems – 63%

Two points stand out for me:

    1) The Lib Dems now divide opinion. The party has got used over the decades to being happily tolerated, and usually liked to one degree or another, by most people. It has come as a rude awakening to find ourselves actively disliked by significant parts of the population, the more so as the nature of Coalition politics means we sometimes bear the brunt for policies that aren’t the ones we’d enact if the party had a majority.

    2) This isn’t about Nick Clegg, it’s about the Coalition. The Lib Dems are bracing ourselves for a Tricky Thursday followed by Frit Friday if, as commentators suggest, we stand to lose in excess of 300 councillors. If that happens, someone somewhere is bound to suggest now is the time to change party leader. Yet this polling data suggests Nick Clegg isn’t actually a significant factor at play here. The fact is that a coalition with the Tories at a time of double-dip recession is proving toxic for the Lib Dems with many voters. There’s no magic wand solution to this.

To back up this second point, let’s look at ComRes’s net likes/don’t figures for each of the party leaders’ personal ‘brands’ compared directly against their party’s popularity:

    David Cameron:
    I like the Conservative Party but not David Cameron 10%; I like David Cameron but not the Conservative Party 11%.
    Net Cameron brand: +1%

    Ed Miliband:
    I like the Labour Party but not Ed Miliband 29%; I like Ed Miliband but not the Labour Party 5%.
    Net Miliband brand: -24%

    Nick Clegg:
    I like the Liberal Democrat Party but not Nick Clegg 19%; I like Nick Clegg but not the Liberal Democrat Party 12%.
    Net Clegg brand: -7%

True, Nick’s leadership ‘brand’ compared to the party’s overall rating is negative, but the difference is modest — certainly a lot more modest than the huge brand deficit facing Labour’s Ed Miliband.

The Lib Dems face a huge uphill task in the next three years, there’s no escaping that fact. A leader who to some is a punchline, and a party which to some is a punchbag. So it’s time for some fighting spirit, and plenty of it, if we’re going to enjoy a last laugh.

* 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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42 Comments

  • If these numbers have any real world significance then it means the ‘Clegg factor’ will spare the Lib Dems humiliation on Thursday.

  • I totally agree with this analysis. Much of the “hatred” of Nick Clegg is simply the fact that Labour can’t forgive a Lib Dem leader for not acting as a poodle to their party. In fact, the negativity in polling on Nick Clegg is driven by Labour supporters’ tribal hatred for him.

  • Nicola Prigg 1st May '12 - 9:52am

    The trendline for Miliband is on the increase and his approval ratings are increasing faster than Nick’s

  • Nicola Prigg 1st May '12 - 9:54am

    The rest of the analysis, I agree with. Nick isn’t a big reason for the party failings, its the coalition.

    if we change Nick, we have to get out of the coalition at the same time.

  • i lost my seat as a lib-dem cllr and the reason was that i was fighting labour and not torys and no one was happy that we joined up with the torys and for that reason only .
    charlies Kennedy was right we should have just sat there in opposition and voted accordingly under our own name as an independent party . not go for glory and be in a coalition government. at least our swinging support would have seen us as having a voice of our own and may have stuck with the lib-dems

  • @Nicola… the trendline for Miliband is most certainly not on the rise, and that’s not a partisan point – all three leaders’ trendlines are down.

  • I believe that Attila the Hun and Ghengis Khan would both outscore Millibland…..

    You only need to look at his barely competent performance of late (when so many open goals have been left for him) to see why he does get more support. He seems devoid of the charisma that is needed to bring people with him. And let’s be honest, for the Lib Dems that has been a big positive. A Labour leader with the ability to gain popular support as Blair did in his early years would be a disaster….

  • There’s a general disgust with politicians: BBC Breakfast this morning was instructive, they went out to the people of Derby and there was a consensus, all right – “A plague on all your houses”. In times such as this, the only way to be consistently popular is to be powerless: therefore you’re a lightning rod for discontent and never have to do anything which would subsequently make you unpopular with someone.

    In other words, don’t get too hung up on polls, trendlines or popularity. It’s more important to do the right thing than to appear to do the right thing. Eventually, and admittedly that can be a long way away, public opinion will catch up.

  • Joseph Donnelly 1st May '12 - 11:03am

    @Paul Mann

    I appreciate you lost your seat because of the coalition and it must be incredibly frustrating to see all the work you put in delivering, canvassing and doing casework all the years almost ‘go to waste’ because of a national swing.

    BUT…at some point we had to enter coalition, we are a party that wants PR and a party that thinks coalitions are better than majority government. If the world ended in 2020 and there was only the 2015 election left after 2010, then yes I would agree with you; it would have been better to do a confidence and supply arrangement and kept our image squeaky clean with voters.

    However, the reality is we need to show coalition works and when there is a clear opportunity/compulsion for coalition (compulsion because its unclear any other solution even confidence and supply would have been sustainable for any period of time over a few months) we have to take that opportunity.

    I totally agree with one part of Stephen’s analysis; some activists and people now actively dislike us.

    Have you noticed one thing though? Barely anyone makes a joke about us not mattering anymore. For the first time since WW2 or perhaps earlier; our party really does matter, we influence what happens rather than just standing by the sidelines and commentating.

    If we wanted our party to ever step up and become a party of government we were going to have to go through this period. Unless you believe the Labour activists who think we have betrayed them by ever going into coalition with anyone but them (I’ve never bought this idea we are a subsidiary party to Labour like UKIP to Tories argument that even some of our own members believe).

    Its the hard road but its the right one.

  • Steve WayMay 01 – 10:22 am………….I believe that Attila the Hun and Ghengis Khan would both outscore Millibland……..

    Very true; he is, possibly, the best thing going for the coalition. The idea of Milliband at No.10 is inconceivable; he is inarticulate and completely without any charisma.
    With the inept Milliband on one side, an arrogant, sneering Cameron on the other there is a unique opportunityl for LibDems to shine. Where are we? .

  • Richard Dean 1st May '12 - 11:18am

    Did you do …

    Like DC: 38%
    (I like the Conservative Party and David Cameron 27% plus
    I like David Cameron but not the Conservative Party 11%)

    Like NC: 30%
    (I like the Liberal Democrat Party and Nick Clegg 18% plus
    I like Nick Clegg but not the Liberal Democrat Party 12%)

    Like EM: 21%
    (I like the Labour Party and Ed Miliband 16% plus
    I like Ed Miliband but not the Labour Party 5%)

    Is the math right? It seems to indicate that Nick is doing very well indeed, and will soon be more popular than each of the other two, though not them both combined.

  • Joseph Donnelly 1st May '12 - 11:54am

    @John Roffey

    As you’ll know from following ukpollingreport we probably aren’t polling as low as 8% we are probably somewhere between 10-12% (I’m not one of these Lib Dems who thinks ICM is the gold standard, we shouldn’t automatically count those 5% of don’t knows who voted for us at the last election as Lib Dems, at least not for the time being).

  • Richard Dean 1st May '12 - 11:59am

    The contrast between the figures for the parties and the figures for the leaders seems to suggest that Nick Clegg is our greatest asset. Perhaps then we should stop quarrelling so much with his approach of realstic principled compromise within coalition. Perhaps we should even start visbly supporting him.

  • The other interpretation, of course, is that under Clegg’s leadership support for the party has dropped so precipitously that it is now nearly as unpopular as him.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st May '12 - 12:24pm

    Paul Mann

    i lost my seat as a lib-dem cllr and the reason was that i was fighting labour and not torys and no one was happy that we joined up with the torys and for that reason only .

    But this is just repetition of Labour Party propaganda. We needed to make it very clear from the outset that our joining the coalition was not a positive endorsement of the Tories but a recognition of the way the people voted and the way the electoral system distorted the vote, so actually it was the only viable government. We also from the outset needed to make it very clear we were not doing this to “go for glory”, that in fact it was very far from our ideal and we expected only limited benefits from it, however it was done because we are democrats first and so therefore acknowledge how the people voted even if we wished they hadn’t voted that way.

    The fact that even members of our party are repeating the propaganda of our opponents instead of understanding the reality of our position suggests to me we have been very badly led. Liberal (Democrat) party leaders often get positive opinion poll ratings on the basis that most people think the job of the party is to be ineffective and they think its leader is doing well at that. Just because Ed Miliband is even more ineffective at leading his party does not make our current leader the best person for the job.

    charlies Kennedy was right we should have just sat there in opposition and voted accordingly under our own name as an independent party . not go for glory and be in a coalition government.

    Unfortunately this was not a realistic option. Had we ended the general election campaign looking like we were going upwards we could have tried it, with the Tories (who would have formed a minority government) fearing the consequences of an early general election. However, as we ended the general election campaign going downwards (whose fault was that?), it was clear that any attempt by us to stop the Tories having their own way in a minority government would have resulted in them calling another general election in which we would be the biggest losers.

  • Joseph Donnelly 1st May '12 - 12:29pm

    @ John Roffey

    but of course our polling on thursday will be completely different between 16-20%

  • UK politics just seems like a race to the bottom at the moment. All three parties and all three leaders are hugely unpopular and discredited for varying reasons, and I don’t think any of them should be taking comfort from any polling data. Being the least detested figure or party on the particular day a poll was taken is hardly a positive.

    “Good news, most people hate me/ us very slightly less than they hate the others!”

    I can’t remember an election where choosing the least worst option was so difficult.

  • Richard Dean 1st May '12 - 12:56pm

    @AndrewR. It is good to discuss the implications of poll results. 30% is quite popular, so the drop in support for the party is not down to Clegg. Perhaps it is due to our continual fascination with “other interpretations”. To have a chance of staying in government, we need to start making and keeping to consistent decisions. Being liberal party is not the same as being continually all over the place.

  • paul barker 1st May '12 - 1:01pm

    On the hate question, we are now in the same position as the other 2 main parties – half the voters are willing to listen & the other half hate us. In other words we are now taken seriously which is what we always said we wanted.
    The polls in this article are just as real as the voting intention polls & the polls on economic trust, theres lots of evidence out there, the problem is that its contradictory. Either voters are very confused or they dont want to answer the questions, I think its mostly the latter. The introduction of fixed term parliaments has given voters the luxury of not really thinking about politics seriously till late 2014, at the earliest.
    The results on friday will tell us something but we have to remember that barely 1 in 10 will vote, they are not neccesarily typical & not all of them take local elections as seriously as we do.
    We have to get used to not knowing what will happen & prepare for a very wide range of outcomes in 2015, anything from a bad defeat to replacing labour as 2nd party.

  • Richard Dean 1st May '12 - 1:05pm

    @Paul Barker. The range of 2015 outcomes could feasibly include us being 1st, if we can get our act together. Is 3 years enough time to do this?

  • Yellow Bill 1st May '12 - 1:37pm

    For all those who think that the blue tinged Lib Dem brand is becoming more popular with voters, I suggest that you really do need to wake up and smell the coffee. The Lib Dem part of the coalition is despised by the electorate for its part in this hugely illiberal government.

    The Orange Bookers have undone all the hard work of the last few decades and I am very much afraid that future conveyance transporting the Parliamentary party will revert to that one taxi of yesteryear.

  • To win elections you have to have actual votes, Leader popularity means zilch. It’s not labour propaganda that the this party has been reduced to single figures. It is the path chosen by this party. It’s highly likely that it will be reduced further on Thursday.
    It’s been said countless times before that the student vote that was courted feels stuffed, the northern seats that were hard won feel stuffed and if this wasn’t the case the votes would be there. The thing is you are in government, you can’t protest about policies you are implementing and protest about them at the same time. It’s ludicrous. The labour party have not got magical powers over voters . The Labour party is irrelevant to the debate. It’s the voters who feel cheated.
    Honestly. if none of you guys can see this, it’s game over.

  • You’re taking comfort from a -30% approval rating for Clegg, on the basis that Miliband’s is -31%? That must say something about party morale!

    But unfortunately those figures do show that Clegg is less popular than the party, so you can’t conclude from them that ” This isn’t about Nick Clegg.” Clearly it is, in part.

    (By the way, your “Net like/Net dislike” figures are actually totals, not net figures, and they should be positive, not negative.)

  • Agree strongly with J. Donnelly and P Barker

  • FedUpofCeredigion 1st May '12 - 5:22pm

    Hey – someone forgot to send Wales the memo that Clegg is popular.

    Latest YouGov poll on Welsh voting intention :

    May 4th Council election voting intention
    Labour 48% [up 21 points on 2008]
    Conservaives 17% [up 1 point on 2008]
    Independents 15% [down 13 points on 2008]
    Plaid 14% [down 3 on 2008]
    Libs 7% [down 6 on 2008]

    Welsh voting intention for Westminster
    Labour 50% (up 14% on the May 2010 General Election)
    Conservatives 23% (down 3%),
    Plaid Cymru 12% (up 1%)
    Liberal Democrats on 7% (down 13%),
    other parties collectively on 9%.

    All the people I know who used to vote Lib Dem say a change of leader, and the party stopping supporting the Tories austerity policies and public services wrecking will be the only thing that’ll persuade them to vote Lib Dem again.

    We can discuss the results on Friday, but suspect some very blinkered responses will still be evident.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st May '12 - 5:27pm

    John Roffey, sorry I don’t see the link between the article you quoted and your other comments. The article you quoted seemed to be the typical “divert the electorate from what we are doing (i.e. selling out the country to the global wealthy elite) by going on about the EU” stuff the political right loves to put out in this country. The anti-EU campaign in this country is now largely driven by those who see the EU as standing in the way to our country becoming a complete colony of the super-rich, with the rest of us forced to beg for our livelihood.

  • Nick Clegg is an embarassment.

  • …………………….Compare with a private hospital, where nurses are kind, because if they are not, then you don’t go back and they lose their jobs. This may seem hard on the majority of dedicated NHS nurses, but there is no doubt that neglect happens……………

    Another example of ‘private good; public bad’ tosh. Did the privatisation of the railways produce a more helpful workforce
    My mother was in an, expensive, private nursing home and their care was haphazard to say the least. Some staff were excellent; somerelatively uncaring. The idea that those ‘uncaring’ lost their jobs shows a level of naivety; it was the good ones who seemed to disappear.
    Be it public, or private,the sense of caring is down to the individual nurse/carer and the level of junior (not senior) management.

  • I do wish people would stop saying that everything the Lib Dems in government are doing is somehow connected to the so called ‘Orange Book’.

    1. The range of people who contributed to that tome were from the left to the right of the party, not just one small section of it.

    2.The Lib Dem policies in the coalition agreement come from the party’s General Election Manifesto, not the orange book.

    3. You are merely spouting propaganda from the anti Lib Dem press that collapses when put under even moderate scrutiny.

  • Simon Hebditch 2nd May '12 - 10:41am

    Not long to wait now. Lets simply see what the actual results are and then we can think about future strategy. Any more speculation is worthless.

  • And, Mickft, the policies in the 2010 Manifesto were significantly more right wing economically than previously – mainly through the influence of the Orange Bookers. What you say, of course, may be technically correct, but you long since lost the argument to identify the nature of the OB, so you may as well recognise that now, and acknowledge “facts on the ground”.

  • Tim 13 – the Orange Book is a Liberal tome, not a right wing one. Steve Webb, Vince Cable, Chris Huhen; hardly denizens of hang em flog em privelege. Using OB as a term of abuse / short hand for Conservative says more about the person doing it than* about the OB itself.

    * – who in 999 cases out of 1000 won’t have read the book.

  • Mark Wilson 6th May '12 - 8:06pm

    I must ask in response to Tabman do you think Lembit Opik has not read The Orange Book? Lembit’s comments have opened up the debate about whether The Orange Book agenda should be the only show in town for the Lib Dems. The question for the Lib Dems should be what should be the future for the party irrespective of its current commitment to the Coalition.
    I think it is reasonable to assume that unless the economy shows tangible signs of recovery before the next set of Local Elections then the outcome for the Lib Dems is likely to be the same if not worse that the 2012 Elections based on the number of seats the Lib Dems could potentially lose. If the Lib Dems believe sticking with the Coalition for the benefit of the economy, and the country is the right course of action which for reasons of integrity is what they should do if that’s what they believe, then regrettably more Lib Dem Councillors will be the casualties for keeping faith with this agenda. But how many of the foot soldiers, activists, and or course Councillors can the party afford to lose to enable it to be able to rebuild?
    The austerity agenda makes sense to follow based on Liberal Economic Thinking. But if we make comparisons with the Depression of the 1920’s to enable the US Govt to finally emerge from its stagnation the Govt had to change course from this conventional wisdom. The Lib Dems must decide based on the Economic rather than the Political agenda whether the current Economic wisdom has run its course in order to achieve the Economic Growth which the economy is continuing to lack. The Govt must govern and not be ruled solely by what the markets would like.
    It is naive to think that it is folly to believe that there is no alternative to current economic thinking on managing credit, and the economy. As I write this the Elections in France, and Greece have produced Govt’s that have moved to the Left and who clearly do not share the conventional economic wisdom whatever the markets believe and want.
    My question to the Lib Dems is persuade me given the current economic backdrop why should I rejoin the Lib Dems?

  • It’s strange for LibDems to worry about popularity, since the party has always defined itself as taking unpopular decisions because we believed they were the correct decisions.

    The gradual liberalisation of society throughout the years is a testament to the success of liberal heterodoxy.

    Populism in politics is what created Mussolini. I’d rather LibDems steer well clear of that… and if you look at Mussolini’s demise his desire to be popular didn’t really work out very well for him either: the effective truth is always more important than any abstract ideal.

    So have patience please, enacting good policies will see negative polls reverse. This is the time to show resolve.

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