Lord Ashcroft has done another enormous piece of polling, this time into the Lib Dem vote. A few of the more encouraging findings:
• More people want a coalition including the Lib Dems (31%) than a Conservative majority (30%)
• 30% of people could see themselves voting Lib Dem at the next general election
• Only 1 in 5 think the Lib Dems have no real influence
• Lib Dems outpoll the Conservatives on:
- o“Represents the whole country, not just some”(24% v 21%),
o “Its heart is in the right place”(47% v 35%),
o “stands for fairness”(41% v 30%)
o “Stands for equal opportunity for all”(39% v 28%)
o “Wants to help ordinary people get on in life”(42% v 31%)
There are also some less encouraging findings (well covered in the media) although very little, if any of it is new – many fewer people say they will vote for the party than in 2010, there have been considerable defections to Labour, and the party is not as trusted as it used to be.
All very interesting, but much of it is potentially meaningless. Why?
Because the sample for this poll was the whole country. But, thanks to our electoral system, the Lib Dems’ election will essentially be fought in the 57 seats that the party currently holds, plus a handful of target seats. And we don’t know whether the national opinions map onto the local ones …
Or do we? Lord Ashcroft helpfully asked a lot of the same questions in a marginal Lib Dem constituency called Eastleigh (anyone heard of it?) before the party’s formidable campaign had kicked in. So we can compare the results.
The headline figures in the first Eastleigh poll were Con 34, LD 31, Lab 19, UKIP 13, Other 3. This compares to Ashcroft’s national result: Con 32, Lab 40, LD 10, UKIP 10, Others 8.
Do these two samples actually think differently of the Lib Dems (or any of the three parties)? On national issues, it turns out the answer is “not really”. On the economy, NHS, immigration, welfare and so on, the results were very similar in Eastleigh to the national ones (Labour’s ratings are depressed a little in Eastleigh as you’d expect in a southern Lib/Con marginal). On ‘influence in the Coalition’, the Lib Dems’ ratings are almost identical in Eastleigh and nationally.
So, if there’s little to separate the party’s national and local ratings, how on earth do we account for the Lib Dems getting 31% in Eastleigh and 10% nationally? Turns out there is one area where there’s a big difference between the party’s local and national ratings – where the Lib Dems scored 20% locally and 67% in Eastleigh. That was “The Lib Dems do a good job locally in my area”.
As Mark Pack has pointed out – What do the academics say? Being local works – the experiences of campaigners (not to mention study upon study upon study) have shown that local work and face to face contact is by far the most powerful campaigning method. Now Ashcroft has too.
It’s a party cliché for a reason: “where we work we win”.
* Tom Richards is a Liberal Democrat member in London.