Polling the Lib Dems: the good, the bad, and the inbetween

‘Less anger, but less clarity’ is how UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells characterises the latest YouGov polling looking at the public’s attitudes to the Lib Dems. It’s interesting to read through the full data, available here, especially as the responses are directly comparable with a year ago, before the Lib Dems’ U-turn on tuition fees sent the party spiralling downwards in the polls.

The bad news

  • Nick Clegg’s popularity has taken a hit: from a net positive of +8% a year ago, to a net negative of -29% today. Worth noting, however, that this is primarily due to Nick’s toxicity with Labour supporters, with whom he has a rating of an astonishing -79%! Both Lib Dem (+51%) and Tory (+17%) supporters have net positive views of the Lib Dem leader.
  • There is greater opposition to the Coalition than a year ago. In September 2010, 43% supported it, while 46% opposed it (net -3%): today the split is 34%/57% (net -13%). Interestingly, among the group identified as ‘lost Lib Dem voters’ — ie, those who voted for the party in 2010 but no longer would — 29% support the Coalition, while 63% oppose it.
  • Voters lack clarity what the Lib dems stand for. 56% agree with the statement, ‘I’m no longer sure what the Liberal democrats stand for’ (including 1-in-5 current Lib Dem supporters). The same proportion also agrees that ‘the Lib Dems have sold out their principles by going into Coalition’, while 63% agree the party has ‘broken their promises and betrayed their supporters’. However, in these latter two questions a majority of Lib Dem and Tory voters disagree: it’s Labour voters who overwhelmingly ensorse these views. As Anthony Wells notes, the data suggests ‘some of the public are starting to view the party through less of a prism of betrayal, some of the hostility is starting to fade.’

The inbetween news

  • Here’s an interesting, somewhat contradictory, finding… More voters believe now than did in 2010 that the Lib Dems are contributing nothing to the Coalition: 40% today compared with 34% last year. HOWEVER, more voters overall be lieve the Lib Dems have helped make the Coalition: more moderate and centrist (22% now, 20% last year); more interested in the lives of the worse-off (20% cf 15%); more focused on fairness (16% cf 15%); and more interested in civil liberties (15% cf 12%). This suggests to me attitudes to the Coalition are hardening a little, with supporters recognising the Lib Dems contribution to it, and opponents viewing it as little more than a right-wing government.

The good news

  • ‘Lost Lib Dem voters’ are not necessarily lost for good. I noted above that many of those who voted for us in 2010 but no longer say they would vote for the party do actually support the Coalition. 39% of this group also believes the party wields influence within the Coalition; 32% of them believe the Lib Dems offer different and distinctive policies to Labour and the Tories; 37% of them believe the Lib Dems have made the Coalition more moderate and centrist; and 39% agree the Lib dems did the responsible thing by entering government at a time of economic crisis. The big issue for the party with this group of voters at the moment is 1) the Lib Dems’ breach of trust on tuition fees, and 2) a fuzziness about what the Lib Dems stand for. It’s unlikely we can win back all those who voted for us in 2010. But the polling suggests we have the opportunity to persuade many of them over the next 3.5 years.
  • More voters think the Lib Dems have influence within the Coalition than think we don’t. A plurality of voters, 48%, believe the party has a lot or a little influence, against 44% who reckon the Lib Dems have hardly or none. Both Lib Dem and Tory voters overwhelmingly believe the party is influential; Labour voters take a contrary view.
  • There is much greater confidence the Coalition will last a full term. A year ago, just 18% of voters expected the Coalition to govern until 2015; 28% of voters believe it will now. However, more voters still expect it to last only 1 or 2 years: 32% think 2012/13 will see the Coalition expire (significantly down from 43% last year).
  • There is a solid core of potential Lib Dem supporters. There are still significant numbers of voters willing to give the party a fair hearing. For example: 26% of voters think the Lib Dems have shown they are a sensible party of government; 27% of voters think that by entering the Coalition the party has managed to get real Liberal policies put into action; 25% of voters believe the Lib Dems offer different and distinctive policies; 33% of voters believe the party has made the Coalition more moderate and centrist; and 43% of voters agree the Lib Dems did the responsible thing when forming the Coalition. These figures show there is a base of support for the party: we now need to translate that into something more tangible in the years ahead.
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22 Comments

  • Now, whenever I see yet another new “survey”, I wonder when we are going to see the critical question “which newspaper do you read?”. This is because virtually everyone surveyed will base their replies on some secondary source of information, which is frequently written by a “commentator” rather than by an objective reporter.

    I suspect that most media “reporters”, who were happy with the “black-and-white” of a two-party political playing field, now find it harder to come to terms with a three-way position. So, until the public grasp what the Lib Dems are contributing, we will only get grudging copy (at best) from the media. It’s only when the media find their influence/grasp on public thinking (= their customers) is being undermined that they might then genuinely report the reality of what Lib Dems are doing or proposing…..

    Hence, it even more important than ever that Lib Dems reach people directly with our version of our current actions and their significance. The current media are still not reporting us effectively or objectively, so we will have to continue to lay out our case ourselves – and not worry too much about small fluctuations in percentage support.

  • We have to remember this is a Yougov survey so while the changes will probably be OK the absolute figures will be heavily distorted against us & in Labours favour. Yougov use Political weighting based on “Newspaper Readership” but not the Readership figures produced by the industry.
    Thers lots of other evidence to suggest that we hit our low point in The Summer & have recovered some ground since then.

  • @Dennis B

    This is YouGov so they weigh accordingly. It sounds like a good idea but in practice the readership for some newspapers on their panel (e.g. The Mirror) is so low that you can get the opinion of a Mirror reader being several times that of, say, a Guardian or Times reader.

    It seems as though a better approach is weighting by past vote, not as good in theory, but seems to produce better results. For instance in the AV referendum YouGov’s approach ended up with final polling for the referendum 15% off the actual figure, whereas ICM ended up within 0.2% of the final result.

  • I am afraid Stephen’s analysis seems to be almost as ‘Emperors New Clothesy’ as the Newsnight panel discussion with Jeremy Paxman last night was. The spectacles have been heavily-splashed with Rose also. Only one in five people think the Lib Dems make the slightest difference to the Coalition.

    Our own Party voters only just scrape our leader positive rating. Our Leader’s popularity has tanked – hopefully bottoming out but at a very low level. The main issue is NOT the Coalition, but one of Trust. Any attempts to persuade most voters that the Tuition Fee promise (NOT policy was ever right are stupid and will continue to be so. One can only hope that performance on other issues might possibly move voters away from this issue. I know plenty of Lib Dem members (not just supporters) who have yet to be swayed by anything. They still, largely, stick with the Coalition, though. Because they know it was the right thing to do.

    The elephant in the room is: “What proportion of the tens of thousands of Labour-leaning voters in Tory-Lib Dem marginals can any longer be persuaded to vote Lib Dem in a General Election?” And the Hippopotamus is: “How many more good Lib Dem councillors will lose their seats in the meantime, for reasons nothing to do with their own performance?”

    I do not trust polls, particularly You Gov polls, but the views I express above have been developed by talking to hundreds of ordinary people.They happen to coincide with the ‘take’ from the polls.

  • Tony Dawson – the answers to your questions are (I) the ones bright enough to see that a vote for Labour will mean more chance of a Tory majority and (ii) lots because until local government becomes more powerful and relevant voters will tend to vote against an incumbent national government than for local government.

  • Clarity. Bright enough to see that a vote for Labour will mean more chance of a Tory majority and gullible enough to think that will make a difference.

    Regarding tuition fees. By the next elections, you will have three years worth of new voters directly affected by this. Possibly some parents too. Good luck in hoping other issues move voters away from this.

  • Rich – I am not going to spend time working out what is wrong with your logic here, but damn sure there’s a problem with it!

  • Tabman – “the ones bright enough to see that a vote for Labour will mean more chance of a Tory majority.” You have to laugh, vote Labour and get Tory, when we’ve already seen if you vote LibDem you get Tory……

  • Bob Clover. “By the next elections, you will have three years worth of new voters directly affected by this. Possibly some parents too.”

    New voters who won’t have actually paid anything in those three years, and who won’t have to start paying anything until they have a significant income stream.

  • I am very pleased how the Lib Dems have changed their tactics after May and think they are communicating much more effectively with the public. These polls show there is hope. There is probably a subsection of support that have gone for good, but there is a lot of room to improve our ratings.

    However, as we have a platform, this could be a good opportunity to sell our philosphy of Liberalism and weave it into our policy announcements, so people understand why we stand for certain policies and make our messages more meaningful and inspiring.

  • David Pollard 20th Sep '11 - 10:01pm

    It’s tuition fees, stupid. Once Nick Clegg apologies unreservedly for signing THAT pledge then the LibDems will recover and so will Nick’s standing with the public.

  • 27% of voters think that by entering the Coalition the party has managed to get real Liberal policies put into action; 25% of voters believe the Lib Dems offer different and distinctive policies; 33% of voters believe the party has made the Coalition more moderate and centrist; and 43% of voters agree the Lib Dems did the responsible thing when forming the Coalition

    i wouldn’t say this shows a base of support rather that conservative voters think the lib dems we’re right to form the coalition and have influenced it’s policy. I suspect they will still vote conservative next election

  • “Nick Clegg’s popularity has taken a hit: from a net positive of +8% a year ago, to a net negative of -29% today. Worth noting, however, that this is primarily due to Nick’s toxicity with Labour supporters, with whom he has a rating of an astonishing -79%! Both Lib Dem (+51%) and Tory (+17%) supporters have net positive views of the Lib Dem leader.”

    But you should remember that – according to the polls – perhaps half of those who voted Lib Dem last year are now “Labour supporters.”

  • “New voters who won’t have actually paid anything in those three years, and who won’t have to start paying anything until they have a significant income stream.”

    You really won’t think they won’t give it *any* consideration before deciding to go to university ?

    You really think they won’t be giving it thought at all when they start university ? When interest starts accruing ? they won’t discuss it with their friends ?

    You really think £21k is a *significant* income stream ?

    You really think angry misled (ex)libdem voters won’t remind them at every opportunity – especially at election time.

    Wishful thinking my friend. Powered by denial.

  • David Pollard It’s not the signing of the pledge which the apology should be directed at. It is the failure to follow up on the pledge. If he apologised for signing it everyone will say it was obviously done for mere expedient gathering of votes. They already in the main think it was dishonest. How much more dishonest will they take it to be if he were to apologise?

  • The fact is that if there was an election next week the party would be creamed. It isn’t just between the Lib Dem’s, Conservatives and Labour . Over the next few years you will see further erosion as more of the Lib Dem vote goes to the Greens and Nationalist Parties in Wales and Scotland. The reality is that party loyalist are forgetting that people of a liberal persuasion vote for policies they agree with. There are or at least were an awful lot of people of an egalitarian social liberal bent that voted Lib Dem until the last election. They weren’t a protest vote, they were the mainstream of who was voting. Nothing, I’m seeing at the moment will bring them back. But, hey, I was never a supporter of this coalition and I’m still not. convinced.

  • Bob Clover – well, the fact that you think £21k p.a. is insignificant says quite a lot about you, I fear.

    Time moves on. Events happen. Who can say what the situation will be in 4 years’ time? Students have been borrowing to pay debts accrued during the learning years since the late 1980s. When 50% of people go to University, its not the passport to riches that people have been misled to think it is. Inevitably people will make an assessment of their futures. It isn’t helped by the misinformation put about by people like yourself.

  • YouGov is ALWAYS, “asking which paper(s) do you read?” ad nauseam!

  • The biggest hit of all has been taken by the Scottish Liberal Democrats – we have been practically wiped out in the Scottish Parliament in this yea’s Elections! We now only have 5 MSPs, only one of whom is a mainland constituency MSP! The other four are from the Regional top up lists.

    I would prefer to see the Scottish Liberal Democrats distance themselves more from the federal Party – but Willie Rennie refuses to do this – he is all for maintaining the ties between us, even strengthening them as far as I can see.

    I can see that there will be many leaving the Party, even after the hype of this latest Federal Conference. It did very little for us in Scotland in the way of restoring any confidence.

    I would have more confidence in the Party if Nick and the rest of them STOPPED Iain Duncan Smith in his deliberate targeting of the disabled and the vulnerable.

    Let’s face it, we are on a Conservative agenda which is determined to drive through the oppression of the poor and the privatisation of all the service to which we have access! We may be trying to “rein in” the excesses of the Tories but exactly how well are we doing it?

    My membership is due for renewal – I am seriously thinking of not doing so as I am so disgusted! Good, hard working people are trying to achieve change but the really important issues which we want to have debated – i.e. the NHS debacle – were sidelined into “consultations” by the FCC and debates/Motions refused so that we could not vote on them!

    We need down-to earth people in the Cabinet – people like Linda Jack – who says it as it is and does try to flannel us all with empty rhetoric!

  • Correction *does NOT try to flannel us all with empty rhetoric!*

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