Pollwatch – State of the Parties: Lib Dems 11%, Labour 40%, Tories 36% (April 2011)

Well, it’s been a while since last the Voice rounded-up the polls — but with Scottish/Welsh/local elections just weeks away, it’s time to dust down our spreadsheets and take a look at the current states of the parties.

A total of 35 polls were published during March. Now, as our readers know, LDV doesn’t cover them with the same breathless excitements as other parts of the media. Most poll movements are within the margin of error, so it is only looked at over a period of time that you can detect whether there has really been any significant movements between the parties. With those caveats in place, let’s succomb to the inevitable and start poll-obsessing…

Here are the March averages for the parties across the seven polling companies which conducted surveys:

  • Con 33%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 10% (Angus Reid)
  • Con 36%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 12% (ComRes)
  • Con 37%, Lab 36%, Lib Dem 16% (ICM)
  • Con 37%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 10% (Ipsos-MORI/Reuters)
  • Con 35%, Lab 37%, Lib Dem 11% (Opinium)
  • Con 35%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 11% (Populus)
  • Con 36%, Lab 43%, Lib Dem 10% (YouGov)

All of which produces an average rating for the parties in March as follows:

    Conservatives 36%, Labour 40%, Lib Dems 11%

Let’s take a look at the figures from each of the main parties’ perspectives…

Conservatives… I’d say the Tories have probably greatest reason to be satisfied by current polls. True, they are trailing Labour (except according to ICM), but the margins are modest considering the stark nature of the arguments about public spending cuts. David Cameron is the best rated of the party leaders, and Cameron and George Osborne are more trusted than Eds Miliband and Balls to run the economy. As UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells notes:

… if we look back at 2006-2007 when the opposition Conservatives had a comparable single-digit lead over the Labour government, David Cameron was pretty much neck and neck with Tony Blair as best PM, the Conservatives and Labour were pretty much neck and neck on who would run the economy well and Cameron had a positive approval rating.

Labour… If Labour look only at the headline figures, they may well feel content: in the lead in almost every poll, they have bounced back from their electoral drubbing of less than a year ago with no sign (yet, at any rate) of the civil war that bedevilled Labour in the early 1980s. And yet… True, they lead the Tories, but they trail the combined vote shares of the two Coalition parties.

Moreover, they are losing the economic argument on two fronts: first, the public backs the cuts (or even thinks they should go further) by 57% to 35%; and, secondly, the public pins the blame for the economic crisis on the previous (Labour) government rather than the current (Coalition) government by 49% to 26%. If the Coalition holds til 2015, and if the economy is still recovering steadily, Labour could face a potent double whammy — blamed both for the mess, and for opposing the measures needed to sort out their mess.

Liberal Democrats… Well, what can I say? The polling figures speak for themselves, the one bright(ish) ray of sunshine being ICM’s consistently higher rating for the party: 18% in February, 16% in March. Traditionally, ICM have always been a little more generous to the party than other pollsters; and generally speaking this has been justified by the eventual results. Some wise words from Anthony Wells, who examines this discrepancy here:

… in terms of saying whether ICM are right on the Liberal Democrats … or whether the other companies are, there is no easy answer since we don’t know what is causing it. I expect, in practice, most people will tend to believe the results they want to.

On a national level, and assuming the next general election is still more than four years away, current polling figures are of little significance: the party will be hoping/expecting to be in a much stronger position in 2015, having helped deliver a strong, moderate, reforming government. But of course there are national elections in Scotland and Wales, and local elections in most of England, before then.

In these elections the party’s current standing will matter, and it looks like the Lib Dems will be in for a tough night. In Scotland, latest polls suggest the party winning just 5 seats (down from 16); in Wales, a survey suggests we could win 5 (down from 6); and in English local elections a YouGov poll reckoned the Lib Dems could lose 700 of our 1,850 defending councillors and 11 of our 25 majority control councils.

The Lib Dems are in an unusual position. For years we’ve been largely ignored by the public and media for being on the margins of power; now we are in power and having to take responsibility for government we’re having to toughen up, fast, and get used to the fact that the public/media now has strong views about us. And we’re also having to get used to the fact that government unpopularity — from which we’ve grown used to benefiting — is now impacting on us.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Local government, Polls, Scotland and Wales.
Advert

18 Comments

  • Sunder Katwala 4th Apr '11 - 8:10am

    Good and fair analysis.

    But, on “and we’re also having to get used to the fact that government unpopularity — from which we’ve grown used to benefiting — is now impacting on us”.

    The government is unpopular, if we look at the approval ratings, around – 20. But the Tories, having polled 36% a year ago, are trending around 36%. So the question for Liberal Democrats concerned about the polls is surely something like:this

    “Is there anything about this Coalition government’s public argument or policy approach which has led to the discrepancy of one governing party (the Conservatives) maintaining the level of their General Election support and the other (the Liberal Democrats) shedding about half of theirs?”

    “And is there anything the Liberal Democrats could do about this? (Perhaps thinking especially about how far to concede to the Conservatives over education and health reforms; and more broadly whether to continue with whole-hearted support of Osborne’s deficit strategy, or to seek modifications which rebalance towards a different means to the end of deficit reduction)

    I am not convinced by the idea that it is inevitable or natural for ALL of the unpopularity to hit the junior partner.

  • Sunder Katwala 4th Apr '11 - 9:35am

    Stephen,

    Thanks. That explanation suggests the defining choice of the Liberal Democrats when they had decided to join a Coalition with the Conservatives, for which they are currently paying an electoral price, was ‘choose not to negotiate on economic strategy and the deficit, in order to negotiate other concessions in other areas’. (And the cuts agenda seems likely to define the government not just “at the moment” but for a long time yet, as it has been and will remain the defining public policy issue).

    One has to recall that the LibDems do not enter those negotiations with a platform similar to that of Osborne on the speed and scale of deficit reduction. (The explanation given for this is that Nick Clegg had decided he did not believe in his own election argument or Cable’s economic strategy, but this doesn’t necessarily bind his party to accepting the agenda of a political opponent).

    Perhaps your ‘we’ve made our bed analysis’ is now right, and it is necessary to stick to the bet on George Osborne.

    But is there any evidence that a junior coalition partner would be likely to benefit from this if it did work? My understanding is that the comparative evidence suggests otherwise.

  • Stephen Tall –

    ‘I think the only tactically-smart option at this stage is to tough it out, and gamble on the short-term pain for long-term gain which will show the Lib Dems can be an effective governing party not blown off course.’

    This does make sense, but there is one big problem. The Lib Dems may be a party of government, but they are not a governing party in any meaningful sense of the term. I am open to an argument that polls floating at or around 10% are not in themself a problem (though results like the one in Barnsley most certainly are). The problem will come if the 1922 Committee get their calculators and polling out and think that there is a single party majority to be cashed in. And this is before the question that your article and comment suggests, but does not articulate – are the Lib Dems weighing down the Conservatives? Indeed, go a step further – is Nick Clegg’s personal unpopularity weighing down everyone?

    These polls you cite in the article suggest that there is no such majority to cash in – but a bad result in May and a defeat at AV might well see downward pressure on that 10%. That really would get the 1922 Committee interested. And like it or not, the Lib Dems – alone or in tandem with the Conservatives will be defined by the cuts agenda.

    Please let me be clear, I’d agree with 95% of your analysis here. And I don’t think that this is a ‘Lib Dem Crisis’ – yet. But what does need to be borne in mind is that the voting public are only a part of the equation here – I really can’t see the Conservatives wanting to be weighed down indefinitely.

    I would just add one final observation. I say 95% I agree with. The 5% is this, ‘And yet… True, they [Labour] lead the Tories, but they trail the combined vote shares of the two Coalition parties.’ Either Coalition politics is about working with whoever gets the most votes, or it is about something else. I make no value judgment here about the Coalition’s formation. But this, ‘combined share,’ argument is disingenuous – the Coalition is two separate parties put together by circumstances which can change subject to vote shares, or it is something more.

  • @Sunda Katwala. Totally agree. There is no doubt that the lindens are the party who are perceived as straying hugely from what voters thought they stood for. The Tories are simply being Tories and in so doing are pleasing their supporters. The lindens are committing political suicide …. for what?

  • ” Atm, the Coalition is defined solely by the ‘cuts agenda’ – one which plays much better to Tory voters’ expectations than to Lib Dems’.”

    This only shows how foolish you were to sign up to the Tories’ economic policies carte-blanche in the first place.

    Beware the fate of the Irish Greens.

  • Of course your popularity is tanking because you’ve taken tough decisions. It couldn’t possibly be because you’ve made bad decisions.

  • “True, they lead the Tories, but they trail the combined vote shares of the two Coalition parties. ”
    Will this be of bearing at the next election then? Is this a presumption that the coalition parties intend to work together beyond this parliamentary term?

    Secondly it seems to be truism on LDV that being in government leads to a dent in popularity …. it doesn’t have to be thus and a drop in support is not inevitable. Governments are unpopular for decisions made not just simply be virtue of being in power.

  • George Kendall 4th Apr '11 - 11:40am

    @Sunder Katwala

    The trouble with your analysis is that it assumes that slowing down the cuts by, say, a year, would make a massive difference. Let’s face it, the deficit reduction programme is to deal with a structural, not a cyclic, deficit. So if we spread it an extra year, we still have to make the same cuts, plus interest.

    From the point of view of political advantage, spreading the pain an extra year isn’t going to make any real difference. I’d favour it for economic reasons, not political, but the argument is a marginal one, and no one is sure about the economics.

    Lansley’s NHS reforms, on the other hand, are a different issue. And the party is already on the case.

  • George Kendall 4th Apr '11 - 11:50am

    @muxloe “Governments are unpopular for decisions made not just simply be virtue of being in power.”

    True. Governments can win three elections in a row, if the economy is booming, and they put all the difficult decisions off to their successors.

    That’s an option. But eventually it would mean high inflation, paying high interest rates on our debt, and the next generation paying the price for our folly.

  • “That’s an option. But eventually it would mean high inflation, paying high interest rates on our debt, and the next generation paying the price for our folly.”

    Ask the “next generation” whether they’d rather have a low deficit, or if they’d rather have no tuition fees, EMA and jobs to go into. See how that works out.

  • Dan – ‘This only shows how foolish you were to sign up to the Tories’ economic policies carte-blanche in the first place.’

    That is a bit unfair. Whilst I make no value-judgment here on Lib Dem policy post Orange Book, clearly the direction of travel had been to the classic right. This should have been plain to anyone who took the time to look. The idea that Conservative economic principles were not a part of the Lib Dem agenda is simply wrong. In the 2010 election, no one lied, there was no deception and no one acted in bad faith. Something different happened. Undeniably, an awful lot of people saw the Lib Dems as the minor partner in a coalition as having a role of INFLUENCE. To some degree (which we can debate all day) they probably are having influence. But that influence is being outweighed by CONFLUENCE. My guess is that an awful lot of people feel that this is not what was advertised. Thinking back to the campaign, this feeling is not without foundation.

    This coalition is not carte-blance tory. There is good Lib Dem policy being implemented (higher personal allowances are on balance good, even though this is not well targeted). Some Lib Dem policy that was less good and/or is being watered down (pupil premium, never that good an idea, in its current version just beggar-thy-neighbour). Some of it though has been a wreck – HE fees. People can make of government what they want to. It is not for any party to tell the voters that they are wrong.

    This all goes back to the article, the question now is why vote Lib Dem? As the article suggests, the protest vote, such as it ever was, is now a distant memory. If people want to vote right, they might as well vote tory. If they want to look for a different analysis, they can vote for Milliband’s Labour, but surely not the Coalition partners. If they want a protest vote, the avenue for that is no longer Lib Dem.

    It’s not that there was a carte-blanche buy-in to the tory line – and we should not forget that following the election, the Lib Dems were in a terribly weak position. Just that what being in Coalition meant was never really explained by the high-profile figures. That is the problem facing the party now. Whilst I agree with the article that there is sense in taking a 5 year view, I have to say that I do fear slightly for the current leadership.

  • paul barker 4th Apr '11 - 1:26pm

    With the Elections only a month away it seems a bit pointless making predictions or discussing the state of The Parties, we dont know how badly The Libdems have been hit.
    My feeling is tha that ICM are closer to the truth, because of their record & the points that Anthony Wells makes about the softness of The Labour vote.

  • I would urge people to look at the polling figures provided on ukpolling report and the analysis by Anthony Wells. The figures for March are flattered by what happened with the budget. Wells demonstrated that for most of the time Governments receive a boost at budget time and this is just what happened. Also the domestic agenda had been replaced temporarily with intervention in Libya. This gave the Tories better polling during the middle of the month this includes the ICM poll which may be a rogue poll. Strip out the post budget polls and the Labour lead is higher. What is consistent is that the Lib Dems remain at or around 10/11% with no budget boost.

  • @george kendall
    “@muxloe “Governments are unpopular for decisions made not just simply be virtue of being in power.”

    True. Governments can win three elections in a row, if the economy is booming, and they put all the difficult decisions off to their successors.

    That’s an option. But eventually it would mean high inflation, paying high interest rates on our debt, and the next generation paying the price for our folly.”

    George – this is a mischevious and willful misinterpretation of my point.

    A simple trawl of history shows that political parties can win elections in tough times (see the Conservatives in 1992) and my point remains that Lib Dems shouldn’t blithely dismiss poor popularity as being an inevitability of being in government. It doesn’t have to be.

  • Moreover, they are losing the economic argument on two fronts: first, the public backs the cuts (or even thinks they should go further) by 57% to 35%;
    No mention of Yougov’s tracker showing the exact opposite of that?

  • Rod Brownlie 12th Apr '11 - 10:39am

    I would just like to ask the question , why the LibDems could not have stayed in opposition and voted with the Government on those policies they agreed with and conversely against those they did’nt . They would have been far more effective in influencing Tory policy and the worst parts of it, than in a coalition which everyday looks increasingly fragile.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 27th Mar - 1:29pm
    Matt, I am so sorry to hear that you have been going through such a difficult time recently. I do understand that it might not...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 27th Mar - 1:28pm
    @ Zachary "David Lloyd George during his People’s Budget showed that the Guns vs Butter game is winnable, if you shrewdly move the goalposts. He...
  • User Avatarmatt 27th Mar - 1:02pm
    @Catherine Jane Crosland I wish I was in the right place / space to write an article for LDV. Unfortunately I had a major episode...
  • User Avatarjean Evans, 27th Mar - 12:59pm
    This was the best speech I've heard Tim give and they are all very good. Interesting to compare him with Nick Clegg. Both are excellent...
  • User AvatarGeoffrey Payne 27th Mar - 12:51pm
    Well there is 2 things to consider here. Is "a strong defence" a vote winner and is it in the national interest? It was hardly...
  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 27th Mar - 12:11pm
    Matt, It is a pity people have not been commenting more about this subject, but I'm absolutely sure there is nothing personal in this. Actually...