What Lib Dem members think of the Coalition after 2½ years

lib dem conf votingLib 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. Over 500 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

+28% says party is on the “right course”


Do you think, as a whole, the Liberal Democrats are on the right course or on the wrong track?
(Comparison with November’s figures.)

    61% (+4%) – The right course
    33% (-1%) – The wrong track
    6% (-3%) – Don’t know / No opinion
    Net right course: +28% (+5%)

This is the highest net rating (+28%) for the party among members since the summer. However, it is still markedly down on a year ago, when it stood at +37%.

Nick scores +17% as Lib Dem leader

What is your view of Nick Clegg’s performance as Lib Dem leader? (Comparison with November’s figures.)

    16% – Very satisfied
    42% – Satisfied
    Total satisfied = 58%
    24% – Dissatisfied
    17% – Very dissatisfied
    Total dissatisfied = 41%
    1% – Don’t know / No opinion
    Net satisfaction: +17%

Marginally better news for Nick Clegg to close the year — satisfaction with his leadership has climbed from the nadir of September (when it dipped to -2%) to +17%, the highest since the summer. However, this still represents a big fall in the last 12 months, after the poor handling of the NHS Bill: as recently as February, Nick’s ratings stood at +38%.

77% back the Lib Dems being in Coalition

Do you support or oppose the Lib Dems being in the Coalition Government with the Conservatives? (Comparison with November’s figures.)

    77% (n/c) – Support
    19% (+1%) – Oppose
    5% (n/c) – Don’t know / No opinion
    Net support: +58% (-1%)

One rating has remained remarkably resilient in spite of everything: approval for the Lib Dems continuing in coalition with the Tories remains stubbornly high. Yes, it is down on a year ago — approval stood at +68% in December last year — but, considering everything, I continue to be surprised by the high level of support the principle of Coalition has sustained (if not always the practice).

+14% net approval for the Coalition Government’s record to date

Do you approve or disapprove of the Coalition Government’s record to date? (Comparison with November’s figures.)

    53% (-1%) – Approve
    39% (+1%) – Disapprove
    8% (-1%) – Don’t know / No opinion
    Net approval: +14% (+2%)

Lib Dem members are much more split on how the Coalition Government is working: net approval is positive, but at a pretty anaemic +14%. This compares with +41% a year ago. Three big hits seem to have been responsible: first, the row over the NHS Bill; secondly, the omnishambolic March budget; and thirdly, the collapse of Lords reform

Three-quarters say Coalition will be bad for Lib Dem prospects in 2015

Do you think the Coalition Government will be good or bad for the Lib Dems’ electoral prospects at the next general election? (Comparison in brackets with November’s figures.)

    9% (n/c) – Good
    75% (+2%) – Bad
    11% (-4%) – Neither good nor bad
    5% (+2%) – Don’t know

A year ago, two-thirds were pessimistic about Lib Dem electoral prospects in 2015: today, that proportion stands at three-quarters. It is nine months since more than 1-in-10 of you thought the party could look forward to the next election.

Four-fifths say Coalition will last the course

How long do you expect the coalition government will last? (Comparison in brackets with November’s figures.)

    3% (n/c%) – It will end in 2013
    15% (-1%) – It will end in 2014
    80% (+1%) – It will last the full term, until 2015
    2% (-1%) – Don’t know

A year ago, 72% thought the Coalition would last the distance. Today, party members are more certain the Coalition will endure until 2015, although as we’ve already seen there is trepidation at what will happen then.

70% want Coalition to go on into 2015

When would you like the Coalition to end? (Comparison in brackets with November’s figures.)

    11% (+2%) – As soon as possible
    5% (+1%) – It should end in 2013
    12% (+1%) – It should end in 2014
    38% (+1%) – It should stop shortly before the 2015 general election so the two Coalition parties can set out their different plans
    30% (-3%) – It should continue right up to the 2015 general election
    2% (-2%) – It should continue beyond the 2015 general election
    1% (-1%) – Don’t know

A cumulative 72% want the Coalition to continue into 2015, compared to a cumulative 28% wanting it to finish within the next two years. When we first asked this question, in August, the equivalent figures were 78% and 22%: a shift against the Coalition certainly, but not a major one.

Party members split on Lib Dem influence achieved within Coalition

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. (Comparison with November’s figures.)

    1: 1%
    2: 7%
    3: 18%
    4: 12%
    5: 12%
    Lacking influence = 50% (-1%)
    6: 15%
    7: 23%
    8: 9%
    9: 1%
    10: 1%
    Achieving influence = 49% (n/c)

When we first asked this question, in March, Lib Dem members felt by a margin of 67%-31% that the party was achieving influence within the Coalition government. However, this has dropped significantly in the second half of the year, as the Tories ditched their pledge to reform the Lords and moved towards their right-wing comfort zone. Today, members are, overall, evenly divided on whether the party is achieving influence. However, there are two clear spikes — at 3 and at 7 — which indicate the two camps of opinion within the party: those who think the party is achieving little or nothing in Coalition; and those who think the pain is at least extracting some gain.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Over 500 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 7th and 11th December.
  • 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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10 Comments

  • Here, from the pen of Edmund Burke (no less), some six months after the fall of the Rockingham government of 1765-6, is the case for the attractions of being in opposition :

    It may possibly … come again to our turn [in government]. But I see this Event, (if I see it at all) at the End of a very long Visto. The View is dim and remote, and we do nothing in the world to bring it nearer, or to make it more certain. This disposition, which is become the principle of the party, I confess, from constitution and opinion, I like : Not that I am enamoured of adversity, or that I love opposition. On the contrary it would be convenient enough to get into office ; and opposition never was to me a desirable thing; because I like to see some effect of what I am doing, and this method however pleasant is barren and unproductive, and at best, but preventive of mischief ; but then the walk is certain; there are no contradictions to reconcile; no cross points of honour or interest to adjust; all is clear and open; and the wear and tear of mind, which is saved by keeping aloof from crooked politics, is a consideration absolutely inestimable.
    (letter from Edmund Burke to Charles O’Hara, 23 December 1766)

    Yet Burke was, to my mind, wholly wrong in preferring the comfort of opposition to the “crooked politics” of being in government, for the fact that Burke and his Rockingham Whig colleagues were out of government in the crucial years leading up to the American War of Independence meant that the relationship between Britain and our American colonies was comprehensively mishandled, and on any view things would have gone better if the Rockingham Whigs had been in office.

    Are there lessons to be learned from this today ?

  • Labour member 30th Dec '12 - 6:07pm

    Well, the shocking thing would be if the poll said Lib Dem members were opposed to the coalition – party members are essentially loyal to their leaderships. Think of my party (Labour) under Gordon Brown or even Michael Foot.

    The 9% who think the coalition will be good for your electoral prospects next time round are deluded though – but then so are those that think you can cut and run. You have to stay the course now, I think. (Although I am a Labour member I don’t think you had any choice about going into coalition, what has gone wrong since is your party’s failure to know what it wants and/or to believe its populist propaganda from opposition that governing was easy and there were loads of silver bullets just lying about.)

    What is missing is any sense of a strategic goal – that used to be constitutional change but frankly, the coalition has made the Labour government look like star performers on that front. The “fairness” narrative doesn’t cut it in my view – tax allowances are too ethereal. You try having something to say on public services, where nobody in the government seems to have any sort of message at all.

  • You realise this are a largely meaningless set of numbers, right? Your poll was not randomised, the sample set you’re working from was self-selected: lib dem members who wanted to join your forum and were then willing to answer your poll. Do you think that sample gives you useful information about any wider population? That it’s telling you important or useful information about the Lib Dems? Lib Dem voters? Lib Dem members? But I can tell you with total assurance that if it does it’s more by luck than judgement.

    Seriously leave the toy “polls” to bad tabloids, it’s embarrassing to see such effort devoted to reading runes from such worthless data.

  • @ Jack – feel free to dismiss them if you like. But it’s probably worth reading the links included in the post about the surveys’ reliability/credibility first.

    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.

  • Andrew Suffield 30th Dec '12 - 11:14pm

    what has gone wrong since is your party’s failure to know what it wants and/or to believe its populist propaganda from opposition that governing was easy and there were loads of silver bullets just lying about

    The thing about these two points is that neither of them are true. However, the statement as a whole is representative of an actual problem. The party does have a lengthy list of clear policies and a bright, shining statement of its fundamental beliefs – something which neither of the other two parties has. (What do the Tories stand for, beyond tax cuts for rich people? Does Labour stand for anything at all, beyond power to union cronies and bureaucrats?) Every opposition politician claims that easy solutions exist when they really don’t – it’s annoying, but that’s what voters demand to hear, and they won’t listen to anybody in opposition who says otherwise. A few party members may have believed this and ranted about it on the internet, but neither conference nor the MPs ever really did.

    The actual problem lurking around the statement is the media narrative that has sprung up, which is entirely unrepresentative of the party. The media is willing to take it as a given that Labour and the Tories stand for mystical opposing views where all of the nation’s bikesheds shall be repainted blue or red according to which one is currently in power, and never feels a need to examine their policies closely, but after years of ignoring the LDs the media is suddenly asking “Do they want to paint the bikesheds in red and blue stripes, or to mix the colours and paint them purple?”, and when LD politicians respond that they aren’t interested in bikesheds at all and would like to talk about income inequality, education, environmental issues, and housing…. well, there’s only 30 seconds left in the segment set aside for this soundbite so the presenter just shrugs and closes up.

    On silver bullets, the problem is almost exactly the opposite of the one you describe. We just came down off 13 years of spin-based Labour government. Blair and Brown responded to any problem with a flurry of noise and a claim that it was solved. One of those strongly-held fundamental beliefs of the LD party is that this does not work, and we need to get to grips with the real, hard problems. That’s what LD ministers have been trying to do, with some success – but when a problem comes up, the media (and, sadly, a few noisy party members who aren’t involved in the government) pop up to say “Where’s the silver bullet? What are you going to do now?” – and the truth is that they aren’t going to do anything now because what the situation calls for is to spend several days studying the problem and figuring out what to do about it, but it has become unacceptable to say this. We’re stuck with increasingly unrealistic expectations about how much our government can actually accomplish in a given year, and the media is unwilling to accept that one person with a staff of three can get maybe a couple of projects done each year.

  • Leekliberal 31st Dec '12 - 9:58am

    @Labour Member says ‘The “fairness” narrative doesn’t cut it in my view – tax allowances are too ethereal. ‘ I say that a supporter of the party that scrapped the 10% income tax rate thus hitting the lowest paid should be very quiet on this subject. Our achievement in taking millions of the lowest paid out of income tax is our finest achievement done at a time when resources are very lacking. To me it is immoral that Governments should tax people on minimum wage at all and this commitment should be in our manifesto for 2015. Labour Member should be ashamed that the Labour Party over 13 years in majority Government managed to WIDEN the gap between rich and poor while attacking civil liberties and fighting an illegal war! Labour also left an appalling financial mess for the Coalition to tackle. I find his faith in Labour touching!

  • Eduardo Reyes 31st Dec '12 - 10:30am

    I think I’ve made this point before about criticisms of the data set in LDVoice polls. Polling outfits continue to lack the ability to properly poll us as a group, and engagement with the membership of LDVoice is pretty good. As with previous polls, it’s a mistake to try and dismiss difficult issues raised for the party by these findings.

    The findings feel authentic, and certainly track my changing attitude to the way we’ve played the coalition – I was always a sceptic, but I’m now actively disenchanted with the performance and judgement of most of our leading figures.

  • Peter Hayes 1st Jan '13 - 5:11pm

    The polls are more relevant than some posters might think. It is a measure of how those of us who still go out delivering yet another Focus in the rain are likely to continue. In my case for the local MP and council rather than the party leadership, yes we have done a little to stop a few Tory excesses BUT we have done an abysmal job of explaining the limits of what we can do.

  • I don’t agree that the poll was unrepresentative. The 500+ votes cast on the members-only forum must surely represent a very significant slice of the party’s current membership?

  • Labour member 3rd Jan '13 - 7:52am

    ” Labour Member should be ashamed that the Labour Party over 13 years in majority Government managed to WIDEN the gap between rich and poor ”

    Not actually true. But shouting about Labour’s record doesn’t help you in your current predicament anyway, even if it makes you feel better.

    The issue here is what are the Lib Dems going to do to save themselves from a verynasty beating at the hands of the voters. My point is that I think an argument about tax thresholds is not one that voters connect with.

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