What’s the REAL state of the parties?

Frequent Opinion Polls since May 2016 show one picture; Conservatives way ahead, Labour & Liberal Democrats suffering, UKIP hanging on.

But when we look at “Real Votes from Real People”, from a 310,000+ sample size, from 3 countries since May 2016, we get a much different picture:


Local government by-elections may not be translatable into General Election results, but they show a remarkably different position – and one that is much more attuned with feedback from the doorstep.

Conservatives are managing only 30% of the popular vote, Labour 27% and the LibDems maintaining over 19%.

And this isn’t just about tactical voting on local issues. These results are yielding broadly similar numbers of seats won: 32%, 26% and 22% respectively. (Exceptionally, UKIP aren’t managing to do that, translating an 8% popular vote translating into only 4% of the seats.)

For the Liberal Democrats, with their continued growth in membership, now double its 2012 nadir, standing at 85,000 (35,000 since the referendum) this looks like a real, sticky #libdemfightback.

It positions the party well to be successful again in the May 2017 elections and the Gorton parliamentary by-election.

Local Council control and another MP are firmly back in its sights.

* Brian Milnes and John Grout are Lib Dem members in Reading

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • If you believe that will translate in a general election then no doubt both Labour and the LibDems will support any call from May for an early election?

  • Tom Papworth 13th Mar '17 - 2:26pm

    I’m afraid the read-across from local elections to national elections is not very strong.

    In fact, people often ‘kick the government’ in local elections but then go back to voting for them in the general election.

  • Tony Dawson 13th Mar '17 - 2:54pm

    These votes are encouraging but they are from a relative handful of specific places (mostly) where the Lib Dems are campaigning. They do NOT reflect how things are ‘on the doorstep’ across the country in any way and it would do our Party a complete disservice were our members to be persuaded that they do. By all means post these figures from time to time – but please use a more balanced narrative.

  • One key stat is missing… how does this percentage vote share compare to the last time these same seats were contested?

  • These figures are very interesting, but as Tony points out, they are indicative of our results where we’ve been campaigning. This can provide optimism for the future, although we all know we would be unable to dedicate the same resources to a national campaign as to a string of local elections.

    Nevertheless, I would expect a considerable increase in our seats with well targeted campaigning, and this is something that should get the attention of both Labour and the Tories. Of course, the biggest problem if there were to be another election soon is that Labour would be losing so many seats to the Tories, that the Tories could afford to lose some to us. Labour are often our rivals, but their current weakness brings down all opposition parties, giving the Tories even more free reign.

  • Jenny Barnes 13th Mar '17 - 5:56pm

    “free rein” not “free reign”. The metaphor is about letting your horse go where it wants.

  • Phil Boothroyd 13th Mar '17 - 8:13pm

    Regardless of the intent I think ‘free reign’ is quite fitting in this case.

    Sadly I also agree that the ability to campaign well in a string of local contests does not automatically translate to similar success in a national contest. I hope though that this encourages people to see what can be achieved when people do the hard work. Certainly it motivates me to get involved.

  • paul barker 13th Mar '17 - 8:44pm

    The point about those 300,000 votes is that they make up only about 1% of the Electorate & there is no direct transmission from those involved to the other 99%. Most voters take very little interest in Politics & rely on The Media for their overview of whats happening. The typical voter is, as yet almost completely unaware of the Libdem Revival or The UKIP collapse.
    Of course large parts of The Media are biased against us but the main problem is inertia : Journalists love a “Good Story” & having found one are reluctant to let it go. Libdem collapse was a Great Story & will only be abandoned when we can demolish it in public, that might happen on May 5th, the signs look good.

  • andy graham 14th Mar '17 - 6:51pm

    The Lib Dems are winning if they are fighting. The more we fight the more we win!.Simple as that! Hard work canvassing, street stalls and proudly showing your visibility (campaigns) get results. Nothing was ever given on a plate!!

  • Christopher Jones 15th Mar '17 - 12:08am

    Really need to include ‘Did not vote’ share to demonstrate the low turn-out in council by-elections and the huge numbers of GE voters who are unaccounted-for in the wards that have been contested.

    It doesn’t matter how large the sample size is if it’s automatically biased towards the highly politically engaged.

  • Brian Milnes 15th Mar '17 - 9:33am

    We recognize the fallibility of extrapolation of these results onto a General Election, and don’t seek to do so.

    The primary point is that we are doing much better than the opinion polls would suggest, and that the Tories are doing much worse.

    And a sample size of 310,000+ (and its randomness) is way better than any opinion poll. There have been 223 contested council seats across the whole country.

    And it IS a reflection of what I’ve found on the doorstep. Here in Cambridgeshire Labour support is softening because of the Corbyn effect, exacerbated by his e.g. three line whip on Article 50. Similarly there is a significant proportion of Tory voters who resile from Theresa May’s Hard Brexit or “No deal”.

    We should bear in mind that we haven’t campaigned or even stood in a quite large number of contests.

    And we have won in places (particularly Rotherham and Sunderland) where we would not expect to win.

    There is certainly a correlation between effort and result. As Gary Player (the golfer) used to remark, “It’s funny how the luckier I get, the harder I work at my game…”

    Vote geographic distribution map here:

  • Simon Banks 18th Mar '17 - 6:56pm

    In reply to Tynan, as I’ve argued before in discussions over the five year rule, a main opposition party would look incredibly weak if it rejected a government call for an early election. Our votes would not be decisive, but I’d expect us to say “Yes, bring it on” despite the likelihood that we’d struggle with funding. The SNP’s position would be interesting. An early general election would seem not be in their interest because they would be unlikely to hold all their Westminster seats won in a post-independence-referendum surge while at best for them it would not change the Brexit position and at worst it could undermine their case for the second referendum.

    As for the voting figures, yes they need to be viewed with caution, but they’re much better than we’ve seen for years and in the last overall contest, May 2016, we made solid gains, again something that hadn’t happened for years. Remember that until we were in government, our support in opinion polls often dipped and stuck very low for some time between general elections, because people followed the media and tended to dismiss us until the election was called – when they were also much more likely to start thinking tactically. For most of the 1997-2001 parliament, most commentators expected us to be slaughtered at the next general election! I think we’re now back in that old cycle for the time being.

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