Do the polls matter?

Today’s Independent runs quotes from Sandra Gidley, Lembit Opik, Bob Russell and myself alongside their latest poll report. Here’s the full length (i.e. 3 sentence rather than 2 sentence) version of what I said to them:

Politics isn’t about winning elections, it’s about implementing policy – and Liberal Democrat ministers are getting to do that day in, day out regardless of what that week’s opinion polls say. Winning elections certainly also helps in politics, but with the next general election years away, national voting intention questions don’t mean very much this far out. After all, three months after the 1979 general election Labour was in the lead in the opinion polls and we all know how the next 18 years turned out.

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23 Comments

  • Jamie Ellison 10th Aug '10 - 10:50am

    Yes polls matter! Of course polls matter! They matter because your party are doing things that the supporters of your party don’t want them to do! It’s not taking the tough decisions, it’s being a pawn to prop up a Tory government.

  • Oh FFS ! Polls taken more than 2 months before a GE have absolutely no predictive value as far as the Libdem vote goes, none at all. Go & look it up if you dont beleive me. Vote changes in other major elections are a much better predictor but that means waiting till next May.
    Incidentally, the Indy couldnt even get the GE results right. The articles reports the Libdem result as 22%, without saying if they mean GB or UK. In fact we got 24% of the GB vote.
    Lets just calm down.

  • Oh Mark, you’re so smart.

    Do polls matter?

    Ask Nick after May.

  • Andrew Suffield 10th Aug '10 - 1:06pm

    your party are doing things that the supporters of your party don’t want them to do

    This must be some interesting new definition of the word “supporter” that I have not previously encountered.

    It is for that reason that Clinton’s team used to talk about “The daily mandate”; the need to win every poll, every day.

    I don’t particularly want Clinton running the UK. And that sounds quite a lot like the slavish devotion to the media of the thankfully departed Labour government.

    The problem with opinion polls is that public opinion is very easily manipulated in the short term, and a great many people are attempting to manipulate it. So you end up not really following what the public wants, but what the media wants.

  • @Mark Pack

    “… but with the next general election years away, national voting intention questions don’t mean very much this far out.”

    So it doesn’t concern you that the results of the latest ComRes poll show that 73% said it was now difficult to know what the Orange Tories stand for? If 73% of those polled didn’t know what Labour stood for I’d be bothered.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Aug '10 - 2:16pm

    It matters if we are unable to explain to those who supported us in the past why going into the coalition was the only viable option, and that the totality of what is being done by the coalition is not what we would have done had we been able to form a majority government. If as a result of our supporters deserting us in the next general election because we have not found a way of explaining to them the limited options we had after the election and have now in the coalition, we will not be in a position to implement any more of our policies, will we?

    I’m afraid the line “we are in government and we are using that to implement our policies” just is not working for many of those who supported us in the past. It’s coming across as “We’ve got our comfy jobs in government and we’re satisfied with the few little things we can get from the Tories out of that, so up yours to anyone who expected more from us”. Sure, our former supporters are being prompted by Labour to think that way, but that’s just how one would expect Labour to act in the current circumstances, so we need to work out how to counter it.

    Anyone who has been involved in a coalition or balance of power agreement in local government will already know that being the junior coalition partner or holding the balance as the third party is a difficult position. The opposition will aim its attacks on you, seeing your supporters as easy picking. The senior partner in the coalition has no interest in promoting you. As a result, you get blamed for all the necessary but unpopular things and for everything you’ve had to concede to the senior partner, but you get none of the credit when things go right or for what you are able to get out of it.

    The danger is that even if things do go right and the cuts being made now do get to turn the economy round so people feel more confident when the next general election comes, we won’t get any thanks for it. There might be a temptation in those circumstances for the leadership of our party to go for an electoral pact so that its ministers do not have Conservative opponents. The consequence is they will keep our jobs, the rest of us will lose our party. It would probably be easier to rebuild the party from a state of complete collapse if dissatisfaction with the coalition leads to Labour sweeping back in the next general election than to have to contend with a Liberal/National Liberal type split.

    Our leader has not been handling the coalition well, he is too busy being Deputy PM and giving no time to being Leader of the Liberal Democrats. The council house thing was an example of bad management, he ought not to have let it reach where it did. Either Cameron showed contempt by pushing on with this leaving Clegg in ignorance of what was going to be said, or Clegg showed ignorance of his own party by not realising how divisive an issue this would be, or Clegg showed weakness by not managing to stop Cameron coming out with it, or Clegg showed contempt for his own party by knowing but not caring to stop it.

  • Jamie Ellison 10th Aug '10 - 2:28pm

    Mark: What a pithy remark. I really must continue to visit this page (no, seriously, I will. I was unaware of it until I saw it on the Indy website and it looks rather good)

    My point – written in haste and perhaps with an exclamation mark too many – was that Lib Dem supporters voted Lib Dem because they felt you were the party best aligned to their principles. They are now leaving the Lib Dems as the party is betraying those principles. It is damaging to the party and I feel the damage will be permanent. Out on the doorstep the voters are telling us as much here in Nottingham.

  • @Tom Papworth… What the *&^% is an Orange Tory?! Orange book supporters.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Orange_Book:_Reclaiming_Liberalism

  • Oh dear – but no-one is telling the voters that they dont want the Lib Dems when it comes to the only Polls that matter – elections . Radstock & Keynsham By-elections wins for Lib Dems (both GAINS) just last week here in North east Somerset!!!!
    Just a few months ago we were over 30% in the Polls – but then only 23% voted for us & lost seats….. now we are in the low teens we are gaining seats – I know what I prefer!!!

  • @ Tom Papworth .I have read it thank you and it was a awful,a neo liberal charter.Its liberal but without the social democrat hence why so many orange bookers wanted to get rid of charles kennedy who was more social democrat than neo liberal.The neo liberal ideas are more closely associated with tory ideas than social democrats hence “Orange Tories” do keep up old boy.

  • Rob Sheffield 10th Aug '10 - 8:40pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    I’m afraid the line “we are in government and we are using that to implement our policies” just is not working for many of those who supported us in the past.

    If as a result of our supporters deserting us in the next general election because we have not found a way of explaining to them the limited options we had after the election and have now in the coalition, we will not be in a position to implement any more of our policies, will we?

    It would probably be easier to rebuild the party from a state of complete collapse if dissatisfaction with the coalition leads to Labour sweeping back in the next general election than to have to contend with a Liberal/National Liberal type split.

    The best explanation I have read- in two months of this kind of back and forth- of why the refusniks that operate on this site are so misguided (clichés about ‘the only poll that matters is the election’ notwithstanding).

    If I were you I would save this post: because every time we have an ICM or Mori Or ComRes poll showing tanking numbers for Libs/ Clegg personal rating/ Government net approval, people such as Mark Pack will be on here all sun and light and starry-eyed grinning faces explaining why none of it matters and having everyone believe that this is actually a blended government rather than a six cylinder Conservative one.

    What on earth will they do with themselves once this has all finally collapsed in itself ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Aug '10 - 10:51pm

    Jamie Ellison

    My point – written in haste and perhaps with an exclamation mark too many – was that Lib Dem supporters voted Lib Dem because they felt you were the party best aligned to their principles. They are now leaving the Lib Dems as the party is betraying those principles.

    And here we go, so ONCE AGAIN …

    What else could the Liberal Democrats have done following the 2010 general election result?

    Why can’t people like you just realise WE LOST THE BLOODY ELECTION!!!!!!!!

    We did not get a majority, we were not put in a position where we could implement all our policies. That’s not “betraying principles” that’s accepting our most basic principle, that of democracy.

    There were not enough Labour MPs to make a coalition with Labour a viable option, even if Labour were willing to go into one, which they were not. Had we done so, would we not be accused of denying what the people voted for – we would be told “the Conservatives won the election because they got more seats, Labour lost because they got less, yet you are putting Labour in”, wouldn’t we?

    Had we said “we will not join any government”, would we not be told “you are damaging this country, because you are leaving it with huge uncertainty about government at a time of crisis”? Would we not also be told “what sort of people are you – you run for election, but you run away from responsibility when you have it”? Quite obviously, a minority Conservative government would wait a few months, let us get the blame for the poor reaction to the uncertainty with the accusation “the LibDems are paralysing government”, and call another general election in which we would get slaughtered.

    I’m not at all happy with how our leadership has dealt with being in coalition, but that’s another matter. The reality is that our options were very limited and our bargaining power poor, so we were not going to get a lot out of it. If we could not do much more than we have, how can that be “betraying principles”? To make accusations like that is to suggest there was something very diffeent we could have done and it would have worked. Well, what is it?

  • do polls matter is always a question put by parties low in the polls. conversely parties that are high in the polls always say they’re important indicators of public support.

  • re matthew huntbach surely you recognize nick clegg and the orange bookers have a natural affinity to the tories and hatred of labour irrespective of the outcome of the election.

  • How reliable were the opinion polls during the May 2010 General Election campaign?

    How reliable were the opinion polls during the 1992 General Election campaign?

    How reliable were the opinion polls during the February 1974 General Election campaign?

    How reliable were the opinion polls during the 1970 General Election campaign?

    Unlike the Labour trolls, with their ability to foresee the future, I do not know what is going to happen next May, or at the next General Election, whenever that is held. What I do know is that in the late 1980s, when the Lib Dem opinion poll share was lower than it is now, the local government base held, though there was some damage. The real elections where real people vote that are taking place at the moment suggest that the Lib Dems will do quite well next May, unless something really terrible supervenes.

    Paradoxically, the low opinion poll ratings are good for the Liberal Democrats, because they are putting pressure on members to tell Nick Clegg to get out of the “Coalition”. Let’s see how many tell Nick that at the Conference in September.

    A word to fellow Liberal Democrats inclined to use emotional and unpleasant language when talking about Nick Clegg and his fellow Orange Bookers. Please resist the temptation. Once the “Coalition” mullarkey is over, we are all going to have to work with these people, like it or not, so the minimum of personal nastiness would be helpful. I remember what happened to the party after the merger bloodbath, and I don’t want a repeat of it. David Cameron is desperate to split our party. Let’s not help him.

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