Lib Dem members’ support for Coalition still high… but the trend is down

Lib 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. Some 500 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

77% still support Coalition (that’s the first time it’s fallen below 80%)

LDV asked: Do you support or oppose the Lib Dems being in the Coalition Government with the Conservatives? (Comparison with June 2012’s figures)

    77% (-3%) – Support
    18% (+2%) – Oppose
    5% (+1%) – Don’t know / No opinion

Support for the Coalition remains high, at 78%, in spite of the latest major set-back, with the defeat by Tory MPs of the Coalition Agreement pledge on Lords reform. The net support rating, at +59%, is the lowest we’ve yet recorded: as recently as February it was +71%. So while overall support for the Coalition is still solid (amazingly so, in fact, considering all that’s happened), the trend over the past few months is markedly down. Here’s a graph showing how Lib Dem members have responded to this question over the first two years of the Coalition:

Approval of Coalition Government’s record dips to +23%

LDV asked: Do you approve or disapprove of the Coalition Government’s record to date? (comparison with June 2012’s figures)

    58% (-1%) – Approve
    35% (+4%) – Disapprove
    7% (-3%) – Don’t know / No opinion

The net approval for the Coalition’s record to date has taken a further hit, down to just +23% now: that’s the lowest figure we’ve yet recorded in these surveys. Again as recently as February, net approval stood at a far healthier +40%. Again the trend, perhaps unsurprisingly at the government’s mid-term mark, is downwards:

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 500 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 3rd and 6th August.
  • 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 accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    16 Comments

    • Simon Titley 15th Aug '12 - 10:13am

      Once again, this regular Liberal Democrat Voice poll has failed to give respondents the opportunity for a nunaced response. There are a large number of members who believed that coalition was the least worst option on the table in 2010 and believe that it’s the least worst option now. LDV’s editors must know this. There’s a big difference between realism and enthusiasm, so to spin the poll response as “77% still support Coalition”, “support for the Coalition remains high” and “overall support for the Coalition is still solid ” is misleading, to put it mildly.

      I notice that you haven’t published any of the quotes that respondents have written alongside their answers. Did they not support the gung-ho editorial line?

    • I am told gung-ho means “working together in harmony” in the original Chinese – hardly an appropriate description of the Westminster coalition!

      Also the headline “Approval of Coalition Government’s record dips to +32%” should be “Approval of Coalition Government’s record dips to +23%”. Strange how the LDV editors never transpose the figures in an unfavourable way!

    • Stephen Tall 15th Aug '12 - 12:14pm

      @ Simon Titley – I’m a bit lost by your point. Of course there will be many nuanced positions members take, and our surveys regularly ask questions that allow much greater choice of answers (eg, https://www.libdemvoice.org/libdemvoice-poll-post-2015-labour-conservative-deal-29818.html).

      But ultimately there is also a binary choice facing the party: to continue to support the Coalition – however reluctantly and for whatever reasons – that the special party conference voted for in May 2010; or to oppose the Coalition. I think that’s a pretty important trend to track. I’m really not sure what other less misleading adjective than ‘solid’ you’d like me to choose to describe a figure of 77% support !

      As for the comments, I’ve quoted them in previous posts, but I don’t on every single occasion for no other reason than that reading through dozens of comments to choose a representative sample is time-consuming, and it already takes me quite some while to compile the results as it is.

    • Stephen Tall 15th Aug '12 - 12:21pm

      @ Al – thanks for noting the +32/23 slip in the headline (figure was correct in text) – now amended. No conspiracy over the transposition: it was +32 in the earlier post I used as a template!

    • Simon Titley 15th Aug '12 - 1:31pm

      @Stephen Tall – Yes, there is a binary choice, but people’s motivations for their choices vary significantly. There is a world of difference, for example, between supporting coalition because one feels enthusiastic about its neoliberal economic dogma, and ‘supporting’ coalition because it’s the least unpalatable option in the circumstances. The result is that this poll doesn’t really tell us anything useful. And the spin that you put on the result gives a misleading impression of opinion in the party. Most party members I know generally dislike the drift of this coalition but are realistic about it. Relatively few either oppose coalition outright or are wildly enthusiastic about it. Therefore offering poll respondents a crude ‘binary choice’ will not provide a meaningful or accurate picture of opinion.

    • Peter Watson 15th Aug '12 - 2:13pm

      @Simon Titley
      I don’t think Stephen Tall is intentionally spinning the results of this survey: his question asks “Do you support or oppose the coalition?” and his headline reflects this. I would agree with you entirely if the headline was 77% think the coalition is brilliant!
      I do think you are spot on though about the fact that the headline figure is pretty meaningless without knowing people’s motivations, and it could be mischievously spun to support many contrasting views. My interpretation might differ from yours, but I choose to see the declining approval of the coalition’s record as evidence that support of the coalition is not because of any great enthusiasm: staying in coalition defers the risk of electoral humiliation and provides an opportunity to influence government policy.
      Also, the survey was of a self-selecting group, i.e. those on LDV who have remained party members and who chose to respond, so again the headline figures are not as meaningful as the trend (which does seem to be plummeting).

    • David Allen 15th Aug '12 - 5:33pm

      I’m sure there are a lot of reluctant supporters of the Coalition around, as is proved by the parallel survey result that a big majority would prefer Labour next time. The question for me is, what is it that is keeping them on side with the Coalition at all?

      Is it just the fear that we would be decimated at an election if held tomorrow? Or, that no specific crunch point has yet come along which could trigger our leaving the Coalition without a lot of unpleasantness and flack? Because if these are the reasons, they will remain in place all the way to 2015. And then, those who truly believe in working with the Tories will say it is too late to change our stance, and too late to change our leadership.

    • Simon Titley 15th Aug '12 - 7:24pm

      @David Allen –This is a good question. Fear of a bad election result is probably one factor (and, by the way, it would be worse than ‘decimation’, which literally means a loss of one-tenth!). It is more likely that there has not yet been a single symbolic crunch point – tuition fees, a double-dip recession, two successive terrible results in local elections and the loss of at least 25% of the membership have not been powerful enough factors.

      Any crunch point would need to be a moral issue that the electorate ‘gets’, not just the party, otherwise a Liberal Democrat-instigated break-up looks self-interested or flaky. An Israeli attack on Iran and the UK being dragged into the ensuing war might do the trick.

    • Alun Griffiths 15th Aug '12 - 9:19pm

      Doesn’t the second question on approval of the coalitions performance, and the previous one on preferences for next time express exactly the sort of nuance Simon is looking for. Taken together they say; yes, we support the coalition- but we are not that enthusiastic about it and next time we would prefer to do something different.

    • Simon Titley 15th Aug '12 - 11:11pm

      @Alun Griffiths – No, it does not “express exactly the sort of nuance” I am looking for. The way you have combined the answers to two different questions is your subjective interpretation of the results – which may or may not be fair – but it does not allow me to express my views accurately, nor do the results tell us anything objectively useful.

      The poll provided a blunt choice: support, oppose or don’t know. I do know what I think, so I can’t opt for ‘don’t know’. I don’t believe the coalition should end immediately, so that rules out ‘oppose’. I am left with ‘support’. For pragmatic reasons, I think the coalition should continue for the time being because the alternatives would be even worse. But it is absurd to lump together those who share my view with gung-ho enthusiasts for the coalition. The 77% is therefore a meaningless aggregate, and one that gives a misleading impression of the situation.

    • Alun Griffiths 16th Aug '12 - 12:02am

      @Simon Titley – point taken, I guess I should distinguish between the overall interpretation of the survey, and I still think mine, whilst subjective, is not unreasonable, and not a million miles from the one you would appear to wish to express, and your ability to provide an individual answer which reflects your views to each question

    • Peter Watson 16th Aug '12 - 7:57am

      @Stephen Tall and @ Simon Titley
      IMHO you are both correct: there is support for staying in the coalition. For some this is because they like the coalition; for some because they hate the coalition but fear the consequences of ending it at this time.
      This, I think, is the heart of the problem for the party. There would be little support for a conference vote to end the coalition, but is there an appetite to find an alternative way forward over the next 2 years or do members want more of the same?

    • Yes, Peter. I am an opponent on the current terms. I also see a need to give plenty of time and reason for people to understand a change in stance from the party. I struggle, however, to see electoral benefit, or benefit to the country, either in staying or leaving without a popularly accepted good reason. I would be surprised if there are people at this stage who still take the benign view that “The situation will improve by 2015, and we will gain electoral benefit”.

    • Simon Titley 16th Aug '12 - 12:30pm

      @Staphen Tall – “Why is it absurd?” Lumping together such diverse opinion is absurd because the contingency you cite (i.e. a vote at conference) doesn’t apply and, in any case, respondents were not asked how they would vote in a hypothetical conference debate.

      Telling us that 77% of members would not end the coalition now doesn’t really tell us anything surprising. Knowing whether members are enthusiastic about maintaining the coalition or are simply making the best of a bad job is much more interesting.

      And it concerns me that a headline figure of 77% can be spun by people who want to ally with the Tories beyond 2015 or simply justify anything and everything the coalition does.

    • Yellow Bill 17th Aug '12 - 7:45pm

      500 replied out of how many LibDem members?

      This is a stupid way of getting LIb Dem opinion on anything.

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