LDV poll: 80% of Lib Dem members continue to back current Coalition & 63% open to another Coalition after 2015

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 560 party members responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Lib Dem members back Coalition by 80% to 16%

LDV asked: Do you support or oppose the Lib Dems being in the Coalition Government with the Conservatives?

    80% – Support
    16% – Oppose
    4% – Don’t know / No opinion

For all the current difficulties the Lib Dems find ourselves in, it’s actually pretty extraordinary how high support for the party being in coalition with the Conservatives remains. LibDemVoice has been asking this exact same question since July 2010, and during this time not once has support for it dipped below 80%. In fact, the support/opposition figures have remained remarkably constant, within the range 80-84%/11-16% across all 10 of our surveys, albeit this month’s figures show the lowest net support yet, at +64%, compared to a peak of +73% when the Coalition was newly-minted.

Just 5% of members want party to return to full opposition

Looking ahead three years, we also decided to test members’ views about what they’d like to see happen post-2015…

LDV asked: In the event of no one party being able to form a majority government after the next election with the Liberal Democrats once again holding the balance of power, which of the following options would be your preference:

    63% – Opening coalition negotiations with whichever party has the strongest mandate if a stable Commons majority will result
    22% – Offering a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement to whichever party is able to form a minority government (ie, no coalition deal so free to vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but agreeing not to bring down the government or vote against its Budget)
    5% – Returning to full opposition with no form of arrangement with the governing party
    8% – Other
    2% – Don’t know / No opinion

Again, what I find most striking about this result is the appetite that remains within the party not to retreat to the easy simplicity of opposition — to ‘lick our wounds’ and re-group — but to make the active choice to continue in one form or another to be part of the next government. Almost two-thirds of members in our survey favour a full coalition deal in principle (assuming agreement can be reached), and more than one-fifth are open to a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement. Of the 8% who selected ‘Other’, there are a mix of responses: they ranged from ‘it’s too soon to say’; to expressing a specific preference for Labour/Conservatives as coalition partner, or for a ‘rainbow coalition’; to ‘let’s find out where there’s most common ground’.

Here’s a selection of your comments:

If we want to be a party of government, rather than a permanent small opposition party we have to play the coalition game and have a say in what what is done. Our route should be consensus, pluralism,coalition, then perhaps government if we deserve it.

Forming a coalition with Labour, et al – history shows that whenever the Liberals dance with the Tories, it’s always Liberal toes that get trod upon.

It’s too early to speculate, however I would say on the current showing I believe we are making more difference to a Tory government than we would be able to do to a Labour government who would totally take us for granted. I would feel more at ease continuing the current arrangement than playing flibberty-jibbet and jumping into bed with Labour should either larger party be able to form a government with us.

Not coalition as we have here now but of the type that they have in Germany where a party has specific departments to run with their policies being put into practice

Open negotiations to see if they got anywhere. I’d prefer government to opposition. There’s little point being a member of a party which doesn’t seek to exercise power when it has the chance.

The supply and confidence arrangement would be OK as long as the fixed term parliament rule remains in place and no other party can bring it down. Because we can’t afford to fight another election soon after the previous one.

Opening negotiations with Labour in order to rebalance some of the Tory changes we’ve had to put up with while moderating Labour’s excesses.

Find arrangement with Conservative party. Labour has no answers and got us into this mess.

We should’ve negotiate in the basis of policy, rather than simply who got the most votes.

It depends on the arithmetic and how many seats the party has – big losses for the party would indicate the public wants the party out of government regardless.

It rather depends on how many seats we win. With under 40 seats, say, a coalition would not be a good idea.

Depends. I don’t particularly want another coalition with the Tories – but going straight into a coalition with Labour will possibly be quite damaging for us as well. Under FPTP, we’re a bit screwed – so it really does depend on the circumstance.

The economy is (again) likely to require a strong and stable government to address the underlying issues rather than any other arrangement. A full coalition (in the event that no party has an overall majority) would be necessary.

We should agree to work with whichever party secures the largest mandate. Whether that is a supply and confidence arrangement or a full-on coalition should be determined by negotiation and agreement and in the interests of the country at the time.

*politically* returning to opposition would let us lick some wounds. But as part of a longer-term project to educate the people/media/other parties that coalitions work, we should definitely offer to take part in Government if it is in the interest of the country that we do. We may not, of course, be invited to talks if Labour (and at the moment it looks like Labour) can do a deal with the nationalists, or think they can govern as a minority.

There’s nothing wrong with coalition in principle. It’s how well you handle it that’s the issue.

This is a bogus question. The Lib dems didn’t hold the balance of power last time. We had a choice of putting the blues in or not but no choice of putting the reds in

If the Tories are largest party – supply and confidence. I don’t trust them at all, not after the Coalition, and another five years in government with them would quite simply see our party obliterated at a local level, and therefore as a political force. If Labour – seek coalition, with clear red lines. If those red lines are not agreed upon, walk away and allow them a supply and confidence agreement. Either way, we have to start to repair our reputation for being more honest than the other parties.

Although I am deeply unimpressed by Labour’s lack of responsibility and honesty about the current options, we have a duty to Liberal Democrat voters to negotiate with anyone to maximise the Lib Dem contribution to any future government programme.

The coalition talks should be based on who can offer us the best joint programme rather than whichever party has “strongest mandate”. Even if a party has the most votes, if the other two parties are in closer agreement over some key issues then together they have a stronger mandate than the other.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 560 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 28th May and 1st June.
  • 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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    28 Comments

    • Tracy Connell 8th Jun '12 - 9:28am

      Very little support for Liberal Left there then! My suspicions confirmed.

      We should be united, not fractious!

    • Being in coalition has never been an issue. It is the competence of the party’s leadership in the coalition that is in question.

    • mike cobley 8th Jun '12 - 10:31am

      Merely confirms my suspicion that LDV is the party’s main cheerleader for the coalition – asking similar questions across the party grassroots would have a different outcome. Also, the concept of coalition seems to provoke only a standard set of responses, ie that the ONLY options are opposition, confidence and supply, and fullblown, up-to-our necks coalition. Er, no – the party’s negotiators could have proposed a limited coalition to tackle limited aims for a limited period. That way we could have focussed minds far more narrowly on the actual problems and the consequences of proposed solutions – and after 2 years we would have reached the unavoiable conclusion that austerity is a blind alley.

      But the leadership has nailed its colours and cojones to the Osborne mast, so we sail into the reefs, fated to go down with all hands. Still, we got 75% of our manifesto enacted, eh? What a triumph for liberalism, as the electoral results have amply demonstrated.

    • Simon Hebditch 8th Jun '12 - 10:32am

      Of course, I am amazed, if the figures are correct, that so many party members apparently want to remain in coalition with the Tories – a party that has enforced an economic policy which is not working, an attack on the bedrock of the welfare state, a deliberate attempt to reduce the role of the state in reflecting common interests, an increase in child poverty and so on and so on! A depressing picture far from the ideals propagated before by the Lib Dems and their predecessors. The forthcoming comprehensive spending review will tie Lib Dems into an economic and fiscal programme, alongside their preferred coalition partners, beyond the next election.

      As such programmes are central to a government’s overall policies, why not go the whole hog and create a Lib Dem/Tory pact to follow through that programme? That would be the logical thing to do. But, Tracy, you would not end up with unity but a fracturing of the party and a slow absorption of the Lib Dems into the Tories. Good luck!

    • Elliot Bidgood 8th Jun '12 - 10:37am

      @Tracy Connell

      Considering the stats the other day showing how Lib Dems have lost a not-insubstantial part of their membership as a result of Coalition (including over half of Liberal Youth and 42% in Brent, for example) and the detrimental effect that will have on Lib Dem grassroots operations, I’d argue it shows the use of Liberal Left. Those 16% are the largest “flight risk” from the party, and giving them a voice that allows them to express their dissent without having to leave like others have felt it neccesary to do is surely within the interests of the Lib Dems?

    • “Merely confirms my suspicion that LDV is the party’s main cheerleader for the coalition – asking similar questions across the party grassroots would have a different outcome. ”

      I’m sceptical of people who don’t like polling data because they don’t agree with it.

      Though this seems slightly out of kilter with opinion polling of Lib Dem voters (so not directly comparable).

      Of the recent Mori Poll, even of the 9% of people who were still saying they were Lib Dem 44% were dissatisfied with Clegg. They were equally split over whether the coalition was good for the Lib Dems (thought the usual small sample warning applies)

    • Elliot Bidgood – I’m happy to share my party with any Liberal. I think Liberal Left have to ask themselves which bit of their name they value most.

    • The alternative to Coalition is an election now. 80% of respondents are just being realistic.
      The 63% includes Liberal Left, presumably.

    • “Not coalition as we have here now but of the type that they have in Germany where a party has specific departments to run with their policies being put into practice”

      Interesting idea. I’m not familiar with German politics – would the commenter, or anyone else, care to expand?

    • Peter Watson 8th Jun '12 - 11:04am

      This strikes me as another survey where the result is interesting but it is difficult to draw a meaningful conclusion. Or rather it is easy for everybody to draw a conclusion that fits their existing beliefs. Some will take it as an expression of support for coalition government in principle: permanent opposition is pointless politics. Others will take it as an expression of support for the conservatives and the policies of this particular coalition. The comments quoted in the article some up the range of views nicely.
      In 2010 I accept that we had to work with the conservatives, but I believe that our parliamentary party has done so in a secretive, incompetent and unprincipled manner. It also leaves us facing a lot of awkward questions before 2015 about the difference between the policies we espouse and the policies we have implemented (please, no more claptrap about a supposed 75% of our manifesto), and also about our intentions after 2015 if no party has a majority.

    • Terry – the difference between the UK and Germany is their constitution. Because they elect under PR, where coalition is virtually guaranteed, parties can go into elections with stated positions and preferences. It makes the whole coalition game very different to our situation, where coalitions are rare and electoral strength does not necessarily reflect political support.

    • mike cobley 8th Jun '12 - 11:34am

      Hywel, please dont infer intentions that do not exist – the poll figures I am sure are accurate for those members of LDV who responded, but it should not be taken as an accurate reflection of the party as a whole. Always annoys me when LDV survey results are propagated across the media often without recognition that this is NOT a survey of the party in toto. Sorry to labour the point, but it needs to be made.

    • Mike Cobley – people tend to cite grassroots opinion in support of their own particular viewpoints. The only way you will ever know for certain is a poll of all party members.

    • I think surveys like this would be more useful if we could calibrate LDV membership against Lib Dem membership. There seems no obvious (at least to me) prima facie reason to believe that LDV users would be more pro or anti coalition (or, indeed, systemically to the left or the right of the rest of the party). But, as Tabman points out, we can’t make any solid assertions about the whole grassroots movement until either we survey everyone, or we verify the lack of bias in the LDV sample. Perhaps it might be worth giving respondents the option to self identify (ie as social liberals, orange bookers etc, also some demographic information if they’re willing to give it anonymously), and this can give us a better idea of the sample bias – ie whether LDV members are typically much older/younger than Lib Dem members.

    • BrownE – I think you make some good points. There is the same issue with Conference; people always imply it represents the will of the party, whereas it represents the will of those with the money/lack of responsibilities/enthusiasm/time to spend several days at a get together. This will tend to concentrate conference reps from certain demographics.

    • Ste[hen – I would imagine pretty much all economic liberals (myself included) would describe themselves as social(ly) liberal(s) – indeed David Laws does so in the fabled/hated Orange Book.

    • David Allen 8th Jun '12 - 1:40pm

      I think the explanation for this very high “support” figure is that people are effectively answering the question “do you want us to leave the Coalition now?” There would be a far smaller level of support if a second question had then been posed as “in hindsight, do you think this Coalition has turned out to have been a good experience?”

    • Stephen – “Agreed. But fewer social liberals would describe themselves also as economic liberals (as shown by our survey).”

      They need sending for re-education 🙂

    • David Allen 8th Jun '12 - 4:56pm

      We should re-educate people about the difference between “social” and “socially”. Someone who supports gay marriage and sexual equality, but also supports our steadily increasing social inequality, is socially liberal but not a social liberal.

    • Tony Dawson 8th Jun '12 - 5:22pm

      I will have voted for the Coalition to continue. That does not imply any endorsement of the manner in which the Coalition has been operating to date. The present ‘fixed Parliament rule requires the Members of Parliament elected in 2010 to stay put and there is no sensible alternative government available or even on the cards in a year or so’s time. There is nothing wrong with that Coalition continuing provided that the Legislature controls the Executive and the Lib Dem members of the Executive do not go along with silly things which weren’t in the Coalition agreement. (Of course I would have preferred it if they didn’t go along with silly things which should never have been allowed into the Coalition Agreement in the first place!)

    • Elliot Bidgood 8th Jun '12 - 5:57pm

      @David Allen

      A clearer way of phrasing that is “social liberalism” v “cultural liberalism”. On Wikipedia, the “social liberalism” entry has “not to be confused with cultural liberalism” displayed right at the top, with a link to the latter.

      More relevant to internal Lib Dem thinking, the Laws/Orange Book/Liberal Reform “four points of liberalism” theory classes “personal liberalism” (gay marriage, civil liberties, non-conformism etc) differently from “social liberalism” (George/Keynes/Beveridge social concerns), alongside political liberalism (localism & constitutional reform) and finally economic liberalism. So even Orange Book thinking is meant to draw a clear distinction.

    • Tony Dawson 8th Jun '12 - 7:45pm

      I feel your headline for this article is misleading. The 63 per cent do not endorse another coalition with the Conservatives, yet you place it behind a clause referring specifically to that sub-set of coalitions. Also, presumably in any future coalition with any party or parties, they would like us to have learned from our mistakes in the present one?

      How can you be surprised that Lib Dem members, particularly the sample who sign up to the Lib Dem members’ forum, would prefer to be in coalition than in opposition generally? That does not mean that they would want to be involved in a coalition where we suffer the same relationships as in this present one. Who knows, we might even get involved in a coalition where someone has worked through a sensible exit strategy?

    • “Hywel, please dont infer intentions that do not exist”

      Sorry. When you wrote “asking similar questions across the party grassroots would have a different outcome.” I thought you were infering that this was not an accurate representation of the views of the grassroots party.”

      Which is sort of what you said you were inferring!

      When LDV polls have been tested against measureable results they seem to be reasonably accurate. This (and the Clegg poll) also broadly coincide with my feeling about where party activist (at least the ones I speak to) sentiment is (ie more anti Clegg than anti coalition).

      Polling the “grassroots” is incredibly difficult – not least because of how you define it. There is a general theory that the activist membership is more radical and critical of the leadership than the armchair membership. Though I’m not aware of much evidence for this beyond anecdote 🙂

      Stephen – it might be interesting to see how much the LDV polls are representative of the activist/grassroots membership by some questions about what sort of party activities people have been involved in.

    • David Evans 9th Jun '12 - 2:01pm

      “LDV asked: In the event of no one party being able to form a majority government after the next election with the Liberal Democrats once again holding the balance of power, which of the following options would be your preference:

      63% – Opening coalition negotiations with whichever party has the strongest mandate if a stable Commons majority will result
      22% – Offering a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement to whichever party is able to form a minority government (ie, no coalition deal so free to vote on an issue-by-issue basis, but agreeing not to bring down the government or vote against its Budget)
      5% – Returning to full opposition with no form of arrangement with the governing party
      8% – Other
      2% – Don’t know / No opinion ”

      The problem with this question is that it is fantasy politics. There had to be an preference entitled LOL – there is no chance that we will hold the balance of power after the next general election.

    • emsworthian 9th Jun '12 - 9:57pm

      No doubt the orange bookers rushed to record their support recognising there is nobody placed to challenge Clegg
      as things stand. It will take still more bad news in the counties next year to provoke any call for real change in the party.

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