Must-read analysis from Peter Kellner on where the 5 million missing 2010 Lib Dem voters have gone

A fascinating piece of polling research from YouGov’s Peter Kellner in today’s Guardian, looking at how votes have churned since the 2010 general election.

My working assumption looking at the headline poll ratings has been that there’s been relatively little movement between Labour and the Conservatives, with most of the movement from the Lib Dems to Labour and from the Tories to Ukip. YouGov’s research shows how simplistic that assumption about votes lost/gained in the last four years is:

vote churn peter kellner - feb 2014

Three quick points drawn from this table:

  • What immediately jumps out is how many people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 now say they won’t do so – just 1.8 million voters (27%) have stayed ‘loyal’ to the party, with fully 5 million of our 2010 voters currently saying they won’t vote Lib Dem.
  • However, of those 5 million, just 1.8 million moved from Lib Dem to Labour. (Yes, I know ‘just’ isn’t the right word really… but, still, I’d have thought that far more than one-third of our lost voters would’ve switched to Labour.) To put in in perspective, half a million 2010 Lib Dem voters have moved to Ukip.
  • We have actually gained a significant number of new voters since 2010 – one-quarter of our current support (600k out of 2.4m) is voters who have switched from other parties or who didn’t vote in 2010.

Probably the most important point for Lib Dems to note is this – the importance of winning back the ‘Don’t knows’:

One of the things that dents the Lib Dems’ vote share, but could be rectified, is the proportion they have lost to “don’t knows”: more than one in five, compared with one in eight Conservatives and one in ten Labour voters. One thing all the parties will be trying to do is revive the loyalties of these doubters; proportionately, the Lib Dems have the greatest opportunity. In a number of the seats they are defending, their success winning back these voters will make the difference between victory and defeat.

That is nearly always true of Lib Dems. We have the smallest core vote of the three main parties, which is one of the reasons why the party’s vote tends to dip between elections. This is sometimes put down, a bit simplistically, to us being starved of media attention. While I think that’s a part of the explanation, more important is that Lib Dem voters are more likely to ‘firm up’ as the election approaches, especially in areas the party is targeting its campaigning.

Kellner’s final paragraph is interesting:

For the parties, the lesson is: don’t target your messages too narrowly. Voters will make up their minds, and decide whether to shift or stay put, in a host of ways, some of which you may well regard as bizarre or irrational (but they will consider perfectly sensible). Don’t take any given group for granted – or assume that every member is a lost cause. And in your target seats, take care to listen to as many voters as you can; and listen hard without imposing your own agenda, for many of them will tell you things about their choice of candidate and party that you won’t be expecting.

This is undoubtedly true, though I suspect its main targets are those Conservatives narrowly focusing on winning back Ukippers – just 1.4m of the Tories’ 4.2m lost 2010 voters say they’ll vote Ukip – or those Labourites thinking they can win simply by holding onto 2010 Lib Dems.

As I’ve highlighted before – most recently on Friday here – the Lib Dem strategy for 2015 is much more targeted than in previous elections, focused particularly on the Lib Dem ‘market’ of those 25% of voters currently saying they would vote for us (c.10%) or who would consider voting for us (c.15%) – with the latter c.15% drawn roughly equally from persuadable Conservative/Labour voters and from persuadable don’t knows. That makes sense, especially for what we all know will be a defensive election. What Kellner’s analysis demonstrates is that the 2015 election will be about a whole lot more than simply trying to win back 2015 voters from Labour.

* Methodology note from Peter Kellner: “I have combined the results from all the voting intention polls that YouGov conducted in January. This gives us a total sample of more than 37,000 people. I have then compared the way they voted in 2010 with the way they say they would vote now. (For around two-thirds of the 37,000, their 2010 vote is what they told us at the time; the other one-third have joined our panel since then and we have used their recalled vote. Some of this one-third may have misremembered how they voted, but the impact on this analysis should be small.) … I have made a rough estimate of the number of supporters of each party who are likely to have died since the last election.”

* 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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This entry was posted in Polls.


  • paul barker 11th Feb '14 - 1:30pm

    All this is based on the assumption that taking part in an opinion poll is equivalent to voting in a General Election. Polls ask voters what they would do in the case of an Election that cant happen, its a decision with no real consequences & Voters treat it as a bit of a laugh. Polls exist to generate cheap copy for newspapers & thats all they do, they only begin to have predictive value 3 months before a General Election.

  • Paul Griffiths 11th Feb '14 - 1:35pm

    Dying counts as disloyalty? Harsh.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Feb '14 - 1:42pm

    Read this earlier today – the most important element in the analysis is the indication that approximately 1 m former voters may have shifted to Don’t Know.

  • Paul Pettinger 11th Feb '14 - 1:43pm

    We haven’t found fertile ground in the centre, the centre left won’t give Nick Clegg a second chance, owning everything that the coalition does has failed and we aren’t being thanked for the economy. We need a new leader with broader appeal.

  • Paul in Twickenham 11th Feb '14 - 2:00pm

    The Lib Dems appear to be the political equivalent of Marius the Giraffe: bolt through the head, chopped up and fed to the lions.

  • It seems to me the big question in how the Lib Dems will do in the next election is the behaviour of tactical voters. Will they continue to vote Lib Dem to keep their least favourite party out?

  • Peter Davies 11th Feb '14 - 2:37pm

    @Jack. You are right and it is actually one area where our credibility has increased. Nobody believed us when we said we would talk to the larger of the other two parties in a hung parliament. Next time they will and that means that a Tory or Labour voter has an interest not just in how many seats his own party gets but how few the other gets.

  • I’ve always said the don’t knows hold the key, plus those strange Lib Dem 2010 voters who’ve gone to the Conservatives.

    I mean, what’s that all about? I think those are just “borrowed” votes of people who credit the Tories with being more centrist than they really are because they have been forced into moderation by the Coalition.

    As soon as the Tories are flushed out into the open in a general election campaign, we can hope to win those back and more if we point out how right wing the Tories have become now Cameron has failed to reform his party.

    According to the latest Yougov poll, those two groups together account for around 5-6% of the 23% who voted for us in 2010. If we can win just those voters back we’ll be up to around 16%. Not to mention the defectors to Labour, the Greens etc. some of whom I think will be persuadable in Tory held constituencies or where Tories are in second place.

  • Unlike Stephen I’m not surprised that only. 1/3 of the lost voters have gone to Labour. At present I am an undecided , I’m left leaning but I abhor Labour’s authoritarianism. Where does that leave me , I will vote Lib Dem in the euro elections and will continue to do so in local ones. But the trust issues surrounding tuition fees, and judgement issues surrounding secret courts, the NHS, the bedroom tax and other policies make me still unable to vote Lib Dem in a General election although they remain the closest option.

  • Steve Griffiths 11th Feb '14 - 3:58pm

    Steve Wray speaks for me too. After 40 years of support you have lost my vote to ‘don’t know’ as well as years of activism as councillor, agent, deliver etc. You need to woo us if you want us to return, because at present those of us as Steve put it “left leaning but abhor Labour’s authoritarianism” have no natural home currently, and pronouncements from the leadership since 2010 have made the Lib Dems seem very unwelcoming to those of our persuasion.

  • Chris Manners 11th Feb '14 - 5:58pm

    ” Nobody believed us when we said we would talk to the larger of the other two parties in a hung parliament”

    It’s not that bit that’s the problem.
    It’s the fact you didn’t mean a word of the agreement you knocked up with that larger party.

  • ‘It’s the fact you didn’t mean a word of the agreement you knocked up with that larger party.”

    I think you’re ignoring vast swathes of policy that have been introduced that were both in the 2010 manifesto and in the Coalition agreement.

    An easy mistake to make, perhaps.

  • Passing through 11th Feb '14 - 7:02pm

    “I think you’re ignoring vast swathes of policy that have been introduced that were both in the 2010 manifesto and in the Coalition agreement.”

    This is also another issue one minute the LDs are claiming “75% of our manifesto has been enacted” and the next it is Bedroom Taxes, tuition fees, welfare cuts, NHS re-organisations, PCC elections, 3 years of a failed Plan A economics, secret courts, top rate tax cuts, etc. are nothing to do with us it is all the nasty old mean Tories, despite the fact none of it would have happened without LD support.

    It comes across as cynical and desperate; attempting to claim sole ownership of the successes of the Coalition while washing your hands of all the unpopular policies despite being instrumental in drafting them, passing them through parliament and implementing them. What’s more it annoys right-leaning voters as much as left-leaning voters and undermines the very notion of coalition government and democratic accountability.

    The NHS reorganisation is probably the most glaring example of this cynicism. Despite RC’s claims it was in neither the 2010 manifesto (“elected PCTs”) nor the Coalition agreement (“end to top-down reorganisations of the NHS”) but seemed to have been dreamed up by Lansley without even Cameron knowing what he was up to. Despite this when it was first announced Clegg initially was doing the rounds claiming it as being “very much a LD idea” and was on the point of rubber-stamping it before the opposition to the policy grew so great Cameron had to put a halt to it.

    For a brief while we all happily thought the LDs were going to kill it off as prominent LDs made quite clear how much they opposed it, then Cameron bought Clegg off with a hollow promise of an elected HoL and a couple of cosmetic changes later and Clegg was back to hailing it as “Shirley Williams Bill”.

    Since then Cameron has broken his promise on the HoL and changes to the regulations have undone most of the limited concessions LD support was bought with, they should have killed it stone-dead and I have yet to hear any LD either try to defend or explain the abolition of PCTs and the largest top-down reorganisation in the history of the NHS.

  • Julian Critchley 11th Feb '14 - 8:59pm

    Sounds about right. I tend to agree with Steve Way. I’m a left-leaning anti-authoritarian. I’m currently a Labour Party member, because I think MiIiband is saying some of the right things about inequality and market failure. I still dislike Labour’s instinctive authoritarianism, and its strong strand of identity politics.

    Having said that, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I vote for a party led by the Orange Bookers again !

  • It is obvious from Julian Critchley’s comments in this and plenty of other threads that he belongs onthe Loberal Democrats. I

  • That should read — ” in the Liberal Democrats. “.

    I was going to follow up by saying that I cannot say the same about the Orange Book cuckoos.

    I look forward to a time when the entryist rightwingers go off with their Tory chums, as suggested by Jeremy Browne recently. They will feel happier there. The genuine Liberal Democrats will feel happier when they have gone.

  • I think Helen Tedcastle 11th Feb ’14 – 11:28pm has got it just about right here. I watched a Labour spokesperson enthusing about .Miliband’s speech and it was a sorry sight. At one point this spokesperson was very keen on the idea of patient power in hospital trusts.
    When I am a patient in hospital (all too frequently nowadays) the last thing I want to do is run the place, I want my elected politicians to do that. I believe that people should take and use power, but not every minute of every day. When they are sick they should be allowed the chance to recover. When I am a patient I want to get better and get out of hospital and back home as fast as I can.

    It does appear that the Labour leader has not really thought his plicy initiative through properly. But I suppose we should give him credit for trying. I am not at all sure that Nick Clegg thinks anything through properly– see for example his vague piece on drugs in The Observer.

  • jedibeeftrix 11th Feb '14 - 11:47pm

    @ John – “I look forward to a time when the entryist rightwingers go off with their Tory chums, as suggested by Jeremy Browne recently.”

    You have only been on LDV for a year or so now, maybe less, should i perhaps refashion that statement for you:

    “I look forward to a time when the entryist leftwingers go off with their Labour comrades, as suggested by Simon Hughes (?) recently.”

  • Julian Critchley 12th Feb '14 - 12:26am


    I agree that it’s often hard to discern meat in Miliband’s announcements, and Labour is utterly addicted to cautious soundbites of the “I want a fair chance for all children” variety. But there is at least a direction of travel. The Mansion Tax is, of course, a good policy, and although there’s plenty of debate over whether the energy bill cap is workable, the principle is that the Government has a role to play in protecting citizens from market failure, whether that be through de facto cartels, kleptocratic directors, or the simple emergence of a class of market “losers”. It’s the sort of language Kennedy’s LibDems used to speak – which is why I was a member.

    On the schools front, I agree that the parental hit squads is a silly policy, but it’s not designed for reality, it’s designed for the media. Whether you or I like it or not, the media relentlessly pushes out a message that the state education system is in permanent crisis, and Miliband’s calculation is that if he states the truth that it’s not, he’ll be crucified by a vicious press. This policy is meaningless : parental concern can already trigger an OFSTED inspection. Apparently, of the last 3000 inspections, just 4 have been triggered by parents. This chimes with what we both know, which is that the vast majority of parents are entirely happy with their child’s school, while the press, Gove and Wilshaw have convinced many of them that it’s all the other schools which are somehow “failing”. This way, Miliband gets to pander to that ignorance, while at the same time knowing the policy is meaningless – nothing will come of it. The more interesting stuff is the beginning of recognition that you can’t have 20,000 stand-alone schools, and I think that when faced with a choice between the Tories and LibDems’ preferred rapacious and corrupt private academy chains, there’s a good chance of seeing some local democratic oversight and co-ordination (and sanity) returning to education. I’m not holding my breath though. Labour still haven’t done a mea culpa on the whole academization disaster, and I don’t see any sign of one. However, the LibDems have been far too quiescent in Gove’s educational vandalism. The latest differentiation is too little too late. The idea that teachers are going to be cheering on Laws as he stands up for OFSTED suggests that Laws has never actually met a teacher. Which is ironic, because Gove has clearly never met a child !

    Actually, that would be an interesting bit of research. I saw a poll recently which showed party-identification amongst teachers – not an insignificant voting group of half a million. Labour were far and away the largest group, and the LibDems were down to the low teens, I think. Yet before 2010, I’d have told you that most of the teachers I knew were LibDems. I wonder if there’s a significant demographic amongst those lost LibDem voters who are teachers.

  • “… those strange Lib Dem 2010 voters who’ve gone to the Conservatives.
    I mean, what’s that all about?”

    Presumably they’re just Lib Dem/Tory floaters who have recently been more impressed by the Tories than the Lib Dems (or by Cameron than Clegg). What’s so strange about that?

  • @Peter Davies: I think you’re wrong to believe that the Lib Dems credibility for tactical voting has increased. Many voters voted Liberal to “keep the Tories out” and then saw their votes end up providing an essentially Tory administration. I don’t know how many of these disaffected voters will be willing to hold their nose and vote Liberal again. It’s possible that the Liberals will pick up extra Tory tactical voters, of course, but I don’t know whether that will translate well into seats.

  • Colin in Spelthorne 12th Feb '14 - 2:48pm

    @Caracatus “Still it is not about going into coalition but the Rose Garden and Tuition Fees. Fundamentally, Nick Clegg has to go for there to be any recovery in Lib Dem support.”

    When the pledge on abolishing tuition fees was abandoned by Clegg et al in late 2010 by tripling the fees I pretty much down tooled within the Lib Dems.

    When the party policy on abolishing tution fees was abandoned at conference in Sept 2013, I resigned from the Lib Dems. It’s not just Clegg. The party has decided on a very different course from the excellent 2010 manifesto.

  • @ Colin in Spelthorne

    “When the party policy on abolishing tution fees was abandoned at conference in Sept 2013, I resigned from the Lib Dems.”

    So you want a chunky rise in taxation on everybody, including non-graduates, to pay for university tuition instead, that being the inevitable consequence. I think it’s worth spelling it out.

    The money has got to come from somewhere.

  • @Caracatus

    “not much of a mathematically possibility that we would have been less popular if we had not gone into coalition”

    So we would have forever have been labelled as the part that didn’t want to be in government, ever, unless the public finances were in really good shape and we were going to get every policy in our manifesto implemented and none of those of any coalition partner.

    “Thank heavens we didn’t refuse to do a deal with the Tories unless it involved proper electoral reform ”

    Sarcasm aside, when in a million years do you think the Tories would ever have been able to get their MPs to vote for electoral reform?

    How constructive or useful for our popularity do you think that would have been? Vote for us and we pledge that if we get some MPs, we’ll sit around and twiddle our thumbs.

  • Colin in Spelthorne 12th Feb '14 - 4:16pm

    @RC “The money has got to come from somewhere.”

    I am fully aware of that. The 2010 Lib Dem manifesto stated that to abolish tuition fees over the course of a parliament would cost £600m in 2010-11 rising to £1,765m by 2014-15 (page 101 of the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto).

    Government is about priorities. It came painfully obvious that Clegg et al never believed in the pledge. Then the party agreed with Clegg and changed policy last year. I did not agree and resigned.

    And talking about priorities we had Clegg in Sept 2013 hailing “look £600million for free school meals.” And yes RC that has to come from somewhere too.

    My 1st priority in 2010 would have been the economy with 2nd priority tuition fees.

    I had good times in the Lib Dems ran many successful local elections. Shame about the party that claimed a new, different type of politics and then revealed themselves to be the same as Lab/Cons. Very sad.

  • Barry Fleet 12th Feb '14 - 6:35pm

    Meanwhile on Planet Earth, those of us who loathe the Tories, don’t trust Labour, think UKIP are barking, are worried abour green issues and see that the Greens are far too left wing, and having seen them in action locally see that they are ineffectual, are still voting Liberal Democrat.

  • David Evans 13th Feb '14 - 5:18am

    Further evidence of Nick’s total failure as a leader to do anything other than destroy this party’s election chances for a generation. He has to go and go now. The longer he is allowed to go on the worse it will get. Sadly I fear even a disaster in May will simply stiffen the resolve of those who will never admit the y were wrong.

  • Mason Cartwright 13th Feb '14 - 5:23pm

    The only question that should be asked is how did the Lib Dems manage to lose 5 million supporters in 4 years?

    If you run a company and recruit a senior manager to grow your business but after 4 years he/she has shrunk your business almost to the point of bankruptcy do you keep them or fire them?

  • I am with Barry Fleet on planet earth and agree with his brief summary of how many Liberal Democrats will feel (except for the bit about the Green Party – some of whom are far from left wing).
    What he does not cover is that some of us have voted Liberal or Liberal Democrat all our lives and now find ourselves with a party leader who talks and acts just like the Tories that we loathe and have always loathed.

    So I am also with David Evans and Mason Cartwright who want Clegg to go. I am aware that party HQ has yet to reply to the request for the necessary wording to be agreed by 75 local parties to trigger a leadership election. Anyone here know why party HQ is failing to provide this information?

  • @ JohnTilley I expect the reason no one has replied is because there are no agreed words. The rule states each Local Party has to pass the requisition at a quorate general meeting. The wording as with any motion at a general meeting is down to the movers. When advice was sort were possible words submitted. I can’t see why this wouldn’t work “x Local Party request that the President initiates a Leader election”. I expect each Local Party may have to include the minutes of the general meeting as well.

  • Amalric 13th Feb ’14 – 11:04pm

    If Liberal Democrat HQ get a request for advice on something as serious as a leadership election then we would all hope in a democratic party that the relevant advice will be given. I am told that the rules for triggering an election require 75 local parties to pass a resolution. But I doubt if any of us are experts in this. Nobody would want any local party to go ahead with whatever they think the procedure is only to be told later that theyhad got it wrong. So it is not unreasonable to ask what the 75 parties should include in a resolution to make that resolution accord with the rules.

    As Liberal Democrats we talk a lot about openness and democracy. We are not members of the Nick Clegg Fan Club, we pay to belong to a democratic party. Party HQ should act accordingly.

  • Surely the type of voter who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 and who intends to vote for UKIP in 2015 is not one with an ideological commitment to liberalism — or, indeed, one with any discernibly consistent ideology at all! Rather, it would seem to be one who sees his or her vote as a symbolic gesture, a way of showing disdain for any party perceived as part of the establishment.

  • Mason Cartwright 14th Feb '14 - 2:10pm

    “Surely the type of voter who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 and who intends to vote for UKIP in 2015 is not one with an ideological commitment to liberalism”

    I couldn’t agree more but it could also be that many simply don’t understand what UKIP stand for beyond the EU.

    This is why all major parties should be making a far greater effort to shine light on UKIP’s policies and the ideology that stands behind them.

  • ErnstRemarx 14th Feb '14 - 6:19pm

    RC – “Sarcasm aside, when in a million years do you think the Tories would ever have been able to get their MPs to vote for electoral reform?”

    Which rather begs the question, why push it as part of the Coalition agreement if it was clear that the Tories would always vote against it, and it would be lost? What on Earth did you actually gain from that whole gruesome episode?

  • @ John Tilley “If Liberal Democrat HQ get a request for advice on something … we would all hope … that the relevant advice will be given”.
    This misses my point. There is no advice that could be given because there is nothing set down on how to do it except that clause. There are no experts anywhere. Any advice would just be someone’s personal view and as valid as yours and mine.

    You should have got your Local Party to pass a resolution and then asked if it met the clause and if necessary asked the president at conference.

    However I think the time for this has passed. Action should have been taken after May last year and a campaign undertaken over the summer so more than 75 Local Parties considered a motion to request a new leadership election and the election could have started in December last year with a new leader being elected early in 2014. I can’t see 75 Local Parties supporting such an election with a new leader coming in early in 2015 with less than 6 months before the next general election.

    However after the general election would be the time to gather such support if Nick Clegg does not initiate a leadership election himself.

  • Mason Cartwright “The ideology that stands behind [UKIP’s] policies”. After Farage’s most recent, and their last “leader”, Lord Pearson’s rejection / failure to remember their manifesto, I begin to wonder whether UKIP has any fixed ideology at all, beyond naked populism. I suppose it was their founder,Alan Sked who long since rejected UKIP as “racist and infected by the far right”, and David Cameron, who some years ago described them as “fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists, mostly”, who put their fingers on some of the motivations of party supporters. Whether that amounts to an “ideology” is open to question.

    An aside relating to the Liberal Democrats, and which could well explain the numbers of UKIP / Lib Dem swing voters, would be that our concentration over the years on the “local” in politics, to the exclusion of unifying ideology in many cases, has led to increasing numbers of increasingly powerful members who do not share anything like the Liberal Party (or the early founders of the Alliance and the Lib Dems’) principles. This has led to populism in our expressed campaigning ideas, bringing support from parts of the political spectrum unlikely a number of years previously. It is at least arguable that this process has led to the drift to the right over the last 10 years or so, culminating in where we are now.

  • @Amalric. you say – “I can’t see 75 Local Parties supporting such an election with a new leader coming in early in 2015 with less than 6 months before the next general election
    However after the general election would be the time to gather such support if Nick Clegg does not initiate a leadership election himself.”

    One big problem with your timing is that even if half the nuber of Lib Dem MPs are lost there may be some form of coalition after the GE. If Clegg is leader it would enable him to hang on to the resources and patronage that goes with the DPM role. He would be able to cling on to the leadership for another 5 years.

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