Why didn’t the Liberal Democrat election result match the polls?

First thoughts from ComRes on why the Liberal Democrat vote share last week, although up for the third general election in a row, was much lower than the polls had been predicting:

We along with many others were surprised by the eventual Lib Dem figure; but that’s not the whole story….. our Conservative Party vote share was, in the words of the BBC’s analysis, ‘bang on the button’ while we understated Labour support to the tune of 1.14% (incidentally the first time the Labour vote share has been understated since 1983). Along with every other polling company we overstated Lib Dem support by some 4.5%.

We’re analysing what happened there but our initial view is that it is most closely related to one key factor – turnout. We were expecting 70% to 71% whereas it was 65.1% and much of the flakier, less certain vote was being indicated as Lib Dem support. As for the Labour understatement, there is some evidence of late swing, and it is indeed likely that some of that stated LD support ended up voting Labour while a lot more stayed away altogether on Thursday. In short we had Con and Labour well within the margin of error, and the LD figure was 1.5% outside of that.

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This entry was posted in Polls.


  • Very interesting.

    My guess for turnout allowed for something a little below what the closing polls had suggested. My guess was around 68% … the actual 65%. Very interesting.

  • Jonathan Haggart 12th May '10 - 3:58pm

    Turnout may be a factor, but it’s an excuse. For me the reason was that for the last fortnight of the campaign, we didn’t talk policy, only coalition. Of course, that’s all NC et al were asked about, but I do think people liked what they heard at the first debate, then barely heard it again outside of the leaders head to heads

  • The fact is Nick Clegg’s charm faded as the debates went on, many of those thinking about voting Lib Dem ended up voting Labour. In the aftermath of the election, they have seen that Lib Dems have no morals, and will never vote for them, along with the many Lib Dem voters who trusted the party.

  • Something to do with propping up a government, who many Lib Dem voters despise. There will be no PR, also forget about AV, the Tories/Rupert will campaign against it, and don’t expect a handout from Labour. Time will tell, best of luck to Nick & co, but I foresee the LD party decimated at the ballot boxes, after they’re chewed and spat out by the Cons.

  • I have to say I’m bemused about these so called former Lib Dem voters, who presumably believed in PR, then throwing their toys out the pram when a typical result of PR manifests itself – a hung parliament leading to a coalition government. Or did they think that in the case of a hung parliament the Lib Dems would always support Labour? If some people are wedded to always siding with Labour in the case of a coalition then I’m only surprised they haven’t been advocating a merger between the two parties.

    As it happened, Labour didn’t want to be part of a coalition and abdicated their responsbility to their voters.

    In contrast the Lib Dems have tried to get as much of their manifesto implemented as possible, whilst being acutely aware that this arrangement has the potential to damage them more than any other party. But better that we as a party are damaged, then the country has 4/5 years of Tory rule. And I may be accused of being ‘smug’ saying that but some of us really do put the country before our own political party. That’s actually why we’re inolved in politics.

  • Paul Griffiths 12th May '10 - 9:56pm

    I agree with Nic.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '10 - 10:00pm

    It was just a very weak campaign. We started off well with the good reception to Clegg on the first TV debate, but threw it away by not successfully building on that. It all went to Clegg’s head and he thought it was all his charisma rather than the hard work of party activists that was winning the votes. He let the press get away with painting it that way, and this caused a suspicion amongst the electorate that we weren’t very solid. As I’ve said several times, I was waiting and waiting for the barnstorming speech he could and should have delivered towards the end of the campaign, but he didn’t. He just fizzled out and we lost so much we could have won because of that.

  • Agree wholeheartedly with Nic’s comments – Liberal Democrats have been espousing this type of politics for years. Much as I would prefer not to have to deal with the Tories, to walk away in the current situation would be reprehensible. It’s incumbent on the Lib Dems, moreso than the Tories, to make the coalition work. In doing so, that would normalise the whole idea of coalition. As much as anything else, that might help clear the path to STV .

    On the question of polls, the MORI polls throughout the campaign were always at odds with the others and seemed to understate Liberal Democrat support. In fact, they seemed to give a more accurate picture of the outcome than the others.

    I don’t understand the finer points of the statistical basis of polling but I think the debates have somehow “infected” the polling with appreciation of the respective leaders and voting intentions seeming to have been confused along the way. An analysis of questions and samples used by all the polling organisations might be interesting

  • Matthew,

    Like you, I have been warning on this site for a long time that Nick would be a terrible campaigner, all waffle, platitude, and muddle. Well, I mainly got it plain wrong. For the first debate and for some time thereafter, Nick performed way out of his skin. Some of that might be credited to good briefing and training, but a lot of it has to be credited to Nick. I don’t think it is fair to say that “it all went to Clegg’s head”. I’m sure that the campaign team as a whole decided they had found a winning formula, i.e. make everything about Nick, and they decided that they shouldn’t change it.

    That was a misjudgment, but an understandable one. With hindsight, we can see that as the campaign progressed and Nick grew tired, the engine began to repeat and misfire, and the waffle crept back. It’s easy to see what we should have done with hindsight. We should have proved our strength in depth with people like Cable, Huhne and Laws, so as to avoid the flash-in-the-pan “Cleggmania” smears. We should have kept it frank and combative, recognising that the voters wanted truth rather than soft soap. It’s all easy to say with hindsight. But we’ve got to be fair. if Clegg wasn’t quite the superstar some thought he might be, he certainly wasn’t the campaigning disaster you and I thought he might have proved to be.

    Now mind you, the other warning I have also been peddling on this site for many months was that Clegg is just too close to Tory philosophy for comfort. Well, I think the jury is, er, still out on that one!

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '10 - 10:33am

    David Allen

    That was a misjudgment, but an understandable one. With hindsight, we can see that as the campaign progressed and Nick grew tired, the engine began to repeat and misfire, and the waffle crept back. It’s easy to see what we should have done with hindsight.

    In my case it was NOT hindsight.

    Look what I was saying in these very columns during the campaign. Look at what I have been saying ever since the leadership election.

    Clegg failed for all the reason I said he would fail. What you are saying now should have been done is what I was saying then, after the first debate and inwards what should have been done.

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