Liberal Democrat Newswire #69 is out: final poll of Farron vs Lamb race

Liberal Democrat Newswire #69 came out yesterday, featuring its exclusive poll on the Lib Dem leadership race.

You can also read it below, but if you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future, just sign up here. It’s free!

Welcome to the 69th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, another special edition before the usual monthly service resumes – this time to bring you the results of an exclusive survey of Liberal Democrat members on the leadership election.

#68 set out a strategy for the new party leader (which you can read about here: Building a cote vote for the Liberal Democrats – the 20% strategy). But who will be person who has to lead the party through these challenges?

YouGov polling of Lib Dem members carried out 12-24 May put Tim Farron in clear lead over Norman Lamb, as did a Lib Dem Voice survey carried out 13-15 May. Both, however, took place before the field was finalised and before the formal campaigning has started.

The Liberal Democrat Newswire survey was carried out 23 June – 5 July, with a survey size of 629. This was reduced slightly when fake responses were filtered and the results were weighted by gender (as with most such surveys the raw data was skewed towards men), whether someone joined before or after the general election (to ensure new members were fairly represented) and whether or not someone was a hustings attender. The latter was an attempt to deal with the problem of online surveys capturing the more engaged members of a population.

As it turned out, although the raw data was significantly off the correct results for gender, new members and hustings attendance, weighting to correct these didn’t make a big difference to the results. Which either means the results are rather accurate, or simply that people who respond to online surveys at all are different in outlook from those who don’t, regardless of how much you otherwise weight them to look the same. We will soon know…

Many thanks to Karsten Shaw for doing the weighting calculations for me. Responsibility for the choice and size of them rests with me, so if the results turn out wrong, blame me.

Thanks you too, as ever, to the generous readers who make a small monthly donation to help cover the costs of Liberal Democrat NewswireYou can join these kind folk at www.patreon.com/markpack.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you saw Nick Clegg’s first post-resignation TV interview on Sunday morning, you’ll have heard him talk about problems with our election expense rules. Here’s the story behind how they failed in 2015.

In this edition:

1. Turnout

One respect in which the survey certainly won’t be right is turnout. With polls on public elections, self-reported likelihood to vote is much higher than what happens when reality hits. So too in this survey, with 94% of respondents rating themselves 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 for how likely they are to vote. Turnout won’t be anything like that.

In fact, past turnout in Lib Dem leadership contests has been rather lower: 64% (2007), 72% (2006), 62% (1999) and 72% (1988).

A good benchmark therefore is 70% – above that and turnout will be good, below that and it will be disappointing. If it really does hit 94%, start asking questions about how many postal ballots were cast from Tower Hamlets.

2. Has the campaign mattered?

Views about both Tim Farron and Norman Lamb were mostly settled before the campaign started. Even after weighting to give new members the right proportion in the results, 58% said they came to their view on how likely there were to vote for Tim Farron before nominations closed and 49% said the same of Norman Lamb.

That does suggest a higher previous name recognition and profile for Tim Farron than Norman Lamb, but for Lamb only to be 9 points down on that question suggests that the media coverage he received as a minister got through to many armchair members or people who were not yet members.

There is also a slight edge in good news for Norman Lamb in the figures for people being phone canvassed during the campaign. More say they have been phone canvassed by the Lamb team (8%) than by the Farron team (5%). But that edge is small compared to likely margins of error and what’s most notable overall is that nine in ten members say they have not been phone canvassed by either team. (Some have been rung by both.) That’s in the end good news for Farron as, having started the front runner, the less that happened in the campaign the less there was that could have upset that.

Only two people, by the way, reported having been on the receiving end of the controversial pro-Lamb market research calls – confirming the evidence that they were not widespread.

Although the raw survey findings hugely overstates hustings attendance, other calculations point towards around 10% of members attending them. Put together with the low rate of phone calls received – even allowing for more phoning taking place after the survey was conducted – and for most members it has been a pretty low key contest with relatively little in the way of contact from candidates. It also means, ahem, that even on fairly cautious calculations, many more members will have got information about the contest from Lib Dem Newswire and my blog than from attending hustings meetings.

What has cut through to members are the official emails from party HQ, of which there have been four, each containing messages from the two candidates. 89% recall having received them (excluding those who didn’t answer this question; it is still 73% even with no answers factored in). Of course an online survey is biased towards internet users – something that isn’t always remembered.

Even so, that’s a sign of how important email communication has become – and also a sign that it should be used rather more in future contests of all sorts in the party given its huge reach compared to other campaign activities.

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3. What members think of the candidates

The survey asked members both what most impresses them about each candidate and what causes them the most concern.

The following word clouds showing the most common words in people’s answers for Tim Farron – praise first, then concerns – shows that, as expected, his support is based on people seeing him as an energetic and charismatic leader who can motivate the party and get the attention of voters.

Concerns are almost all about the nexus of his religious beliefs and his voting record, especially on same-sex marriage but also on abortion. This was also reflected in the open-ended comments left by people. It is not simply an issue raised by the Lamb campaign; it’s an issue of concern to a significant proportion of respondents. Less prominent, though present, are concerns about Farron’s levels of gravitas and seriousness.

Tim Farron positives
Concerns over Tim Farron as party leader

Turning to Norman Lamb, the positives for him feature mental health very strongly, but whilst he is seen as having more gravitas, it doesn’t come through strongly as a major factor for voters in the contest. That’s not good news for his campaign given it’s an area where many voters give Lamb the edge:
Norman Lamb positives

The relative weakness of the gravitas card for Lamb in part is because it is so closely related to him having been a minister in government. That ministerial record may have shown he was well up to the job of being a minister and even a party leader, but it also firmly links him to the coalition. The concern that prompts comes through in the answers people gave about what reservations they have about him, along with his perceived weaker communication skills compared with Farron:
Concerns over Norman Lamb as party leader

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4. And the headline voting intention is…

(Hello to everyone who skipped down to read this first!)

As mentioned up top, although quite a few steps have been taken to produce a refined result – weeding out dodgy poll entrants along with weighting by gender, hustings attendance and date of joining party – they do not make much of a difference to the voting intentions expressed.

The poll didn’t ask a simple head-to-head Farron vs Lamb question but instead asked people to rate their chances of voting for each candidate on a scale of 1 to 10. Yet only 19% of people rated both Farron and Lamb as possible (4, 5, 6 or 7). Rather, most people were pretty sure of their views.

So with the best of attempts to select the right weightings both for the survey overall and for people’s 1 to 10 scores for each candidate, the final voting intention figures the poll produces is…

Farron vs Lamb survey results

Send me your plaudits or your jeers on Thursday…

Thanks for reading

I hope you’re found this edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire interesting, informative, useful – or all three! – and especially if you’re one of the many new readers who have boosted readership by 41% so far this year alone.

Best wishes and thank you for reading,


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