The myth of the Liberal Democrats in coalition

You should always be careful when something is repeatedly said but rarely sourced. Not only with hyper about technology but also with claims about what the public thinks.

Case in point: it’s rather rare to find an article about the state of the Liberal Democrats that doesn’t contain some reference to the party’s current level of (un)popularity being down to ‘the voters hated the Lib Dems going into coalition and still haven’t forgiven them’.

The evidence, however, has consistently been rather different as a new YouGov poll demonstrates:

Which of these comes closest to your view?

  • The Liberal Democrats were right to go into coalition with the Conservatives 30%
  • The Liberal Democrats were wrong to go into coalition with the Conservatives but I have forgiven them 16%
  • The Liberal Democrats were wrong to go into coalition with the Conservatives and I haven’t forgiven them 22%
  • Don’t know 32%

Only a fifth of voters fall into that camp, and a full 46% either agreed with the coalition decision or have forgiven the party. The party’s current single digit poll ratings aren’t down to continuing hatred over coalition or the party’s record in coalition. They are more down to perceived relevance, success and clarity over what the party stands for (and hence the arguments I set out in Targeting Plus and, with Jim Williams, in Reinventing the Liberal Democrats).

There’s an important caveat to this, which is that there’s one sub-sample (so statistical caveat to the political caveat, please) where the wrong and unforgiven category is significant. A full 31% of Hard Remainers (people who say they want the government to overturn the EU referendum decision) say the Lib Dems were wrong to go into coalition and that they haven’t forgiven the party. No surprise then that 22% of Hard Remainers says also that they would never consider voting Liberal Democrat.

That helps explain the limits to the party’s success in appealing to Hard Remainers so far. So far, but possibly not permanently, because the frustrating conundrum from a Lib Dem perspective is that those unforgiving Hard Remainers then pretty much line up to vote for Labour. Despite hard core opposition to Europe, and despite holding past Lib Dem behaviour against the Lib Dems, Jeremy Corbyn’s long record of opposition to the EU, lukewarm referendum campaigning and unwillingness to vote against the Tories on Brexit in Parliament isn’t something they see as a reason not to vote for him.

Whether or not the Lib Dems can craft a successful message to appeal to such love Europe / hate Conservatives voters is one of the keys to the party’s future political fortunes.



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