A regular theme of my writing about research into the attitude of voters towards the Liberal Democrats has been about how much of what the media, and politicians, say is based on a simple myth.
The coalition years of 2010-15 certainly did heavy damage to the party’s popularity, but they didn’t do long-term severe damage to the party’s brand in the way that, for example, Chris Leslie claimed when explaining Change UK’s (initial at least) desire to create a political party free from the Liberal Democrats.
Even by 2017, only 1 in 5 voters both thought the Lib Dems were wrong to go into coalition and hadn’t forgiven the party for doing so. Most people either thought the decision was right or had forgiven the party for doing so.
The long-term problem was not one of destruction of the party’s brand from the coalition, but rather a widespread sense that people didn’t know what the party stands for. Hence another common finding from research that the most common thing people say about the Lib Dems was variants on ‘don’t know what you are up to / believe in’ rather than ‘hate you’.
Hence, of course, the reason why I’ve been one of the first and loudest voices arguing for a core votes strategy for the party, with communicating what we believe and why at the heart of it.
New polling from YouGov (full data tables here) reinforces this picture, with 43% saying they would never consider voting Conservative, 39% for Labour and down to 35% for the Liberal Democrats. (A similar picture comes from YouGov’s previous party favourability ratings.)
That 35% comes heavily from Leave voters, no surprise. 51% of those who voted Leave in the European referendum would never vote Liberal Democrat, but only 16% of Remain voters. Those are, most likely (the cross-breaks aren’t given to show this for sure), predominantly left-wingers who are Remain and hate coalition. The sort of people who, in other words, are often vocal on social media and memorable on the doorstep but are also small in number and atypical in their views.
That breakdown by referendum voting also shows the wisdom of the Liberal Democrats in concentrating so heavily on targeting Remain votes – and having switched from a long-running policy of ‘We’re in favour of Europe… but we worry about Euro-sceptics in places like Devon’ to ‘We’re in favour of Europe… and bollocks to Brexit‘.
One final point to note with a nod to next year’s London Mayor and Assembly elections – London is disproportionately populated with those most willing to consider voting Liberal Democrat.