There has not (yet?) been any public polling about the Liberal Democrat leadership race itself. However, we do have the YouGov Ratings which use polling (adjusted to be nationally representative) to show what the public thinks about various figures.
Here is how the two who would be Vince Cable’s successor compare with each other and with him:
Have you heard of them?
- Vince Cable 79%
- Jo Swinson 31%
- Ed Davey 27%
Positive opinion of them
- Vince Cable 17%
- Jo Swinson 9%
- Ed Davey 4%
Net opinion (positive minus negative) of them
- Jo Swinson +2%
- Ed Davey -4%
- Vince Cable -16%
The data is from May 2018 – April 2019 (an extended period so that YouGov gets enough data to cover a very large number of people). I suspect Vince Cable’s ratings would be rather better with only recent data.
What to make of these figures?
One is that if you measure a candidate on their ability to scrap and scrape for media coverage in a relatively low profile national role (i.e. anything in the Lib Dems other than a leader), then Jo Swinson has shown more success on this so far than Ed Davey.If you are a Jo Swinson fan, you’ll probably draw from this that this all shows she has more of what is needed from the next party leader with battling to get media coverage. If you’re an Ed Davey fan, you’ll probably counter that what this shows is about the dynamics of getting media coverage for non-leaders doesn’t reflect their relative abilities to secure coverage as leader.
In particular, a mostly unspoken factor in this is that political news outlets often struggle to get anything like approaching decent gender balance and so there is an in-built advantage Jo has over Ed. (Of course, the wider existing continuing sexism in society and politics does also tilt things the other way.) Jo fans can point to this as a reason to vote for her; Ed fans can counter that party leaders will get coverage as leader regardless of their gender.
I’ve got a view on which of those two sides is the most convincing… but the reason I’ve (tried to) present them equally is there’s a bigger point about the leadership contest overall.
As I wrote about the hustings in a previous leadership contest:
Rigorous testing out of whether candidates can really deliver what they promise? That’s the rarity [in a Lib Dem leadership contest], and that’s particularly a problem where the contest is more about who is best able to deliver than between competing visions of what to deliver.
Occasionally a question really hits the money. More by luck than by judgement, my question at the staff hustings [in 2007] rather nicely revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of both Clegg and Huhne. I asked them what they’d learnt from each other: Chris’s answer was worthy but often dull, Nick’s answer starting gratuitously rude and ended up charmingly funny.
In short, Lib Dem members tend to be a bit too nice and gentle during contests. The big risk if we don’t really put candidates through their paces by asking tough questions and thinking deeply about key issues is that choices are made in a less well-informed manner – and the eventual winner is less well prepared to do the job.
We can put people on the spot politely and respectfully. But we do ourselves no favours if we don’t really put them on the spot.
The 2019 Lib Dem leadership election is being covered by me both in podcast form with Stephen Tall in Never Mind The Bar Charts (subscribe here) and in email newsletter form with Liberal Democrat Newswire (sign up here).