Swinson versus Davey: what the (limited) polling evidence says so far

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.

Lib Dem leadership contest: Ed Davey and Jo Swinson on London Pride

Both the Liberal Democrat leadership candidates, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson, have been vocal in their support for London Pride, and rightly so. more

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).

7 responses to “Swinson versus Davey: what the (limited) polling evidence says so far”

  1. When the party’s being ignored, having a knack of getting media attention is a big plus. When the party is not being ignored (now, for instance, or during a general election campaign), how you use the media attention becomes much more important and that’s where judgment and not making a fool of yourself matter a lot.

    As the London hustings ended at 10 pm, which would have left me struggling to get home that night, and an East of England hustings hasn’t been arranged yet thanks in no small measure to HQ insisting it has to be on Cambridge graduation day, I may not get a chance to put a question face to face. The ones I’d like to ask are “How would you tackle relations with other political groups with whom co-operation might be possible?”, asking Jo to concentrate on ChangeUK and Ed to do the opposite; “A TV interviewer asks you what the Liberal Democrats are about. What is your short answer?”; “What have been your mistakes and how have you learnt from them?” and for Ed, “How would you inspire the Party?” and for Jo, “How do you deal with people trying to trip you up or stereotype you?”

  2. Jo stumbled on the future coalition question on Andrew Marr today. A missed opportunity to turn the question around and (learning from the 2015 result) say NO, the Lib Dems will NEVER enter into a coalition when so massively underrepresented in parliament relative to their popular vote and thereby on the back-foot in coalition policy negotiations. And that we would, however in such an event, be a constructive opposition voting done illiberal, harmful and cruel policies whilst being prepared to work with others on particular issues.

  3. It’s more difficult to test the candidates when you’re only allowed to put the same question to them both.

  4. Never’s a very very long time. Now, with Labour as a fringe party that might be kingmaker, will Corbyn put the Lib Dems or Nigel Farage into number ten?

  5. Could someone please persuade Jo Swinson to do several practice interviews in handcuffs? Her exaggerated gesturing like an apprentice TV reporter, on every point and non-point, really detracts from what she is sayinig, and makes it hard to take her seriously – an essential aspect of a would-be leader. The candidates’ views need to be examined of course, but so does the impression they make on the as yet unpersuaded.

  6. For me Ed is the man of the moment. Climate Change is very topical right now and he has the credentials on this. He has made it clear that he rules out a coalition with Con/Lab something Jo has failed to do. I have watched Jo on several interviews over the years and she is pretty invisible. I have seen her apologise for the coalition, austerity and for the bedroom tax. Yesterday she did better on Marr by pointing out the coalition was in a time of dire financial crises and that Labour’s manifesto was to make severe cuts like the Tories, then when he asked her about the Bedroom tax – or spare room subsidy as it should be known she said Libdems should have stopped that – She was a member of that government so she should know the facts!
    BBC News – Lib Dems accused of ‘hypocrisy’ over bedroom benefit rules https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28339128
    Labour has accused the Lib Dems of “unbelievable hypocrisy” over calls for changes to the benefit cut for people judged to have too many bedrooms.
    The changes, called the “bedroom tax” by critics but described by ministers as the removal of a “spare room subsidy”, were introduced last year in England, Scotland and Wales.
    Danny Alexander said the Lib Dems wanted to see “fairer rules”.
    The Tories called it a “cynical PR stunt” and stood by the reforms.

    Mr Alexander proposed that nobody should face a cut in state help if there was no suitable smaller property available, and that disabled claimants should be exempt.
    New tenants in the social rented sector should still be subject to the changes, he said, but existing tenants would only be penalised if they were offered a “suitable smaller home and, crucially, turn it down”.
    In his article, Mr Alexander said there was a problem of social housing which is under-occupied, while others are on a waiting list for such housing.
    He said the reform was made “with the best of intentions” but added: “We have always said that we’d be guided by the evidence and now we have it.”

    Jo also attacked the SNP in a tweet and it was very unpopular tweet – forming an alliance with the SNP would be more helpful than the hostile Con/Lab.

    For me Jo is wishy washy at best and a liability at worst, she will be chosen for all the wrong reasons and take the LibDems back to obscurity

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