Opinion polling, leaflets, podcasts and the general election: LDN #132

Liberal Democrat Newswire #132 came out at the start of the week. You can now read it in full below, but if you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future just sign up for it here.

Dr Mark Pack's Liberal Democrat Newswire - email header


This edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire takes a look at how the Liberal Democrat election campaign is going. Of course, the final result will depend not only on progress so far but also what happens between now and the close of polls. Lib Dem supporters can help influence that with these links:

The count for the Party President election, by the way, will be held after the general election.

Happy reading,


In this edition:

Jo Swinson being interviewed by the media on the Lib Dem general election bus - photo copyright John Russell johnrussell.zenfolio.com
Jo Swinson being interviewed on the Lib Dem general election bus. Photo copyright John Russell.

How is the Lib Dem campaign going?

A good starting point to answer that is the big YouGov/MRP election poll, released last week showing the Lib Dem vote share doubling compared with 2017 but the party’s seat tally only going up by one.

Here are five key points about that finding…

1. It’s only one poll and this particular MRP model has only been used in one previous general election. That said, it’s a big poll, the overall voting intentions are in line with other polls and the one time this MRP model was tried before, it got things spectacularly right.

2. The more detailed figures are also generally plausible – such as the Conservatives winning over Leave voters but shedding some Remain voters. How detailed though can MRP get with specific constituencies? Here’s my rule of thumb (which Ben Lauderdale, one of the brains behind this MRP model tweeted his agreement with):

My super-rough rule of thumb is to look at the average sample size in each seat (about 130 in this case); see how many multiples you need to get up to 1,000 (8 in this case); and then concluded that if a factor is present in that many seats then MRP should be able to cope.

— Mark Pack 🔶🎒 (@markpack) November 28, 2019

There’s definitely a difference in what Liberal Democrats think is happening in some areas (backed up by constituency polling results) and what the YouGov/MRP data shows. But given these margins of error for very specific local circumstances in such MRP analysis, it’s possible both that and the constituency polls will turn out to be right.

3. Overall, the picture shows the problem the Liberal Democrats face in starting first-past-the-post elections with such a small core vote compared with other parties. It makes the party far more prone to being squeezed, as I warned about before the election.

The big challenge for the party is to start future elections with a larger core vote.

Even so, the party is on double the level of national support than last time, though this turns into only one extra seat thanks to first-past-the-post.

Interestingly, one point John Curtice made when I did a podcast alongside him last week was that he thought the Liberal Democrat manifesto, or at least the way the party is promoting its contents, does not do enough to emphasis the other distinctively liberal aspects of the party’s position in addition to Brexit.

4. However, in several dozen seats the current vote shares – Conservatives ahead, Liberal Democrats not that far behind, large Labour vote still in play – are of the sort that, in a Parliamentary by-election this far out from polling day, would make you think the Lib Dems have an excellent chance of winning. Particularly because when the tactical vote squeeze works really well, it often also happens late in such a campaign. But will this general election play out like a series of Parliamentary by-elections? (2015 of course, very notably didn’t.)

For Liberal Democrat supporters, of course, the way to help make that answer to be ‘yes’ is to double-down on helping in target seats.

Overall, the MRP model puts the Liberal Democrats in first or second place in 134 seats compared with 50 in the 2017 general election.

5. The MRP results are not a prediction of the general election result for two reasons. First, they are based on what the public was saying at the time of the polling rather than a projection forward to what the public will do. But also, second, parties, candidates and voters can react to the results and change what they do.

In particular, it’s worth noting that Labour is planning to emphasise it is offering a route for Britain to leave the EU while Conservative Remainers may now be less worried about the prospect of Prime Minister Corbyn. That, in turn, could change people’s support for parties and so change the election result.

Jo Swinson being filmed on a smartphone - photo copyright John Russell johnrussell.zenfolio.com
Jo Swinson being filmed on a smartphone. Photo copyright John Russell.

How does the Lib Dem campaign look to those outside the party?

Stephen Tall and I discussed all this in greater length in the latest episode of the podcast Never Mind The Bar Charts, which you can listen to here.

The Lib Dem election campaign was also covered in two other podcasts I did last week:

  • The UK in a Changing Europe: “In this episode, we are joined by Professor Sir John Curtice, senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, Mark Wallace, executive editor of ConservativeHome, Sienna Rodgers, editor of LabourList and Mark Pack, editor of the Liberal Democrat Newswire with podcaster James Millar. They discuss all things elections and Brexit including emerging trends and changes in the polls, impact of the manifestos and TV debates and the state of the political parties.”
  • CapX: “With the general election just two weeks away we wanted to get the inside track from three party political experts on how their side’s campaign has gone so far, and what they expect to happen on December 12. From the Lib Dems we welcomed Mark Pack, the Editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire. From Labour, Sienna Rodgers, the Editor LaboutList, and completing the line-up was the regular CapX contributor and Assistant Editor of ConservativeHome, Henry Hill.”

📱 Find Never Mind The Bar Charts on Twitter, give feedback and send in questions for future shows at @barchartpodcast.

🎧 You can also find Never Mind The Bar Charts on the web on in your favourite podcast app.

Liberal Democrat Newswire is provided for free. Thank you so much to all the kind readers who donate to help cover its costs. It’s quick and easy to sign up for a small regular donation with your debit card using GoCardless:
Thank you! (Other donation options, including by PayPal or cheque, are here.)

Tom Brake and Siobhan Benita pick up coffee lessons on the campaign trail - photo copyright John Russell johnrussell.zenfolio.com
Tom Brake and Siobhan Benita pick up coffee lessons on the campaign trail. Photo copyright John Russell.

Key election snippets

🔶 The full Liberal Democrat manifesto, including costings, is out. You can buy a printed version here.

🔶 That manifesto is more generous to the poorest than either the Conservative or even the Labour manifesto – so says the Resolution Foundation.

🔶 Two Liberal Democrat party political broadcasts are out – one about Jo Swinson’s background and one about the impact of Brexit on people across the country.

🔶 Quite the range of former Conservatives are now backing the Liberal Democrats in various forms: a Conservative peer, a former Conservative MP, a former Conservative MEPa former Conservative minister, another former Conservative minister – a trade expert no less, and even a former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister.

🔶 But there’s support too from other political viewpoints, including one of the most famous figures of the New Labour eratwo well-known TV presenters and a famous actor turned campaigner. The Women’s Equality Party has also stood down in favour of the Lib Dems in some seats and the founder of the Renew Party is now a Liberal Democrat candidate.

You don’t have to wait a month for the next Liberal Democrat Newswire email for further news and resources. You can check out the other email lists I run at www.libdemnewswire.com and you can also find online my guides to canvassing and leafleting, my guide to what the Lib Dems believe and my collection of online campaigning tools and resources.

Waterside Focus leaflet - photo courtesy of ALDC

No, you’re not getting too many leaflets

In case you missed them the first time around, here are highlights from my websites since last time:

⭐ Q. Are we delivering too many leaflets? A. No, and here’s why…

The very different reactions of Remainers and Leavers to Jo Swinson.

What will the impact of the late surge in electoral registration be?

Caroline Voaden is the new leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs.

Antoinette Sandbach goes full Liberal Democrat.

📺 Media has a fair share of the blame for fake news about ITV election debate.

How political pundits are ignoring a third of people.

🚪 10 ways to get more people canvassing.

What the voters are saying, part 1

Latest national voting intention polls as of 1 December 2019

For all the constituency opinion polls, see my round-up here.

To get updates about voting intention opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked.

To see all the historical trends for voting intention polls back to 1943 see PollBase.

What the voters are saying, part 2

Only three weeks of by-elections since last time, but plenty of seats changing hands:

🗳️ Lib Dems gain two seats from Conservatives in England but miss out on Scottish gain by two votes.

🗳️ Strong Conservative showing in this week’s council by-elections.

🗳️ Liberal Democrats gain council seat from Conservatives with huge swing.

Outside of elections, Liberal Democrats in Derby picked up a new councillor from the Conservatives.

To get the full council by-election results every week, sign up for my blog posts digest and to be prepared for a council by-election in your patch, see my 7-step guide to getting ready in advance.

@goknockdoorsld tweet about Lib Dems not always holding posters the right way up

Other Liberal Democrats in the news

Layla Moran warns of Brexit brain drain as EU academics quit.

Ed Davey calls out Boris Johnson as possibly ‘most untruthful’ PM of all time.

Dominic Raab’s Lib Dem challenger warns him: “We Are Going To Win”.

Thank you for reading

If you enjoyed reading this, please do share the sign-up page with other people you know. Thank you!

Best wishes,


What did you think of this edition?

I really value the views of readers as it helps me decide what to include in future editions.

18 responses to “Opinion polling, leaflets, podcasts and the general election: LDN #132”

  1. I certainly agree with John Curtice that we have neglected our other policies for a near total concentration on opposing Brexit -not just in recent weeks but for the last 3 years.

    As for your constant Core Vote argument I’m not sure how deliberately rejecting the majority of the electorate from day one can be deemed a helpful approach in a FPTP General Election -relatively successful as it may have been (in 2019 but not in 2014) in the low turnout PR EU elections.

    • The SNP in Scotland could be characterised as ‘deliberately rejecting the majority of the electorate’ (i.e. still pushing for independence even though a majority are against in, including even in the referendum on the topic). Their FPTP general election results have been ones I think we’d have been quite happy to emulate?

    • It isn’t the focus on opposing Brexit that is the problem. It is the focus on opposing Brexit combined with focusing on attacking the Labour Party instead of the government, when everybody knows that there is no prospect of stopping Brexit unless the Labour party holds its seats. It makes it patently obvious to everyone that we don’t actually put our policies ahead of our election results. And it seems it doesn’t even help our election results. It is time for a change of strategy. We will never persuade the Labour leadership to cooperate, but we can easily persuade Labour voters with a gesture of solidarity to stop Brexit. We don’t need to make any promises to govern with Labour. We just need to join with them in defeating Conservatives. Why not pull out in Uxbridge? https://twitter.com/Hugodixon/status/1200067150511251457?s=20

      • Because many soft Tories will bote for us but not Labour. If we pulled out, they’d go back to the Tories.

      • I would like to see some evidence for this. Some votes would go back to Tories, but others would go to Labour. But the point here is not only about the effect in Uxbridge itself, it would send a national message. We have not missed an opportunity to dissuade Labour voters from tactically backing Lib Dems.

  2. But the SNP have the advantage that all their main opponents in Scotland had self destructed by 2015 (when they swept the board) -the Cons had done so long before under Thatcher, Labour did so under Blair/Brown and the Lib Dems in the Coalition (the Westminster one not the previous very successful Edinburgh one). There is also the principle of becoming a big fish in a small pool.

    That is not true of the Lib Dems principal opponents across England and Wales while at Westminster we are a small fish in a big pool.

    Also of course the SNP have not made the mistake of solely concentrating on Independence. They have clear and forthright policies on much else and have a track record in Government which so far has not seen them crash and burn. It is not unusual (although obviously not the norm) to hear/read SNP voters being interviewed who say they don’t support Independence.

  3. Appreciate your take on this Mark – another reason that I always read your stuff (topical, tough evidence based and fearless).
    The ground game in competitive constituencies is the key at any election. This time round there are so few “easy wins” that neither the Conservatives or Labour can take their eyes off at least 375 seats out of more than 615 where they are standing .
    A volatile voter population and a draining narrative that shows up the poor leaders on offer by the two “big beasts” make for an exciting last 13 days of effort.
    Being in the top two in more than 120 constituencies is a big chance – we are the real Opposition on the big issues and the strategic direction of our four nations, versus the echo chamber of the JC fan club and the inner politburo of the Guardian.

  4. Mark. After a period of stability, our national poll rating has declined in the last few days for no obvious external reason. Do you have a view please as to why this might have happened?

    • #3 above (though also don’t read too much into very small apparent movements over short time periods – they are far more often statistical noise rather than real changess).

  5. I had hoped the LDs would commit to revoking Article 50 if they won a majority. But I’d also hoped they’d come up with a less clumsy way of presenting their policy – saying we would simply take an executive decision came across as arrogant. This gave the opposition the chance to call it as anti-democratic (despite it needing a massive democratic mandate from the electorate).
    I still think we should campaign to stop Brexit (it is a stupid idea, badly executed, that will do untold harm to our country). But we must put forward a more obviously democratic way of doing it – a way of explaining the ‘how’ of Revoke that shows we respect parliamentary democracy (so badly undermined by the Tories) and the original referendum (however dodgy it may have been).
    We should explain (even if no one is listening) that Revoke would involve a double-lock – parliament and people – to ensure we were getting it right. Too often over the last few years the Tories have ignored both and ended up making bad decisions – hence the appalling mess of the Article 50 negotiations.
    Our approach – if by some miracle we commanded a majority of MPs (which would involve a massive swing in public opinion – or perhaps a hung parliament if we are lucky) should be as follows:
    1. We would consult parliament – and ask MPs to approve, in principle, the revoking of Article 50 subject to a people’s vote.
    2. If parliament agrees, we would ask the people to confirm that decision – simple question: do you agree we should revoke article 50 and stay in the EU. (No need to offer alternative at this stage.)
    3. If the people said yes, we’d revoke; if they said no, we’d consult with parliament and talk to the EU about possible alternative versions of ‘leave’ (including Norway ++ / Common Market 2.0 – with freedom of movement, which apparently 60% of voters want to keep!).
    4. Note: if parliament said no at step 2, we go to the second stage consultation with MPs and the EU first to come up with with a ‘better’ form of Brexit if possible. This is the Labour stage but they are not proposing consulting parliament before starting negotiations with the EU.
    5. If parliament approved step 3 in principle (subject to public confirmation) we’d put the new deal to the people but with the option to remain as an alternative.
    Probably too late (can’t believe Johnson is doing so well while being so utterly dreadful) – but if there is a chance to admit we got it wrong and came across as too arrogant, admit we have listened to the people, admit that what started with a referendum needs to end with one (as Tony Blair has repeatedly said) – and still have a policy distinct from Tories and Labour.
    We may salvage something, if nothing less than a bit of dignity.

    • Given that the policy of “revoke if majority, PV if not” has turned out to be difficult to explain and get across to voters, no-one is going to understand this more complex proposal (which boils down to “People’s Vote”).

    • May I suggest an alternative sequence:

      1. Revoke Article 50 (without prejudice re Leave/Remain – simply to block an ‘accidental’ no deal Leave, and to provide a neutral non-confrontational ‘frame of reference’ for all ongoing EU discussions and negotiations). After all, we could always Re-Invoke Article 50 if the Leave lobby ever manages to put a coherent proposition together.

      2. Encourage the Leave lobby to put a coherent proposition together (i.e. including a coherent proposition to moderate the Ireland conundrum).

      3. If and when the Leave lobby has put a coherent proposition together (including securing positive support in the Commons and the EU), and is willing to submit that proposition to ‘the people’ in a new EU Referendum, hold a new EU Referendum (Remain vs Leave).

      4. If ‘the people’ vote for Remain, Remain. If ‘the people’ vote for Leave, Re-Invoke Article 50, and Leave.

  6. Is it just me or did this edition finish very abruptly, with Stephen cut off mid-sentence when talking about the leader being front and centre of the campaign? How long was it meant to be?

  7. I agree with Huw Sayer: we should modestly emphasize that we will only revoke if we get 17.5 million or more votes (i.e. more than Leave got in the referendum) and 325 or more MPs. Of course, this is about as likely as winning a big prize on Euromillions, so in practice we should be willing to go along with Corbyn’s idea of renegotiating Johnson’s bad deal (with input from Lib Dems & SNP, etc.) and then putting it to the British people in a new referendum: ‘Do you want to remain in the EU on the current terms or leave on the terms re-negotiated?’ As the second referendum, like the first, will be ‘advisory’ (non-binding), parliament will still need time to debate the result, vote, agree the final version with the EU Council (revoking will be easier than Norway+ or whatever), and get the EU Parliament’s ratification. I reckon that all this would take at least 7 months, so we should say right now that we will campaign to renew the Brexit deadline until the end of August at the earliest. I don’t think this is too hard for the average floating voter to understand and it would show a level of realism, common sense and honesty that, say, 9 million rational people out of an electorate of 48 million might find refreshing and worth voting for. It might also help the process of national reconciliation by showing Leavers that Remainers are willing to negotiate and compromise.

  8. I think John Curtice has a good point and not just about the manifesto. Brexit is clearly the election’s number one issue, but no general election has ever been on one issue alone. It’s always harder for us to answer the question “What are you about?” than for Labour or the Tories because people think they know the answers (for defending decency and hard-won wealth and not wasting money; for standing up for the poorer half of society and public services). But sometimes we don’t try. When we try, it can work. For a lot of people, 1p on income tax for education made us the party of education. In 1974 the Liberal Party was the party of devolution. So, ignoring Brexit for the moment, what two main things do we characteristically stand for, in two short sentences, no subordinate clauses or lists?

  9. A factor that no one seems to be mentioning is postal voting. In 2017 18% of all voters were postal, so more than one vote in five may have already been cast – while Johnson is still avoiding scrutiny. That sets the base for the final result. Should predictions based on polls from now on not assume that any further change relates only to 80% of the votes?

    • How do you slice off the 20% that have already voted by postal ballot? It must vary from constituency to constituency.
      In our constituency (Hornsey and Wood Green) postal voters, from anecdotal evidence, fall into two distinct categories: (i) the elderly and the infirm and (ii) affluent white collar professionals with busy lives. The first group show an absence of Lib Dem and Greens support as they stick to their tribal allegiances to either of the main parties and the second group tend to be floating voters more likely to switch their support to Lib Dems this time round.
      But in in the neighbouring constituency of Tottenham, postal voters will be either (i) ethnic minorities who vote as a bloc and (ii) young students and young professionals who lead peripatetic lives. Both groups overwhelmingly support Labour.

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