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Exclusive polling analysis, local liberal heroes and more
Thursday 5 January 2012
Welcome to my first newsletter of 2012, which this month majors on the political prospects for the Liberal Democrats, including exclusive polling analysis and a look at the trend in local council by-elections. For some light relief at the end, you can watch two of the funniest clips of political canvassing from our TV screens.
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Thanks for reading,
In this newsletter:
What’s happened to Lib Dem voters?
An exclusive new analysis of polling data shows what has happened to people who said in May 2010 they were voting Liberal Democrat.
One of pitfalls of polling is that if you ask people how they voted in a previous election, their answers get increasingly less accurate over time. People like to think they voted for the winner, that they did not vote for whoever is unpopular at the moment of asking and also tend to forget any last minute switches. However, as YouGov recorded what people actually told them in May 2010 and has polled many of them again since, its records can strip out this problem and reveal what what changes have really taken place.
The usual polling caveats apply, including that YouGov’s final poll results in May 2010 over-estimated Liberal Democrat support and that its results can vary from other pollsters. So it would be unwise to draw conclusions based on decimal points. The broad picture, however, is clear – and in fact the findings help explain those pollster differences.
It is a stark picture: of people who said they voted Lib Dem at the time of the general election, only around a quarter are still Liberal Democrat voters. Another quarter have switched to don’t know, an additional quarter to Labour and the rest are scattered across the other options.
The smallness of the switch to the Conservatives (under 10%) mirrors the pattern from council elections – Lib Dem / Conservative fights are generally much more promising for the party than Lib Dem / Labour ones.
A big churn in the Liberal Democrat vote is not in itself anything new. The best political science estimates over previous general elections are that only around half of those who vote Lib Dem at one general election did so again at the next. In the past, however, such churn has seen new voters come in to replace those being lost. This time that has mostly not happened, with only 1% of Labour and Conservative 2010 voters having switched to the Liberal Democrats.
There is some consolation to be found in that as many people have switched to don’t know as Labour. Perhaps helped by Ed Miliband’s lukewarm impact as Leader of the Opposition, these voters have been put off, but not so alienated as now to be backing someone else.
(The large chunk of ex-Lib Dems who are now don’t knows also explains the systematic differences in results from different pollsters, because the way in which such don’t knows are treated is one of the major differences in their methodologies. YouGov’s methodology treats these don’t knows more harshly than ICM’s from a Lib Dem perspective, for example.)
Nine in ten tactical voters lost
It is therefore not a surprise to see that amongst ex-Lib Dems, 43% put themselves on the centre left or left when asked to place themselves on the political spectrum (picking 0-4 on a scale of 0 – left – to 10 – right). This rises to 59% amongst those who have switched to Labour. Amongst those who have stuck with the Liberal Democrats the figure is only 29%, although much of the difference is explained by more loyalists than switchers plumping for the dead centre option – 31% compared with 22%.
Three groups for the party to target
This makes the switch to the party’s new CONNECT electoral database timely, as it will make it easier to identify and target these three different groups. So if nothing else, a good new year’s resolution for local Liberal Democrat campaigners is to be extra nice to their local data officer as they ask them to push the limits of their ability to tease out information from old data and past voting patterns – and then to get out on the doorsteps to expand that knowledge.
You can view the full data at https://www.markpack.org.uk/files/2012/01/YouGov-Lib-Dem-2010-analysis.xls. Thank you to YouGov and Anthony Wells for providing this data. The total sample size was 17,448 adults, of whom 4,300 were Liberal Democrat voters in May 2010. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st October – 30th November 2011 and the results also make use of the answers which the same people gave in May 2010. The survey was carried out online and the figures have been weighted. YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council.
Local by-elections: recovery continues
Week by week local by-election results can fluctuate greatly thanks to the luck of the draw over which seats are up. However, aggregated over longer periods the pattern of results does say something about the state of the parties, as you can see from this analaysis of the more than 90 council by-elections since the May 2011 elections.
The sort of consistent vote share gains seen in November and December is still a long way short of past opposition heydays, but the trend has been one of consistent recovery from May’s nadir.
There won’t be a general election in 2012
You wouldn’t know it from reading some political pundits or would-be pundits, but the old rules for Prime Ministers calling snap elections have been scraped.
During 2011 Parliament passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, ending the old power of the PM to call a election whenever it suited their own political self-interest.
As I wrote for the London School of Economics:
Tim Gordon starts as Lib Dem Chief Executive
January 2012 sees new Liberal Democrat Chief Executive Tim Gordon take up his post.
Tim is a long-standing activist and his professional life started at the Financial Times, before working at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and most recently as Group Development Director at European Directories, a large European media company.
The recent Liberal Democrat Voice survey of party members showed a huge range of priorities that party members think he should take-up, including sorting out the party’s main political message. I think that’s wrong, as I explained in an open letter to him:
December saw a big win for Vince Cable’s vision of banking reform with the Conservatives commiting to implement the Independent Commission on Banking’s final report in full, including Parliament legislating before the next election.
The bank industry’s lobbying for a slower implementation than Vickers recommended has been rejected.
How members have changed their views of senior Lib Dems
Jeremy Browne, Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Lynne Featherstone are the four Liberal Democrat ministers to have significantly increased their standing in the eyes of party members in 2011.
Liberal Democrat Voice has regularly surveyed party members through the year, asking if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the performance of leading party figures.
Aside from this quartet’s improvement, an honourable mention should also go to Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael, who has a role which traditionally is only high profile when it is going wrong. However, thanks to his assiduous and funny use of Facebook, he has continued to see his ratings quietly move up through the year.
The top five Liberal Democrats in the December 2011 survey, with their net scores, were:
The bottom five were:
Meanwhile, when asked about Nick Clegg, 65% of members said in the final 2011 survey they are satisfied with his performance as party leader, with the net score of +32% confirming the recovery from the lows of +19% and +17% early in 2011. The recovery still has some way to go to return to the net scores of over +60% he scored in the summer of 2010 however.
(Note: unlike the similar surveys carried out by ConHome and LabourList, only paid-up current party members are able to take part in the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys.)
Ian Swales comes out fighting
The Liberal Democrat MP for Redcar was in particularly pugnacious mood over the Christmas break, penning a list of twelve cuts that Labour doesn’t like to to talk about.
Ian Swales wrote,
Elsewhere from me…
This month’s local liberal hero: Poddy Clark
In my experience, the Liberal Democrats are little different from most other organisations in one respect: we don’t say thank you often enough. So I have been writing a series of profiles of local liberal heroes, both to thank and praise them and also, I hope, to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
Southwark’s Poddy Clark is the latest:
My latest books
Campaigning In Your Community – co-written with Shaun Roberts, it is a guide for both the new and the experienced to making the most of genuinely local campaigning, building an effective team to help give residents more power over their own lives.
Peace, Reform and Liberation – a one-volume history of the Liberal Democrats and its predecessors since 1679. I’ve co-authored the first chapter.
Campaign Corner: Is it better for a candidate to have a website or a blog?
From my weekly Campaign Corner series, in which three tips are providing to answer common campaign questions: I’m standing in May and not sure what matters most – my website, having a blog or both?
You can read the other Campaign Corners here – and let me know if there are any particular questions you would like to see answered in future weeks.
And in other news…
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