Okay, so here come some polls

by Stephen Tall on October 7, 2007

I do love it when Iain Pravdale gets his knickers in a twist about the failure of Lib Dem Voice to turn itself into the kind of insta-pundit knee-jerk blog he relishes. This time it’s because we haven’t obsessed about the latest AnyansweryouwantGov poll showing the party at 12%.

For the record, LDV has no policy about whether or not it covers individual opinion polls. I guess we’re more likely to highlight one that’s good for the party than the contrary – we’re only human – but to be honest I think there are more interesting and important things to blog about in politics. And anyway Alex Wilcock sometimes pops up here to put the full range of polls in some perspective.

It’s not that I don’t read the polls. Of course I do, along with every other political nerd. I just happen to think they too often become an unhelpfully useless distraction in political debate. Had the Tories paid a little less attention to those hypothetical polls suggesting Labour’s popularity would plummet with Gordon Brown’s succession, they might have been a little bit better prepared for his honeymoon.

Besides, the polls love to predict the demise of the Lib Dems. In 1997, the polls said we were going to be buried by Tony Blair’s landslide. In 2001, the polls said Charles Kennedy would lose his still rock-solid seat. Admittedly, our chances were talked up in 2005, but there was then an exceptional once-in-a-generation issue dividing the Lib Dems from the two larger parties.

Had an election been called this week for 1st/8th November, here’s how the five most recent polls were reporting the standing of the Lib Dems compared with the equivalent stage at the last three elections:

1997: 11% (Gallup), 14% (Mori), 10% (Harris), 18% (ICM), 11% (Mori).
Average according to polls: 13%. Actual result in general election: 17% (+4% during campaign).

2001: 13% (Mori), 13% (NOP/Powerhouse), 11% (NOP/Powerhouse), 13% (NOP), 13% (Gallup).
Average according to polls: 13%. Actual result in general election: 19% (+6% during campaign).

17% (Communicate), 16% (Communicate), 21% (ICM), 19% (NOP), 19% (Populus).
Average according to polls: 18%. Actual result in general election: 23% (+5% during campaign).

2007: 16% (Ipsos-Mori), 13% (YouGov), 16% (ICM), 15% (Populus), 11% (YouGov).
Average according to polls: 14%.

So there you have it. The Lib Dems would have been doing worse than at the same stage in 2005; a little better than in either 1997 or 2001. I think, therefore, we can be forgiven for taking the hysteria of some bloggers – suggesting some kind of Lib Dem wipe-out – with as much of a pinch of salt as their self-belief they were destined to become the MP for Norfolk North.

Is this polling performance one the Lib Dems should be delightedly ecstatic with? Of course not. We can, should and must do better. All of which is to state the bleedin’ obvious.

But do I regard the current Lib Dem performance as so remarkably poor that it is worthy of comment each and every time YouGov decides to give us a poor mark? Frankly, no. Nor would any serious political commentator, either.