How close is the Lib Dem leadership race?

by Stephen Tall on November 23, 2007

The short answer is: no-one knows.* And don’t expect to become any the wiser today as a result of The Guardian’s ‘sample of members’, despite the paper’s assertions of its significance.

The Guardian asked c.200 of the 300 Lib Dem members present at Wednesday night’s Cambridge hustings how they would vote. Here’s what they said: 85 backed Chris Huhne; 42 backed Nick Clegg; and 83 did not express a preference.

To be fair to the Guardian, they do enter some major caveats: this isn’t a representative sample of members; the east of England is, they say, a strong area for Chris; and activists who attend hustings are not the same as ‘armchair’ members.

Despite this, the paper still confidently reports that the figures “offer a good indication of the mood of the party”.


In which case, it’s worth recalling The Guardian’s equivalent ‘poll’ during the last leadership contest, taken after the 23 February London hustings back in 2006, which showed:

Chris on 36%;
Ming Campbell on 29%; and
Simon Hughes on 21%.

These kinds of polls fill newspaper column inches; but have absolutely no predictive powers, except by fluke. Even the forthcoming YouGov poll (see James Graham yesterday – I’ve also filled one in) should be taken with a pinch of salt, as its one full survey in 2006 proved to be wide of the mark.

Meanwhile, the two candidates have both published articles in The Guardian in the last two days:

Nick Clegg’s appeared yesterday: Time for a power shift
Chris Huhne’s appears today: Radicalism will serve us

* (Though I imagine the candidates’ campaign teams have a better idea than most through their phone canvassing.)

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Badly conducted opinion polls are an absolute menace. Opinion polls do influence the outcome of elections, so those conducting them really should make every effort to get them right.

Every all-member poll the Liberal Democrats and its predecessors have ever conducted has favoured those candidates best known to members. With one exception. And that is 2006, when Chris Huhne leapfrogged the better-known Simon Hughes.

I think Chris probably is better-known than Nick, though there may not be much in it. After all, Chris has stood for the leadership before; Nick hasn’t.

And Chris has the advantage over Nick of having a high profile in the South-East, where there are more members.

If Chris wins by a narrow margin, we may find that Nick carries more than half the regions.

And Stephen. That 2006 poll got one thing right – the weakness of the Hughes campaign. What it underestimated was Ming’s strength among armchair members.

by Angus J Huck on November 23, 2007 at 9:55 am. Reply #

We won’t “find” that Nick carries half the regions because all the votes will be counted centrally with no regional breakdown. We’ll never know.

by James Graham on November 23, 2007 at 10:23 am. Reply #

I got my ballot papers today.

In it was a leaflet from Huhne urging me to take up the NEW LIB DEM MANTRA:

“Do it like Chris”

Can anyone tell me what doing ‘the Chris’ looks like?

Is it a new funky dance?
Is it a sexual position?
is it a new poster campaign?
A new election slogan?

Someone from the Huhne camp please enlighten us!!

by Voting member on November 23, 2007 at 10:32 am. Reply #

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