A look back at the polls (1/2): June

by Stephen Tall on July 1, 2008

We tend not to be too poll-obsessed here at LDV – of course we look at them, as do all other politico-geeks, but viewed in isolation no one poll will tell you very much beyond what you want to read into it. Looked at over a reasonable time-span and, if there are enough polls, you can see some trends.

Here, in chronological order, are the results of the eight polls published in June:

Tories 42%, Labour 26%, Lib Dems 21% – ICM/Sunday Telegraph (8th June)
Tories 45%, Labour 25%, Lib Dems 20% – Populus/Times (10th June)
Tories 45%, Labour 28%, Lib Dems 16% – MORI, unpublished (13th June)
Tories 43%, Labour 26%, Lib Dems 19% – ComRes/Independent (15th June)
Tories 47%, Labour 25%, Lib Dems 18% – YouGov/Sunday Times (15th June)
Tories 45%, Labour 25%, Lib Dems 20% – ICM/Guardian (25th June)
Tories 46%, Labour 28%, Lib Dems 15% – YouGov/Telegraph (27th June)
Tories 46%, Labour 25%, Lib Dems 18% – ComRes/Independent (28th June)

Which gives us an average rating for the parties in June as follows, compared with May’s averages:

Tories 45% (+1%), Labour 26% (-1%), Lib Dems 18% (n/c)

Perhaps the most notable feature of June’s polling is how it re-inforces the message which has been starting to emerge: the Tories comfortably in the mid-40%s, and Labour stuck in the 25-28% range. The smallest lead the Tories had over Labour in June was 16% (ICM); the largest was 22% (YouGov).

The picture is a little more mixed for the Lib Dems, owing yet again to the disparity in polling methodologies between the competing companies – with ICM, as is traditional, giving the party its best ratings, of 20-21%, with YouGov and Mori showing the party at 15-18%.

As there’s been quite a lot of self-abuse on the pages of Lib Dem Voice in the aftermath of the Henley by-election, I thought it would be worth looking at Lib Dem performances in June of years gone by to provide a direct comparison. Here goes:

June 1992: 15%
June 1993: 24%
June 1994: 21%
June 1995: 15%
June 1996: 15%
June 1997: 13%
June 1998: 14%
June 1999: 16%
June 2000: 15%
June 2001: 19%
June 2002: 20%
June 2003: 20%
June 2004: 20%
June 2005: 21%
June 2006: 19%
June 2007: 17%
June 2008: 18%

I’ve highlighted in bold those years which are in the equivalent stage of the electoral cycle to where we are now (ie, three years after a general election). Looked at over this range, the Lib Dems are doing better in 2008 than the party was prior to the 1997 and 2001 general elections; a little down on where we were before 2005.

Of course this approach averages out a lot of variables, not the least of which is that the Tories are currently polling higher than they previously have during the 1992-2008 period – and most Lib Dem seats have to be defended against the Tories. Still, looking at the party’s historical polling average does help contextualise some of the doom-mongering currently being put about by worried supporters and delighted foes alike.

One hypothetical, tangential thought to conclude… If there had been a blogosphere in 1994-95, in the aftermath of Mr Blair’s election as Labour leader when Lib Dem support slumped from high-20%s to mid-teens, what would have been the reaction? Would Paddy Ashdown have been given the time and space to lead the party into the ’97 election and double our number of MPs? Or would there have been a tumult of blog/media-inspired panic? As I say, just a thought.

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Some interesting thoughts – you certainly prove that a mid-term polling position of 18% is nothing particularly unusual. But as you point out, the big difference is that the Tories are much stronger in the polls now than they have been for many years (since 1983?).

The difference with the rise of Blair in the mid-90s is that to some degree we were able to improve our position owing to the New Labour landslide. I wouldn’t go so far to say that we made our big gains in 1997 “on Blair’s coat tails”, but it surely helped. We were able to consolidate and build in both 2001 and 2005 in the face of continuing dismal showings by the Tories.

As a matter of electoral fact, a disporportionate number of our battles are against the Conservatives in the south. Even a modest Tory revival therefore raises problems. A Conservative landslide – which now seems at least possible – threatens a lot of incumbent MPs (and makes many target seats much harder to gain). In the same way that a Labour landslide and Tory collapse assisted us in massively growing our representation in Parliament, the reverse scenario could – in theory – see a serious slip backwards. There’s no need to panic, but there is a need to address this problem head on.

by Mark Littlewood on July 1, 2008 at 6:49 pm. Reply #

Stephen no panic, no one wanting to change the leader or front bench team at all.
Rather a change in tactics and direction of how we fight elections, big or small and thats much harder to sort then a new leader.
If as mark points out we simply roll on as we have been doing since 97 then we could be in for a whopping in the south come 2010.
So I agree with Mark, lets face the problem head on, lets address the problems, find solutions and get on with it.
Endless debate and navel gazing is what our opponents would love, so lets not give them the satisfaction.

Change is needed no doubt, but lets get on and do it. Looking back is good for a benchmark but we must look forward, and not be tied by the baggage that history sometimes brings.

by Big Mak on July 1, 2008 at 7:50 pm. Reply #

“Of course this approach averages out a lot of variables, not the least of which is that the Tories are currently polling higher than they previously have during the 1992-2008 period – and most Lib Dem seats have to be defended against the Tories.”


As you have the data at your fingertips, maybe you could post the figures for the Tory lead over the Lib Dems at equivalent points in the last few electoral cycles.

by Anonymous on July 1, 2008 at 8:31 pm. Reply #

At last a thread bare of vitriol. Mark makes a relevant point as to the Lib Dem Tory balance. As one contested the ’83 & ’87 campaigns, was actively involved nationally in the ’92 & ’97 campaigns and a by-election campaigner since Sutton & Cheam I’ll share an observation or two. Tory revivals are challenging for Liberals. In 1970 the Libs were wiped out and we fell back in ’79. However those “blue chums” rubbing their hands with glee should pause a moment. The underlying strength of the Lib Dems lies in popular MPs and local community activists. There are vastly more of both now than it the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s.

As a Constituency Chair in an LD/Con fight I’m demanding far more work from my team. In the last few weeks we’ve collected self completed survey forms from 1,000 houses. They show a hardening of the Tory vote at about 25%. Labour were never strong and have vanished to the same levels of support as the UKIP/Green/BNP votes at 2-3% – rather as Henley. We’re at 18%.

The numerate will have spotted that 50% of voters are missing. Half of these are genuinely undecided/disinterested. The rest split 2:1 between LD or Con and LD or Lab.

Assuming we do a resonable job of pushing the LD/Labs our way then the LD/Cons and voting “undecideds” will define who wins in our patch.

My thesis is that in LD held seats and closer targets than mine, the same appliesn but our under-lying position is rather better.

Mark wasn’t part of the ’97 campaign. Then our issue was how to avoid “change” voters switching straight to Lab in seats that the Lib Dems could win/hold. We called it the “Man Utd effect” – I want to back the champions and not my local team. Unfortunately in too many seats we failed in that ground war; Wells and North Wiltshire are both good examples. However the hard work and target strategy paid off in many more.

This UK “change” mood is with is again. The same question applies but with the Blues rather than Reds.

In Paddy we had a man who captured part of that moment. In Blair, Labour had a leader and platform that encapsulated it. In Nick we have our Paddy, and more.

There’s absolutley no room for complacency but the evidence of Henley, May’s elctions in strong Lib Dem areas, the polls and on the ground work is that the deal the elctorate did with Blair has not as yet been done with Cameron. The Conservatives no this.

So the Lib Dems have a terrific opportuinity to secure a Parliamentary pressence on an unimaginable scale when thinking back to 1970.

We also have chances to build the liberal policy agenda and in bringing our campaigning approaches up-to-date.

We have 20-25 Labour-held seats in striking distance to win, more than at any election in 80 years, a strong front bench and a professional team. Much hard policy, communications and campaigning work lies ahead.

The prize of a liberal Government is available. There should be no compalcency, no defeatism but a real urgency to push the Party to embrace the opportunity. I for one am up for that!.

by liam on July 1, 2008 at 9:21 pm. Reply #


That seemed to start off quite sensibly, but it then veered off into “go back to your constituencies …” territory.

The questions that need to be asked are:
(1) what swing would be required for us to take 20-25 seats from Labour and
(2) what swing do the current opinion polls indicate – and bear in mind that Labour is already at record levels of unpopularity.

by Anonymous on July 2, 2008 at 12:04 am. Reply #

My reading of the polls to date is as follows:
LD – doing well in holding vote in held and target seats but slipping away in the rest therefore it appears we are doing badly in the polls.

Con – started off massing tory votes in tory seats and gaining in the polls but wouldn’t had much effect on the no of MPs, until Brown was un-masked and then the Tories started picking up Lab voters putting them in a good position for the next election.

I’m currently predicting a good election for the tories and the LDs exceeding pundits expectations by holding and gaining seats against all parties. But dropping back in many other seats so depressing the national share of the vote for the LDs

by Lloyd on July 2, 2008 at 12:10 am. Reply #

Liam, You say “The underlying strength of the Lib Dems lies in popular MPs and local community activists. There are vastly more of both now than it the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s.”

I appreciate that there’s a difference between membership and activists, but the former has been in pretty rapid long-term decline for some time.

The party now has around 62,000 members. this compares with a membership of 58,500 for the SDP at the time of the merger and – I think – about 120,000 for the LibDems. LibDem membership has, I believe, declined at each leaderhip election (and by about 10,000 between the 2006 and 2007 leadership election).

This isn’t unique to the LibDems of course, it’s been true of the otehr main parties too (I think I’m right that Conservative Party membrship has gone down udner Cameron…Labour party memebrship has been in freefall in recent years).

Perhaps the decline in membership has not been accompanied by a decline in activism. Perhaps our activists are now more efficient and better trained. You’re also quite right that our MPs are very good at “digging in”.

Nevertheless, the raw membership numbers make me rather nervous about relying for ever on local activism to deliver electoral success.

by Mark Littlewood on July 2, 2008 at 12:13 am. Reply #

Mark Littlewood wrote:
“The party now has around 62,000 members. this compares with a membership of 58,500 for the SDP at the time of the merger and – I think – about 120,000 for the LibDems.”

And wouldn’t that imply membership has decreased by another 4% or so since the leadership election 7 months ago?

That rate of loss would be on a par with the 10% decrease during Ming Campbell’s 18 months as leader.

by Anonymous on July 2, 2008 at 9:19 am. Reply #


The decline in membership for all Parties reflects both the increased volatility of the electorate and the lack of big issues that define/divide the Parties. Indeed these elements reinforce each other. This volatility/disillusion fuels the rise of fringe Party votes as the Lib Dems (and perhaps now both Plaid & the SNP) become more “establishment” by running things.

It also has enabled multi-Party politics to grow in the UK. Look back to 1979. The battleground was overwhelmingly Lab v Con barring a few dozen seats with Liberals & Nationalists in real contention in the Celtin fringes, plus Ulster. Now there are 150 seats where the battle features the LDs or Nats against Lab or Con.

There will be ebbs and flows of support but wider societal changes will see the continued growth of multi-party politics and more Constituencies that end up being fought between Parties other than “the big two”

At the same time the sophistication and professionalism of the non “big two” has developed dramatically.

The 80s saw record Lib & SDP memberships and votes but also two very frustrating elections (ask any of us that fought them!) A lack of focus and effective target work saw huge national votes wasted as they delivered only a couple of dozen seats.

There are LD & Nat Councillors not just present in Cities, Boroughs and Shires but running them. The resource and credibility that brings is dramatic. Again the trend in the last 30 years is one of sustained increases for these Parties and the smaller ones. I see little that will change that, while accepting there will be less good local elections particularly for the LDs from time to time.

All of this progress would be greatly enhanced by the development of a clear positionioning for the LIb Dems at the next GE. As you know only too well it is not easy to get sustained, positive media coverage outside of the requirements of the Representation of the People Act.

Perhaps those of us with longer memories can see a little more clearly that while these are challenging times there are many plus points. We have an excellent new leader, a strong front bench team, good organisation that will be strengthened by the Party adopting the Reform Commission proposals and very real prospects of another MP advance in 2010.

by Liam on July 2, 2008 at 10:48 am. Reply #

Others can probably improve on this analysis, but by my reckoning 25-30 LD gains from Labour needs uniform 8-9% swing, and requires us to gain seats like East Lothian [which, with due respect, I doubt is on many lists !!].

Our losses to the Tories on a uniform swing mount up as follows:

1% 5 seats
2% 4 more (=9)
3% 2 (11)
4% 2 (13)
5% 4 (17)
6% 5 (22)
7% 6 (28)
8% 2 (30)
9% 6 (36)
10% 4 (40)

Make of the figures what you will !

by crewegwyn on July 2, 2008 at 2:12 pm. Reply #

There’s another interesting situation that we can look at when it comes to the coming elections, which is party funding.

Labour are currently struggling – £24m in debt, and the Tories are being heavily bankrolled.

I think that one of the best campaigns we could run between now and the next general election is one that ensures that funding reform happens.

Just take a look at the difference in our funding situation vs what is democratic in the article on http://politicalfundingwatch.blogspot.com

I seriously think that Labour are in meltdown, and our big threat is now not the Tories policies, but their money.

The next election is going to be more a victory for The Ashcroft Party than a victory for The Conservative Party!

by Neale Upstone on July 2, 2008 at 7:07 pm. Reply #

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