LDV members’ survey (4): why are the Lib Dems not doing better in the opinion polls?

by Stephen Tall on November 29, 2008

Over the last week, Lib Dem Voice has invited the members of our private forum (open to all Lib Dem members) inviting them to take part in a survey, conducted via Liberty Research, asking a number of questions about the party and the current state of British politics. Many thanks to the 210+ of you who completed it; we’re publishing the results this week on LDV.

A couple of weeks ago, LDV featured the results of one of PoliticsHome’s PH100 surveys of ‘experts and insiders’, which asked the following question:

“The Lib Dems have set the agenda on tax cuts, have long been warning about excessive personal debt, in Vince Cable possess one of the most authoritative voices on the economic crisis, and were not damaged by ‘Yachtgate’. What is the one most important reason that the party has so far seen no benefit in the opinion polls?”

I thought it might be interesting to ask the exact same question of party members completing the LDV survey, to compare and contrast the results. So, here’s what you told us (with the corresponding percentage of the PoliticsHome panel in brackets):

>> 25.5% (14%) – The party has failed to get its message across clearly enough
>> 19.3% (23%) – In a time of crisis, the government tends to benefit rather than either opposition party
>> 41.0% (34%) – The media hasn’t paid as much attention to the Lib Dems as the other parties
>> 12.7% (28%) – Other
>> 1.4% (-) – Don’t know / No opinion

Both LDV members and the PH100 panel seem to be in agreement that one of the major factors in the Lib Dem poll ratings not being higher is the neglect of the party by the mainstream media.

Those of us who are familiar with the feistiness of the Lib Dem membership won’t perhaps be so very surprised to see that party members are more inclined than PH100’s non-party members to be critical of the Lib Dems! As I wrote at the time:

… there’s been a fair degree of self-flagellation in recent weeks that the Lib Dem poll ratings have dropped a notch or two during the current economic crisis: ‘Vince is seen as a pundit, not a Lib Dem’, ‘Nick’s not been clear enough’ etc. I’m not suggesting there are no criticisms to be made. But sometimes, y’know, the party doesn’t get the immediate credit it deserves for being ahead of the curve, and that’s not always the fault of any individual within the party.

Of those who picked ‘Other’ a few commented that it was not the lack of clarity in the party’s message, but rather it’s lack of distinctiveness, as reflected by this member: “Tax cuts aren’t different enough. LibDems need six hard hitting, radically different, policy areas which can be shown absolutely to benefit individuals, families and communities – rather than just satisfy LibDem dogma.”

Of those one-quarter of you who picked the option, ‘The party has failed to get its message across clearly enough’, here’s a sample of your comments:

“The media do not pick up when either the gov or opposition pinch Lib Dem policies. But this is as much our fault as theirs.”
“We need to be pushing our merits in the press every day!”
“Vince is recognised as a wise commentator on these issues. However, most people do not have a clear enough sense of how we would do things differently.”
“I think people see Vince as one of the many experts lined up by the media to give their views; like Robert Peston and other financial experts; people perhaps do not associate him strongly with the Libdems. I have noticed that recently we have started to field Nick Clegg, as leader, on these matters; but unfortunately he does not yet seem to have the recognition factor necessary for it to rub off on our ratings. I applaud his PMQ performances though; he is not afraid to hammer home an argument; but most people do not see PMQs; and as with this week’s PMQs, Cameron has 6 questions to steal our thunder and initiatives.”
“The media aren’t paying us any attention, but they never do, and they never will. Bitching about it won’t make that change; it’s in the media’s interests to keep us a two party state so they will pay us as little attention as they think they can get away with. In the meantime, it’s up to us to get our message out there by other means; the failure is therefore ours.”
“You can’t argue the press hasn’t given Vince considerable airtime. The Lib Dems are still not seen as a viable government, for whatever reason.”

And, finally, here’s some of what the 40%+ of you who primarily blamed the media for the fact that the party isn’t currently riding high in the polls said:

“We aren’t strong enough as a party in those parts of London where the BBC producers and reporters live. If there’s no Lib Dem representation in Hammersmith, why should the BBC take us seriously. We could do worse than target known BBC personnel for focus leaflets and direct mail.”
“This is always the problem. What we say – works for a vast majority I think… they just can’t hear us. I have ‘converted’ relatives and friends by simply presenting the information – no hard sell required when they read the simple, logical policies we have.”
“It is difficult for Vince. We’d all like him to push the Lib Dem message more, but maybe because he is seen as ‘above politics’ that is why he gets so much attention. I still think, come the General Election, Vince will come into his own, and will form a potent double-act with Nick.”
“I know that this option sounds like a cop out, but it’s true.”
“In fairness, I feel that the TOries have suffered a bit from this too, with the media, especially television, uncritically following Mr Brown round the world as he talks big and acts late
“The general stranglehold that the “two opposing sides” narrative has means we hardly ever appear in media reportage of the general situation, only occasionally when they talk about policy specifically.”
“We are not part of the media narrative at the moment, which is the government vs a government in waiting. We figure only in the context of a hung parliament. I’m not sure that there’s a lot we can do about this, to be honest, other than currying as much favour with the media as possible so that we get as much coverage as possible.”
“But whilst being ahead of the game, being Cassandras if you like, may feel good, when otehrs catch up the benefit will always disappear. We need a more radical agenda that we can really fight the other parties on – something that they have to explain why they would not adopt it rather than something they simply nick and incrementally build on.”
“The media ignore us, but we are hopeless at managing and addressing that. The Lib Dems should spend a lot more resources on getting a few, focussed messages across the media.”

You can read the results of all our LDV members’ surveys by clicking here.

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A year or so ago I started posting to LibDem blogs because it was quite certain to me that a step the party then seemed certain to make, and which many in the media and in these blogs were telling us we must make and it would lead to a big rise in support, would lead the party to where it is now.

After that I said I would take the approach that if there is nothing good one can say about somebody, it is better to say nothing at all.

I have for the past year said nothing at all about Nick Clegg.

by Matthew Huntbach on November 29, 2008 at 10:32 am. Reply #

Hee! I spy my comment!

by Jennie on November 29, 2008 at 10:42 am. Reply #

Matthew Huntbach, why you then have said anything at all about anything? I haven’t seen you saying anything positive during the last year.

by Anonymous on November 29, 2008 at 3:57 pm. Reply #

ICM in the Guardian today asked which party had the best economic team. Brown and Darling beat Cameron and Osborne by 46-37. Apparently there weren’t any other teams on the field.

My feeling is that ICM weren’t being unfair. We just don’t field a team. We field Vince, and separately, we field Nick. They do not attempt to present themselves as a team. The other parties do.

This could just possibly have something to do with the fact that we are losing!

Vince is establishing a great reputation – but as a one-man guru, not as a Liberal Democrat, and certainly not as a team player. Why that is, and whose “fault” it is, I do not know. Perhaps someone closer to the centre can enlighten us. Somehow, it has to be put right.

by David Allen on November 29, 2008 at 7:02 pm. Reply #

What is it that you think Vince and Nick are doing/not doing that means they don’t present themselves as a team? I’m not really sure I understand what you mean. I don’t feel that Cameron and Osborne are particulalrly a “team” (I think most people see Osborne, quite rightly, as a waste of space). I’m not sure Darling and Brown are a “team” – it’s clear who makes all the decisions there. You may be right, but I’m not clear on exactly what you think suggests that it’s the case.

by Grammar Police on November 29, 2008 at 9:23 pm. Reply #

GP: Well, Nick and Vince don’t explicitly disagree on much, but there’s just no real chemistry between them. Nor is there very much effort to look like a team – approving remarks by one about the other, coordinated simple messages, etc etc. I don’t know how well they get on, either personally or in terms of policy viewpoint. I would be tempted to suggest that perhaps they don’t.

Brown and Darling, I suspect, have some tensions. But being in government they have to pull it together and defend the same thing. As a result it is not too difficult for them at least to look like a team.

Cameron and Osborne do reinforce each other quite well in putting over a simple, brutal, fairly dishonest message, which is – Labour have loused up, now it’s our turn. They do look like a team. Their lack of ideas is obvious to the minority of people who take a deep interest in politics. Sadly, the majority will probably be quite happy to give them a try.

To look like a team, we need to have some sense of unity. For example, on Question Time last week on the fiscal stimulus issue, Julia Neuberger said that she would give priority to a boost for the construction industry. She made a good case. But it wasn’t really what either Nick or Vince has said. Why can’t we make more effort to look like a plausible alternative government? Because all the while we don’t, people will treat us as an irrelevance. And we will throw votes away!

by David Allen on November 29, 2008 at 10:31 pm. Reply #

I have said very little in the past year in political discussion. To some extent one is more moved to post when one disagrees with something the party is doing nationally than when one agrees, but even then I don’t find it easy to be positive about the Liberal Democrats at the moment. We should be soaring ahead in the polls, we are not. Many of those who have answered the question “why are we not doing better in the polls?” have missed the point – they have raised things which always apply to us.

The issue here is not that we find it hard to get into the media, that the electoral system works against us, and that sort of thing. The issue is why now we are not doing better, why have we stayed still or fallen in the polls over the last year rather than risen?

I explained why this would happen a year ago. Perhaps those who were so certain in the other direction, who were telling us what a big impact it would make if the party made the decision I so strongly opposed – and it did make that decision – could now say why they got it so wrong.

by Matthew Huntbach on November 30, 2008 at 6:47 pm. Reply #

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