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.