Some evidence that Lib Dem supporters are a liberal and coherent grouping

by Stephen Tall on March 16, 2009

There are a couple of interesting titbits from the latest Sunday Times / YouGov poll, published at the weekend, and published in full here.

For years, opposition parties have levelled the charge at Lib Dems that our supporters are chiefly a ‘neither of the above’ option, that the party is merely a repository for disenchanted protest votes. For years, Lib Dems have refuted the charge, arguing that the party is the only one which has continued to stand by its founding ideology, liberalism.

So I always take a close look at detailed opinion poll data to see if there are noticeable differences between the responses to questions of Lib Dem voters compared with those who identify as Labour or Tory. Mostly there’s little of significance.

For example, YouGov asked ‘The bosses of the Royal Bank of Scotland were forced to quit when it became effectively nationalised. Should the heads of Lloyds Banking Group, Sir Victor Blank and Eric Daniels, also be made to quit now it is majority publicly-owned?’ No matter which party those polled said they voted for, broadly two-thirds argued they should be sacked, while one-fifth said they should be allowed to keep their jobs.

But the response of the public to the final three questions in the poll did suggest a noticeable difference between supporters of the Lib Dems, and those of Labour and Tories, a difference worth highlighting:

1. YouGov asked: Should America and Britain be willing to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to achieve a peace deal or not?

Lib Dems: Yes 73%; No 18%
(The equivalent figures for Labour was 67%/25%, and for the Tories 64%/27%).

2. YouGov asked: A few days ago there was a protest in Luton against British soldiers returning from Iraq who are described as “butchers” and “baby killers”. What was your attitude to this?

Lib Dems:
Such protests are offensive and should be banned, and those who proceed with them prosecuted for public order offences 33%;
However offensive people find such protests, it is the right of anybody to protest in a free society 54%.
(The equivalent figures for Labour was 51%/39%, and for the Tories 65%/27%).

3. YouGov asked: Following recent murders of soldiers and police in Northern Ireland, how likely or unlikely do you think it is that there will be a return to the levels of violence of the 1970s and 1980s?

Lib Dems: very/fairly likely 14%; very/fairly unlikely 80%
(The equivalent figures for Labour was 22%/72%, and for the Tories 26%/66%).

On the basis of their answers to these three questions, therefore, it seems that Lib Dems are – (1) more willing to talk to the Taliban, (2) more likely to stick up for free speech regardless of their own views, and (3) more likely to have an optimistic view of the current Northern Ireland troubles – than supporters of the other parties.

From which (admittedly small) sample, we might conclude that generally:

1. Lib Dems supporters are more open, liberal and optimistic about some of the biggest issues facing the UK;
2. Labour and Tory supporters are more likely to agree with each other than with the Lib Dems; and
3. Lib Dem supporters do identify with core elements of the party’s philosophy and policies.

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No comments

Do you have any reason to think the differences in the answers to the first of those questions are statistically significant?

by Anonymous1 on March 17, 2009 at 12:49 am. Reply #


Are those figures for 2 the right way round – I would have thought Tory voters would be more hostile to that sort of thing

by Hywel on March 17, 2009 at 1:06 am. Reply #

Two quick points.

1. With admirable honesty you admit in your article in most of the questions there is little difference. However doesn’t that destroy your thesis as least as far as this poll is concerned ? You base the article on the 3 questions where the results are atypical.

2. You don’t mention or acknowledge the sampling size problem. When you look at polling subsets because the sample size is so much smaller the margin of error is much larger than on a conventional poll. Most of the examples you have cited are well with the margin of error.

yes the Tory figures on the Protest question have been posted the wrong way round.

by David Morton on March 17, 2009 at 2:31 am. Reply #

Looks to me like on 1 and 3 we’re just the outliers and it’s a matter of degree. 2 however does look significant.

David, they haven’t been posted the wrong way round as far as I can see.

by Alix on March 17, 2009 at 6:56 am. Reply #

Yes you are right. I have checked again and the figures are the right way around.

by David Morton on March 17, 2009 at 7:43 am. Reply #

Quick response – I take all the points about caution reading too much into all this – my article was caveatted and as ever caveat emptor.

I simply present what struck me as I scanned the poll data – these were the three questions on which there was most divergence. Political/economic questions went either along party lines, or there was no real difference according to party.

If this were a one-off I’m not sure I’d mention it – but actually for some time there’s been this kind of evidence (all caveats still in place) that Lib Dem voters do have a philosophical coherence in tune with the party’s stated policies.

I think it’s worth underlining this to help refute those who still like to argue that Lib Dem voters are just protest voters, or lazily argue that ‘no one knows what the Lib Dems stand for’. Actually, it looks like many of our voters do know what we stand for, and that’s why they’re inclined to vote for the party.

by Stephen Tall on March 17, 2009 at 9:37 am. Reply #

I think the free speech question response really is striking. I’d use that in national campaigning material.

by Alix on March 17, 2009 at 10:37 am. Reply #

Stephen, in the wake of the Amnesty OneTen shambles, I would have thought that we would all be a lot more careful with our statistics!

If the difference between the parties is within the margin of error of the study, which it seems it was on 2/3 of the questions above, then you simply can’t deduce anything from them, and to claim that you can is, well, wrong. Particularly since there were other questions on the same survey in which there was no difference that you conveniently ignored. Talk about cherry-picking 🙂

by sanbikinoraion on March 17, 2009 at 11:28 am. Reply #

PS: it’s not just civil liberties… Poll questions which ask about attitudes to immigration and asylum also generally find Lib Dem voters with a much more open/liberal attitude than voters of the other two parties.

by Stephen Tall on March 17, 2009 at 11:29 am. Reply #

Con 42 – 6
Lab 32 + 4
LD 14 – 3

by David Morton on March 17, 2009 at 11:31 am. Reply #

Stephen Tall’s basic point, that Liberal Democrat supporters have identifiable characteristics, is correct.

However, there is much better evidence for this than the poll evidence he cites.

See my LDV opinion piece (22 November 2008) for the relevant data:

by Simon Titley on March 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm. Reply #

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