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.