Polling the Lib Dems: the good, the bad, and the inbetween

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2011

‘Less anger, but less clarity’ is how UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells characterises the latest YouGov polling looking at the public’s attitudes to the Lib Dems. It’s interesting to read through the full data, available here, especially as the responses are directly comparable with a year ago, before the Lib Dems’ U-turn on tuition fees sent the party spiralling downwards in the polls.

The bad news

  • Nick Clegg’s popularity has taken a hit: from a net positive of +8% a year ago, to a net negative of -29% today. Worth noting, however, that this is primarily due to Nick’s toxicity with Labour supporters, with whom he has a rating of an astonishing -79%! Both Lib Dem (+51%) and Tory (+17%) supporters have net positive views of the Lib Dem leader.
  • There is greater opposition to the Coalition than a year ago. In September 2010, 43% supported it, while 46% opposed it (net -3%): today the split is 34%/57% (net -13%). Interestingly, among the group identified as ‘lost Lib Dem voters’ — ie, those who voted for the party in 2010 but no longer would — 29% support the Coalition, while 63% oppose it.
  • Voters lack clarity what the Lib dems stand for. 56% agree with the statement, ‘I’m no longer sure what the Liberal democrats stand for’ (including 1-in-5 current Lib Dem supporters). The same proportion also agrees that ‘the Lib Dems have sold out their principles by going into Coalition’, while 63% agree the party has ‘broken their promises and betrayed their supporters’. However, in these latter two questions a majority of Lib Dem and Tory voters disagree: it’s Labour voters who overwhelmingly ensorse these views. As Anthony Wells notes, the data suggests ‘some of the public are starting to view the party through less of a prism of betrayal, some of the hostility is starting to fade.’

The inbetween news

  • Here’s an interesting, somewhat contradictory, finding… More voters believe now than did in 2010 that the Lib Dems are contributing nothing to the Coalition: 40% today compared with 34% last year. HOWEVER, more voters overall be lieve the Lib Dems have helped make the Coalition: more moderate and centrist (22% now, 20% last year); more interested in the lives of the worse-off (20% cf 15%); more focused on fairness (16% cf 15%); and more interested in civil liberties (15% cf 12%). This suggests to me attitudes to the Coalition are hardening a little, with supporters recognising the Lib Dems contribution to it, and opponents viewing it as little more than a right-wing government.

The good news

  • ‘Lost Lib Dem voters’ are not necessarily lost for good. I noted above that many of those who voted for us in 2010 but no longer say they would vote for the party do actually support the Coalition. 39% of this group also believes the party wields influence within the Coalition; 32% of them believe the Lib Dems offer different and distinctive policies to Labour and the Tories; 37% of them believe the Lib Dems have made the Coalition more moderate and centrist; and 39% agree the Lib dems did the responsible thing by entering government at a time of economic crisis. The big issue for the party with this group of voters at the moment is 1) the Lib Dems’ breach of trust on tuition fees, and 2) a fuzziness about what the Lib Dems stand for. It’s unlikely we can win back all those who voted for us in 2010. But the polling suggests we have the opportunity to persuade many of them over the next 3.5 years.
  • More voters think the Lib Dems have influence within the Coalition than think we don’t. A plurality of voters, 48%, believe the party has a lot or a little influence, against 44% who reckon the Lib Dems have hardly or none. Both Lib Dem and Tory voters overwhelmingly believe the party is influential; Labour voters take a contrary view.
  • There is much greater confidence the Coalition will last a full term. A year ago, just 18% of voters expected the Coalition to govern until 2015; 28% of voters believe it will now. However, more voters still expect it to last only 1 or 2 years: 32% think 2012/13 will see the Coalition expire (significantly down from 43% last year).
  • There is a solid core of potential Lib Dem supporters. There are still significant numbers of voters willing to give the party a fair hearing. For example: 26% of voters think the Lib Dems have shown they are a sensible party of government; 27% of voters think that by entering the Coalition the party has managed to get real Liberal policies put into action; 25% of voters believe the Lib Dems offer different and distinctive policies; 33% of voters believe the party has made the Coalition more moderate and centrist; and 43% of voters agree the Lib Dems did the responsible thing when forming the Coalition. These figures show there is a base of support for the party: we now need to translate that into something more tangible in the years ahead.