Was the LibDemVoice poll on Nick Clegg’s leadership a fix? #QTWTAIN

by Stephen Tall on May 28, 2014

(#QTWTAIN = Question To Which The Answer Is No, an abbreviation made famous by the Independent’s John Rentoul)

I decided weeks ago that, come what may, LibDemVoice needed to carry out a survey of party members immediately after the local and European election results were declared asking what people thought about Nick Clegg’s leadership.

I reckoned the election results wouldn’t be pretty and that there was a good chance the result of our members’ survey could be deeply unhelpful to the leadership. But I thought it important members were given a say sooner rather than later. So, as the Euro results came in, I drafted some questions, circulated them to the team for comment, revised them – and at 1am on Mon 26th May the emails started being sent out.

A handful of people who want Nick Clegg to stay thought I was being reckless and told me so. A handful of people who want Nick Clegg to go thought the survey was a fix to shore up his position and told me so. It was neither.

Whatever my own views – and if you’re interested you can read them here – when I conduct LibDemVoice surveys it is with the aim of ensuring party members’ voice is heard, and that the survey offers a fair reflection of party members’ views. That is what I did yesterday when reporting the finding that, by 54% to 39% Lib Dem members want Nick Clegg to stay as leader.

However, complaints have been raised at how the survey was run and it’s only right to address them head on. The main was one is this: “The survey was closed early to make sure the result was helpful to Nick Clegg.”

Not true. The survey went live at the same time as the extent of the Euro result disaster was becoming clear. If I’d wanted to be helpful we’d have delayed sending out the emails til later, not when disappointment was rawest.

I intended to publish the survey results on Tuesday afternoon, so long as we had sufficient responses to justify doing so (as it was a Bank Holiday, I wasn’t sure whether we’d have to leave it open longer). In case you doubt my word, here’s my tweet to the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope, sent on Monday afternoon:

 

On Tuesday morning we emailed a reminder, which said the survey would close at midnight – that was sent by our technical guru, Ryan Cullen, who didn’t know my plans: it was his best guess of the time to close off the survey. When we realised the error, a second reminder was sent out specifying the survey would close in two hours’ time (ie, 3pm Tuesday). For the record, 756 members completed the survey after their first email, 141 completed it after the first reminder, and 95 completed it after the second reminder.

Some people who had intended to complete the survey later were unable to do so. My apologies to them for the confusion – my fault for not telling Ryan – but it was no more than that: a confusion, not a conspiracy.

The bigger question is: Would it have made a difference to the results? It’s unlikely. Given 992 of the c.1,600 party members registered on the LibDemVoice forum completed the survey, each additional member completing the survey would have affected the outcome by just 0.1%. It would, therefore, have needed 150 of those 600 remaining party members to have completed the survey to have all said Nick Clegg should go – and not a single additional member to have said he should stay – for the result to have shifted to a tie between whether he should stay or go.

There is no sign that was happening. Ryan Cullen has analysed the statistics to produce a breakdown of the responses, which you can view here.

The graph shows the results of the poll question ‘Do you think Nick Clegg should lead the Lib Dems into the next general election, or do you think he should stand down as party leader now?’ in bundles of 50, starting with the first 50 surveys completed, then the next 50, and so on. As you’ll see the numbers wanting Nick Clegg to stay increased the longer the survey was open. It’s likely (though unprovable) that leaving the survey open longer would have increased the gap between those wanting him to stay (54%) and those wanting him to go (39%).

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.