The results of a nationwide survey were reported yesterday on Politics Home. The main headlines were that Nick Clegg is apparently more popular than David Cameron and that Vince Cable topped the chart.
These results are both good news for the Lib Dems (although we need to bear in mind our very low voting intention figures at the moment which might just check any enthusiam) but I do not think it is the most significant finding from the research.
The poll also tests the profile of politicians and this is where it gets interesting.
David Cameron is top of the profile ratings with 67%. However Nick Clegg is not very far behind on 61%. There are a few Labour figures better recognised than Clegg (Harman and Mandelson are slightly higher and Balls is tied with him) but of course they were in government for 13 years. I expect their recognition will fade as time goes on especially if none of them have significant roles in the opposition after September.
Clegg is actually better recognised than any other Conservative in the survey apart from Cameron and Hague. We should bear in mind that Cameron has had nearly 5 years as leader of the opposition and Hague was leader himself from 1997-2001 and a major figure since. I think this is quite a remarkable turnaround for someone like Clegg who many (non political) people would have struggled to place earlier this year. He is better recognised than the Chancellor of the Exchequer!
Vince Cable has a 55% profile which is very high as well. In terms of the Cabinet it is only Cameron, Hague, Clegg and Osborne who are better known than him.
Even further down the ranks people like Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne are both on 33% which is higher than Conservatives like Andrew Lansley and Philip Hammond. They even pip Andy Burnham currently running for the Labour leadership who is only on 28%.
The reason I think this is significant is because it shows that the Lib Dems are having an impact. I am pleased that the approval ratings for Clegg and Cable are high but in the longer terms the fact that people are really starting to know who our senior politicians are shows that they are paying attention to what our party is saying. It demonstrates that we can really have an impact on the national conversation and make a difference.
I also expect overall the recognition ratings for our MPs to rise as time goes on. For example Clegg is taking PMQs later today which will raise his profile further (and will do so whenever Cameron is not available) and with the AV referendum campaign starting soon, the first national referendum for 35 years, building towards a climax next May with Lib Dems at the forefront of a yes vote that can surely only further contribute to this rise in recognition.
Of course it's all very well being recognised, the broader task is capitalising upon that and ultimately translating it into voting intentions.
But given how difficult it has been historically for our politicians to even be heard I think an important first hurdle has been vaulted. It's up to us as a party and especially our leaders with the national platform they have now got to capitalise upon that opportunity.
PS: Speaking of Nick Clegg's first PMQs, I will be running a Live Chat on this blog to mark the occasion from 12:00noon today.