Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Lib Dem "support melting away" problem

Mike Smithson has a good post on Political Betting this morning where he highlights the final 12 polls of the election campaign (you know, the ones that all massively overstated the final support for the Lib Dems).

In the post, Mike suggests that the Lib Dem vote may have "melted away" as large numbers of people changed their mind on the day itself. This would suggest that the polls may not have actually been wrong. Many of them did pick up on this volalitity in the underlying data and I recall being worried about it myself as to how soft the Lib Dem vote was.

The post also quotes former pollster Robert Walter:

“..Essentially the view is that the campaign polls were not wrong, but when confronted with an actual choice of government on the day, voters turned away from the ‘lighter’ alternative stimulated by Clegg and the debates, to make a very serious decision between the two main contending parties about who to trust to govern for the ensuing years.

This view, which is not unknown on academic circles, has always struck me as valid. Voting is not a consumer choice between packets of cornflakes, more like choosing professionals to represent over a long period of time."

This also rings true. Both Labour and the Tories repeatedly made the point "The Lib Dems can't win" during the election campaign and the fact that the party had not held power for 65 years played to the age old narrative that a vote for the Lib Dems is wasted.

The fascinating thing about the next election however will be whether this sort of effect will work any more. I suspect not. The fact that the Lib Dems will have been in power will I expect have all sorts of other effects, some good, some bad. For example there will be a record to defend, a detailed job of communicating to people which parts of the programme were from our manifesto, making sure we are seen as distinct from the Tories, rebutting the claim that we propped them up etc. etc. etc. But one thing that will no longer be credible is the idea that there is no point in voting for the Lib Dems at a national level. That will clearly be untrue.

So although there may be all kinds of other consequences from the coalition for the pollsters to cope with, I suspect that this particular one may actually resolve itself.


Alex said...

I'm not sure about the vote floating away. The pollsters usually weight the result with people who are decided and definetly going to vote. At the last election there were so many undecided right up until the last minute maybe this is what 'skwed' the polls/results

Anonymous said...

there will also be an issue about what you get when voting lib dem. The Guardian and Independent both promoted voting Lib Dem as a once in a generation chance to get proportional representation. As you know AV is not a proportional system and I know many people who voted Lib Dem who would have normally voted Green or Labour to get PR. That niche group is now very angry.

The Lib Dems also got a large number of votes from students for the position on tuition fees and currently the Parliamentary party has agreed to abstain in any vote to increase fees.

I am sure there will be other issues too. The Lib Dem USP of not being Labour or Conservative and standing out on some issues key to specific groups could mean that significant elements of the core vote will start to melt away.

The claims of flocks of lib dems joining Labour is clearly not true our growth in new members is from people mainly involved in the campaign and ex members rejoining but I think you may be vulnerable to members just drifting away to political inactivity and if they are likely to join another party its more likely to be the Greens.

Mark Reckons said...


The Lib Dems are totally committed to PR. If we had had 326 seats then a referendum bill for it would be going through during this parliament. Unfortunately we got 57 seats and there are far too many MPs in both Tory and Labour ranks who will currently not vote even for a referendum on a proportional system. So anyone who is angry with the Lib Dems should be angry with other people. All these protest groups lobbying Nick Clegg about PR are wasting their time. We get it! We want it! We have done our best to get it and hit a political brick wall. The best we can get at the moment is a referendum on AV. Readers of this blog will know that I think AV is far from ideal and that it is not proportional but there are some good things about it and it would get people used to preferential voting.

I want PR. The Lib Dems want PR. The more votes and seats we get next time, the more likely it is to happen.

You have a stronger point on the tuition fees issue. We passed an amendment at the special conference which reaffirms our long term aim to abolish them but again we have hit the "art of the possible" issue. A coalition inevitably has to compromise in some areas. We were never going to be able to get everything that we wanted.

We have had some members defect to Labour, Greens and other parties but from the evidence I have seen so far we have had more people join than leave in the last few weeks. Perhaps it is partly down to being a fully democratic party (where our members vote on policy) which is now in government.

I think the most interesting thing around membership will be in renewals. It's a big leap to join a different party. It's a much easier and more passive thing to just not renew your membership if you are disillusioned. We will see over the next year how many people just don't both to remain members in this way.

Mrs B said...

If you want PR, then don't vote Labour or Conservative. The Tories openly say they don't want it. The Labour party only want it when it is to their advantage to say so - they had their chance to bring it in in 1997 and refused to do it. If you want PR, vote Lib Dem.
People who are angry at not getting a full PR system this time should be angry at the other two parties for preventing it happening, not at the Lib Dems.

Stephen Tall said...

Mark - re Lib Dems support supposedly slipping away in last 12 hours, worth reading Mark Pack's take here: