Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Polls: how low can you go?

With our declining poll ratings, we Liberal Democrats are cheering ourselves up by trying to think of when our support was at its lowest. Chris Huhne said he remembers it being less than 1% although, according to UK Polling Report, the recorded lowest is 1.5% in 1955.

The lowest in my own memory was the period after the 1987 general elections (at which the Alliance got 25.4%). The subsequent merger process and ‘discussions’ of 1987-8 saw our poll rating at 4% – a drop of over 21% in a year. In the 1989 European elections, the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’ polled 6% - in fourth place behind the Greens.

The main trends recently, as well our reduced support, have been further increases in the Conservative rating and a slight recovery for Labour. I have seen some speculation amongst Conservative bloggers that there might be a good time for a snap election which might give the Conservatives a majority government and the chance to ‘free’ themselves from the Liberal Democrats. That time has not yet come though.

So oddly a recovery for the Labour rating is good for Lib Dems – because it would deny the Tories of the lead that they would require. As the new leader emerges and the cuts take hold, Labour’s rating will doubtless continue to improve and by next spring there should be a healthy lead.

Of course, under the current constituencies, Labour don’t need to get more votes. They can get more seats with a few percentage points less. One MORI poll had the Tories on 40% and Labour on 38% - this would give Labour 50 more seats than the Conservatives. The forthcoming bill to equalise constituencies should resolve this.

Hopefully by the next election the public will clearly acknowledge the contributions we have made even if the media do not – especially in political reform, lower taxes and the soon-to-be-introduced pupil premium. And I’m sure we would rather be in government with a low rating than have high ratings and perpetual opposition.

To finish off, the latest polls averaged over the last few days read: Conservatives 42%, Labour 36%, Liberal Democrat 14%, others 8%.

With the help of the BBC Election Calculator this works out as Conservatives 314 seats, Labour 289 seats, Liberal Democrat 20 seats, others 27 seats. So still a hung parliament.


  1. I just don't know anymore but although we do get some things wrong - the polls are descriptive of the current level of informed political debate ie cuts or no cuts!

    The media can't be proud of that surely?

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  3. Media narrative of course shapes the public perception of and attitudes towards political parties. But there is no denying that as the UK Polling Report graph showing confidence in Government shows the Lib Dems are rapidly losing their more social democratically minded supporters to the Labour Party. In Sittingbourne & Sheppey we are welcoming several former Lib Dem supporters as new members and many more as supporters.

    Rightly so they feel cheated by the Lib Dems abandoning their principles for some ministerial jobs, I personally feel a split in the Lib Dems is inevitable at some point in this parliament and depending how many stay with Clegg in Coalition and how many will join the opposition benches with Labour will determine if the Coalition collapses.

    Also, your seat predictions for Labour at 38% having 50 more seats than the Tories on 40% is probably based on a very crude Universal swing. If you use the UKPR advanced swingometer inputting the latest polling data for the UK, Wales and Scotland Labour would probably only have around 10 more seats. This shows that equalising constituencies will require lots of work, especially to register the millions of unregistered voters (something I admit Labour should have directed more efforts towards in Government but which Clegg cannot simply ignore because Labour did!)so it is not something to be rushed which the Coalition is determined to do!

    ALSO, the reason Labour wins on a lower vote share than the Tories is because many Labour seats, especially safe seats, have low turnout, whereas Tory MPs often win on a high turnout, inflating the Tory popular vote.