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Lib Dems face annihilation, says poll

No, really read on. We mean real annihilation. Although the YouGov poll on the 76 key Lib Dems seats was reported yesterday by the Sun and UK Polling Report, it was overshadowed by another YoGov poll which showed UKIP overtaking the Lib Dems at a national level, and even in its reporting, only the headline figures for all 76 seats were reported, ignoring the crucial distinction between Tory-Lib Dem contests and Labour-Lib-Dem contests, which were as follows:

76 Key Lib-Dem seats 2010 General election April ’12 YouGov Normal Question April ’12 YouGov Prompted Question Change (%) Prompted v General Election
Con 32% 29% 28% -4%
Lab 19% 34% 31% +12%
LDem 41% 15% 24% -17%
UKIP 9% 7%
Greens 6% 5%
SNP/PC 5% 4%
BNP 1% 1%

The first column shows the results at the General election for these seats (projected results in fact since these are the Lib-Dems’ best prospect constituencies on the proposed new boundaries). The “normal question” shows results as in any other poll, whilst the second prompts them to think about tactical voting in the circumstances of their own constituency, which naturally boosts the Lib Dem figures. Even these figures show that they will lose most of their current seats. The drop of 17% is greater than that in national polls, which Anthony Wells at UK Polling report explains like this:

This is not necessarily as strange as it might seem, it could just be a sign of a floor effect. At the last election there were 132 seats where the Lib Dems got less than 15% of the vote, by definition they cannot lose 15 percentage points in those seats, so to be down 15 points on average they must be losing more in some of their stronger seats. We saw a similar pattern in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2011 – the Lib Dems had a bigger than average drop in their support in all but one of the seats they held due to a floor effect of seats where they started off low.

However, the disaggregated results for seats with common characteristics are even more interesting. They show that not only are Labour likely to win back Lib Dem seats in “natural” Labour areas which have recently been contests between Labour and the Lib Dems, but, in many individual seats which they currently hold against the Conservatives, Labour, neck-and-neck in this group with the Lib Dems, is likely to push the Lib Dems into 3rd place:

76 Key Lib-Dem seats  Prompted Question

All 76 seats Con v  Lib-Dem Lab v   Lib-Dem Lost Lib-Dem voters
Con 28% 33% 18% 16%
Lab 31% 24% 45% 58%
LDem 24% 25% 21% 0%
UKIP 7% 9% 3% 7%
Greens 5% 3% 7% 7%
SNP/PC 4% 4% 3% 9%
BNP 1% 1% 2% 0%

8 Comments

  1. Charlie Mansell says:

    I have just spent 4 solid months phoning and doorstepping in a Lib/Con marginal seat, doubling the Labour promise. I think this report vastly underrates the year or two of target letters, leaflets and voter id the Lib Dems will do in the seats they hold to shore up their vote compared to the resources Labour will have available. Whilst some Labour voters are angry with the Lib Dems, a lot clearly still ‘like’ their Lib Dem MP’s at a personal level and the Lib Dems will ruthlessly exploit all the Cialdini techniques to be much more competitive than you think.

    If you ask ‘how will you vote at the next general election’ you get a lot of don’t knows, however if you also ask in those seats ‘how do you normally vote at elections’ (which YouGov does not ask, but I have asked over 3,000 times on the phone) you get a lot of them saying Lib Dem which shows many are still open to persuasion by the Lib Dems. Over half the Lib Dem membership is concentrated in their top 100 seats and they will thus be able to focus their activity in their top 60 seats quite easily. Where Labour will do well is in Lib Dem seats with a vote of 15-25%. We should see Labour recording above average increases as the Lib Dem vote drops from 23% to probably 16-17% at the next General election.

    The fact the Lib Dems are on 9-10% at present shows the resilience of their vote when considering that their actual core vote is around 5%. That is a good base for them to rise to the mid-teens by 2015. The danger is looking at the Lib Dems through a natural Labour prism rather than looking at the facts on the ground in the places where the Lib Dems are stronger. For example read this Conservative Home posting from last year to see real results as opposed to opinion polls.

  2. andyj says:

    ..I used to vote LD especially in the locals.. if one sets foot on my property I will give him more than a piece of my mind.. I think you seriously underestimate the strength of feeling against you Charlie .. I used to vote for you but now despise you with a passion..

  3. Charlie Mansell says:

    I should further add, anyone who thinks the Lib Dems will actually poll 9-10% at the next General election falls for the statistical assumption that the Lib Dems actually polled under 10% in the 1950-1970 period. http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/uktable.htm
    The only problem with this analysis is that it forgets that during that period the Lib Dems only contested around half the seats available. In the early 1990’s there was a Fabian pamphlet that had a table that readjusted votes to show the party shares for that period assuming all three parties contested every seat. This showed that the Lib Dems never really polled less than around 12% of the vote during even the worst point of 1950-55 thus showing their subsequent surges are smaller than people assume but that they have a larger actual base than people assumed. This is why I would currently still assume a 2015 share of around 16-17% for them. That is still a substantial 6-7% drop, but then look at their actual seat loss in 1992 when they suffered a 5% drop.

  4. Charlie Mansell says:

    One final point that illustrates the resilience of the Lib Dem vote as opposed to mid-term opinion polls is its performance in actual elections. Look at the very useful table on page 6 of the following House of Commons report: http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/RP11-43 and note the following.
    1. The share of the Lib Dem vote after the collapse of Alliance in the 1988-90 period and battle with the Owenite SDP. Most people look to the 1989 6% Euro-Election of the time (though much of that vote went Green rather than Labour) but in more serious elections they did much better
    2. The share of the Liberal Democrat local government vote in 2011 after Tuition fees and the AV debacle – 16% in this report, though some surveys do say 15%. This is very different to opinion poll shares. It will be interesting to see how they poll this May, but I would be very surprised if it is any worse than last year.
    Thus I am sceptical of the polls from my own local campaigning experience, my professional work and also assessing the past behaviour of actual voters at the polls.
    It is this data that may explain why Liberal Democrat MP’s have stuck together far more when making cuts that some on the left might have expected.

  5. Mick Hall says:

    I feel one of the main questions is how many Lib Dem MPs will cut and run to join the Tories before the next election. With the Tory right gaining confidence and Cameron worried about UKip in seats like Thurrock I see the horizon for LD MP’s looking pretty bleak.

    No one likes a turncoat, the more so in choppy weather.

  6. Mike Killingworth says:

    A good analysis from CM. Another question is: how much effort will the Tories put into unseating an incumbent LD?

  7. Andy Newman says:

    I am not sure Charlie.

    I have been campaigning as Labour candidate in a council ward currently held by the Lib Dems for several months now. The circumstances are different because at constituency level it is a Lab/Con marginal, but there is still some expereince to learn from, in how the soft Lib Dem vote can be won back to Labour.

    I think that your own experience is in a Con/Lib Dem marginal, so I think your argument that the Lib Dems will have more resource is not necessarily right. We wouldn’t prioritise a constituency where we were going to come third.

    But in a Lab/Lib marginal, we can mobilise as well or better than them.

    Also, even if the Lib Dem vote does hold up better in their target seats, they still have a hill to climb to come #1 in a FPTP election.

  8. Charlie Mansell says:

    Some useful additional comments. As a Labour activist in a strong Lib Dem area I have studied them a lot over the years. I would agree that in Con/Lab marginals they will squeezed at the General election, though they may still hold a few wards in those places at local elections. Also I think the nature of their vote loss means that they will lose quite a few Lab/Lib Dem marginals. Nevertheless as the Oldham by-election showed they will also be able to squeeze the Tory vote, so the seats that they lose may depend on the size of the third placed Tory vote. However we should recognise that the much larger majority of their seats are Con/Lib Dem seats and the evidence above (and from local government by-elections) is that may do better than the opinion polls suggest in those seats. They will of course be helped by an alliance of the Guardian/Independent and probably Compass recommending that people in those seats ‘hold their noses’ to support them. That message will be unhelpful to Labour in those seats. Finally if you want a more accurate opinion poll of current Lib Dem support. I would recommend ICM polls: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/oct/21/icm-poll-data-labour-conservatives?fb=native This tends to show a higher Lib Dem vote than YouGov as they prompt people of the existence of the Lib Dems which thus more accurately reflects the intensive campaigning that Lib Dems adopt in their target seats.

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