The political landscape in 2011

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Anthony Wells looks back at the 2010 polls, and forward to 2011.

The Conservative party's support has been surprisingly resiliant since entering government. While there was no great honeymoon for them after the election, neither have they suffered the slump in support that many expected after the announcement of blistering spending cuts in October - throughout everything they have rumbled along at around or just under 40%, around three points higher than they recieved at the general election.

The polls have been far less kind to the Conservatives' coalition partners. The Liberal Democrats recieved 24% at the general election in May, our latest daily polling suggests they have lost well over half their support (and in a few instances, up to two thirds). Put simply, those former supporters of the Liberal Democrats who disapproved of the decision to go into coalition, or saw the Liberal Democrats as an anti-Conservative vote or who see the party as not standing for the things they think it did have moved on, mostly these lost Liberal Democrats tell us they would vote Labour, or don't know how they would vote in an election tomorrow.

Perceptions of Nick Clegg have, if anything, seen an even sharper decline. After the first leaders' debate during the election campaign Clegg enjoyed an incredibly high approval rating of plus 63 (easily the highest YouGov has ever recorded for any party leader, and memorably compared to Churchill's by some newspapers). His latest score is minus 30, the lowest of the three party leaders.

With the Liberal Democrats in government, the Labour party are the natural home for those who are unhappy with the government, and their level of support has climbed steadily throughout the year as public concerns over the cuts have increased and Liberal Democrat support has declined. Our most recent polls show Labour consistently in the 40s with a small lead over the Conservatives.

This is despite actual perceptions of the Labour party in our party image trackers not improving much, nor any sign of the public particularly warming to their new leader Ed Miliband. 43% still say the description "old and tired" applies best to Labour and it is seen as less ready to take tough decisions and less clear about what it stands for than the Conservatives. Ed Miliband did not enjoy much of a honeymoon and is already registering negative approval ratings, however many of the public still don't have firm opinions about him so there is plenty of time for him to improve his image. Also, while his ratings aren't particularly high, already he outscores both Cameron and Clegg in being in touch with ordinary people.

Looking forward to 2011, the first major test will be the four sets of elections in May - the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the local elections and the referendum on AV. Scottish and Welsh polls both look positive for Labour, and they can reasonably expect to make sweeping gains in the local elections, as the effect of people taking the opportunity of local elections to protest at the government will now favour Labour, rather than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as it did in 2007 when the seats were last fought. The Liberal Democrats in particular will lose hundreds of councillors if their support in local elections collapses in the same way as the polls suggest their support in Westminster elections has.

Finally there is the AV referendum. Our tracking survey of opinion on AV has shown support gradually moving towards the No camp, and twice we have found that giving respondents more information about the pro and anti arguments over AV moves them further in the direction of No. The momentum certainly favours No, but active campaigning for the referendum has of yet barely begun.

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