Six months ago the Liberal Democrats won 24% of the vote across Great Britain. Now they struggle to reach half that. One of our recent polls showed them on 9% - the first time any poll had reported a single-digit figure for more than 20 years; in general we have recently found that 10-12% of electors who declare their voting intention say they would vote Lib Dem.
Our latest poll for the Sunday Times helps to explain what is happening. As well as looking at the views of current Lib Dem voters, we have analysed the views of those who votes for the party six months ago. This data, it should be noted, was collected at the time: it does NOT consist of people who say today that they remember voting Lib Dem. (Telephone companies rely on what respondents recall months or years later; but YouGov’s panel system allows us to draw on what people told us within days of the election itself.)
This is what people who voted Lib Dem in May say they would do now: vote Lib Dem 33%, Labour 29%, Conservative 9%, other party 5%, don’t know 22%, would not vote 3%. In short, the party has lost two-thirds of its vote since May. Even if we strip out the ‘don’t knows’ and ‘would not votes’ and count only those who give a voting intention, just 43% of people who voted Lib Dem in May would still do so. True, some voters who did NOT vote Lib Dem in May would now do so, but they are outnumbered by around four-to-one by the deserters.
Here is what the people who voted Lib Dem in May now think:
- 33% approve of the Government’s record, while 50% disapprove
- 39% think Nick Clegg is doing well as party leader, while 53% think he is doing badly
- 28% think the party was right to go back on its election pledge to oppose tuition fees while 64% think it was wrong.
Even among the diminished numbers of the Lib Dem faithful, some are unhappy. 20% disapprove of the Government’s record (a view shared by only 4% of Conservatives), and 36% think their leadership was wrong to abandon its election pledge on tuition fees.
Nick Clegg and his colleagues say they are relaxed about the party’s poor poll figures. They expected this to happen. After all, a fair number of people who voted Lib Dem last May did so because they felt that this was the best way locally to defeat the Tories. Most of these tactical voters were bound to be lost once the party entered into coalition with the Conservatives.
Moreover, assuming the Coalition lasts, the next general election is more than four years away. There is plenty of time for the economy to recover and for Clegg to show both that coalition works and that the Lib Dems have played an important role in making Britain a fairer country.
However, before then, Clegg and his colleagues have a number of hurdles to surmount – the AV referendum (and our recent polls show support for reform ebbing away), next year’s Scottish and Welsh elections, annual local elections – and the regular elections that are held inside the Liberal Democratic party itself. As he must have known all along, by entering into coalition, Clegg has ensured that both he and his party will have a bumpy ride; but, then, people who wish a smooth and easy life should never enter politics in the first place.