Monday, 14 April 2008

Nick Clegg - Lib Dem asset or liability?

The answer is that it’s still too early to tell – even if one or two bits of polling data don't look good.

As I have argued previously, we need to look at the trends, probably over six months.

For the first three months of 2008, the trends were pretty good. The Lib Dems scored between 16 and 21 per cent in the public opinion polls. This compared to an average of 16 per cent across all the national polls for all of last year.

But the April Populus and ICM polls both showed slight dips in Lib Dem support. In yesterday’s Sunday Times You Gov poll, the party was on 17 per cent (no change). These moves followed a renewed Conservative momentum, more atrocious news for the government and, yes, the GQ interview (though its precise impact cannot be measured). Taken on their own, all of these shifts were within the margins for error but when added up, they suggest that the party’s recent progress may have stalled.

There are two ways of judging Nick Clegg’s personal popularity and the extent to which he is driving the party’s poll fortunes: what voters think of him and whether they have a view at all.

The Populus leader index measures Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg on a 10-point “how good a leader”, scale. In January, Nick Clegg had an initial score with Populus of 4.40. In March, in the wake of the Lisbon Treaty vote, it was 4.16, the lowest rating they have found for a Lib Dem leader. In April, Nick Clegg scored 4.27, slightly above Ming Campbell’s worst showing.

These figures have to be placed in context: Nick Clegg is still getting established with the public. In January, nearly 40 per cent of voters didn’t know what they thought of him. In April, this figure had fallen to 25 per cent. None of these figures are at all surprising for a new leader. In April, just 3 per cent had no view of Gordon Brown and 6 per cent had no view of David Cameron. The message is clear: Nick Clegg’s main task is to keep building his public profile and to define himself.

The figures from YouGov tell a similar story. You Gov asks voters whether they think each leader is doing very well, fairly well, fairly badly or very badly. In March, Nick Clegg had a net satisfaction rating of minus 6 per cent. This month, the figure was minus 9 per cent. In both surveys, however, YouGov found that 38 per cent had no opinion about how Nick Clegg was performing.

There’s an obvious catch. When more people make up their minds about him, it needs to be a positive perception. Writing last week about Gordon Brown’s free-falling ratings, The Times’ Peter Riddell observed that:

“Once the public has made up its mind about a leader, it is very hard to shift opinions for the better. Just ask William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith or Sir Menzies Campbell.”

That’s correct and the media will also make up its mind. Their attention is currently focused on the government’s difficulties. But by conference time, the commentators will be ready to start defining Nick Clegg’s leadership, one way or the other.


jafapete said...
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Peter Welch said...

Although I suppose people only make their minds up when they notice a politician - and for a lot of people that is going to be during an election campaign.

Still I think we could do a better job of getting him known. I have a pile of focus leaflets next to me here, from across the country. Only a tiny percentage mention him, fewer include a photo.