Media reporting of the latest opinion polls has all but ignored what they said about Nick Clegg, so here are some quick observations and a couple of questions to ponder.
Nick’s main challenge remains lack of profile: people still don’t know him well enough to express an opinion. PoliticsHome’s five day rolling average tracker (1 – 8 May) tested all three leaders for a range of attributes. 28 per cent thought that Nick Clegg had “none of these”, compared to 9 per cent for David Cameron and 7 per cent for Gordon Brown.
Let’s get it this into perspective: Nick is still a new leader. The Populus survey for May found that one in four voters had no opinion of him. Ming Campbell had same sort of recognition at the same stage in his leadership. And Nick's “don’t know” figure in the Populus poll has been sliding down all year. Likewise, the PoliticsHome tracker's equivalent figure shows a 10 per cent improvement on last month.
Here’s the first question: maybe Nick Clegg’s media profile will not change until there is a big news story, in which he is uniquely placed to make a positive impact? Paddy Ashdown on Bosnia and Charles Kennedy on Iraq could be two templates. So, perhaps, are their respective general election campaigns in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
There is good news. The Populus survey showed that Nick Clegg’s leader rating had risen for the second month running, up from 4.27 to 4.52 among all voters and from 5.53 to 5.72 among Lib Dem supporters.
PoliticsHome found that, overall, the public rates him higher than Gordon Brown. Nick's strongest attributes, so far as the public were concerned, are “likeable”, “intelligent” and “normal”. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent any time in his company. He also did quite well for being seen as "moderate". But his top negative score was for being “ineffective”. On average, Nick's positive and negative scores were evenly balanced – but then they only added up to 26 per cent; the lack of profile again.
There’s an even more interesting issue. Perhaps a third party leader who is in opposition will always be seen as “ineffective”. And a lot of Nick’s positive attributes have often been attached to the Liberal Democrats and our previous leaders.
So here’s the second question: could nice, normal, intelligent and moderate – and ineffective - be what the Liberal Democrats’ brand image is really about?
If this is the story that people think and tell about us – the narrative that counts - then Nick Clegg and the party as a whole have some good themes to play to. And there’s a big, old dragon that still needs slaying: whether the Liberal Democrats are coherent, competent and strong enough to make a difference.