Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Fixing up politics not a vote winner for the Lib Dems, ICM poll suggests

ICM have now put the details of their June political poll up on the company website. The results provide some clues as to why the Liberal Democrats had mixed results in the English local elections and a drop in support in the European elections.

The campaign was dominated by public fury over MPs’ expenses. This brought a renewed debate over how to make politics better. The Lib Dems sought to meet this by promising to “change politics for good” and by kicking off the “take back power” campaign. But the ICM poll showed the public almost evenly divided on whether the party is “likely to clean up the political system” (47% said yes, 46% said no). The other parties, especially Labour, fared worse but these figures are hardly the bedrock of a successful Lib Dem campaign.

There are other indications that none of the parties is credible or seen as being in touch with the public. The Conservatives were seen as “likely to make the right decisions in government” – by a margin of just 3%. Labour’s score is minus 31% and the Lib Dems’ minus 6%.

The Tories were seen as not “in tune with the issues that matter to you” (a somewhat vague proposition!) by a margin of 3%. Labour was not in tune by a 33% margin and the Lib Dems by minus 2%. So we can see why nearly one in five voters in the local elections opted for “others” and why two in five voters in the Euro-elections backed minor parties. In this poll, the combined support for parties other than the main three is 15% – almost double the 8% in March.

There was some good news for the Lib Dems. First, we were seen as the most united party – a net rating of plus 33% compared to plus 21% for the Tories and minus 61% for Labour.

Second, the ICM survey appeared to confirm that public services -- schools and the NHS --is the Lib Dems’ strongest issue. There was a net 22 per cent agreement that the party is “likely to protect public services”. The Conservatives’ score was minus 3% and Labour’s plus 1%. That sounds as if the Lib Dems are being cast as small-c conservatives in the political narrative.

The flipside is that the Lib Dems are still not seen as credible managers of the public finances. Labour had a net score of minus 49% as a party “likely to reduce government borrowing”. But 52% disagreed that the Lib Dems would be likely to tackle public debt, with 39% agreeing. And the Conservatives enjoyed a 4% lead on this question. Perhaps Nick Clegg’s new policy not to renew Trident, for which he is using an "economic cost" frame, will help there.

ICM does not ask all the same questions on a regular basis, and so we cannot make accurate long-term comparisons. Still, some were asked in October 2002 and we can see how far the Tories have travelled since the days of Iain Duncan Smith. Then, solid majorities disagreed that they were likely to make the right decisions in government, were in tune on the key issues or were united. Even if they do not exactly dominate on any of these measures, the Tories have improved substantially on all three.

Conversely, the Lib Dems’ scores have sagged a bit since 2002, when pluralities agreed that the party would “do the right thing in government” and perceived us as being “in tune” on the key issues.


Matthew Huntbach said...

As I have said, at several times and in several places, the problem is not primarily a constitutional one, it's a problem of the way the parties present themselves. In this, Nick Clegg is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The 'R' Man said...

As with the Labour party, the Lib-Dems have serious problems when it comes to putting across their ideas. Some of the points raised here (Lib-Dem commitments to public service, for example) are areas that I, as a Lib-Dem supporter, am hazy on. Certainly, the idea of being 'in touch' with the electorate is something that could be linked to our use of the Conference for shaping policy. But how often do we, as a party, mention this?

Neil Stockley said...


I'm not sure I follow your line of thinking -- but have you seen my blog of 19 June, on how Nick is now getting more traction with the voters?