Ipsos MORI has just published a digest of polls conducted during, and just prior to, the 2010 election. Their findings are interesting and offer some explanations for the Liberal Democrats’ disappointing performance.
Here are the main points that I have taken from the Ipsos MORI material.
· The Liberal Democrats won the “young women’s” vote. The Lib Dems were the preferred party of women voters aged 18-24, where we had a 4% lead over the Tories. This is the only demographic group in which we clearly prevailed; our support from younger women was 8% up from 2005. Conversely, older men were least likely to vote for us: just 16% of men aged 55 or older voted Lib Dem. Overall, Lib Dem voters were more likely to be female than male – but then so were Labour’s. [click here]
· The Liberal Democrats performed best amongst younger voters and worst amongst older people. 30% of 18-24 year olds voted Lib Dem, putting us level-pegging with the other parties in this cohort The Lib Dems did well amongst 25-34 year olds too. But voters were inclined to vote for us in inverse proportion to their age: just 16% of those aged 65 or older voted Lib Dem. The support patterns amongst age groups were even more pronounced than in 2005. [click here]
· The Liberal Democrats performed best amongst higher income voters and worst amongst lower income voters. Voters voted Lib Dem in inverse proportion to their social class. We had 29% support amongst “ABs” but only 17% from “DEs”. [click here] Now, put some of these trends together: just 13% of “DE” men voted Lib Dem.
· Liberal Democrat support grew during the campaign but was still soft. Just before polling day, 43% of Lib Dem voters though it was “very important” who won the election, compared to 53% of Labour voters and 59% of Conservatives. This might explain why the Lib Dems were vulnerable to “late squeeze” messages from the other parties. But we shouldn’t get too carried away with Ipsos MORI’s data on this point. 34% of Lib Dem voters thought they might change their mind before they voted, lower than the 20% of Conservatives who thought they might switch but about the same figure as for Labour voters (32%).
· Nick Clegg’s personal support shot up after the first two debates – but that did not strengthen his party’s vote. Just before polling day, voters still saw David Cameron as the most capable prime minister and the Conservatives as having the strongest team of leaders -- with the Lib Dems a poor third. This mattered: for the first time ever, leaders were as important as policies in driving the way people voted. Yet the reasons for the lack of a “Clegg effect” may be more deep-seated than anything that happened during the campaign. The chart on page 15 of the overview (pdf) document shows that Nick Clegg’s positive ratings prior to the campaign did not pull up the Lib Dem share of the vote. In other words, whatever people thought of Nick’s performance in the debates, they may not have been disposed to take the party all that seriously.
· Once again, the Lib Dems did not win any of the key policy arguments. Policies are another basic test of credibility. In February, voters perceived the Conservatives (by a 2% margin) as having the best policies overall, with the Lib Dems in third place. In March – just before the official campaign started – the Conservatives were the preferred party on two battleground issues, asylum / immigration and crime, with Labour leading on health and unemployment. The only issue on which the Lib Dems led was climate change. But the party had a margin of just 2% (over Labour) here. And climate change was the area in which voters were most likely to rate no party as having the best policies. There’s more: only one voter in 20 saw climate change as “very important”. Crucially, on the issue of most concern to voters – the economy – no party established a clear ascendancy.