Lib Dem Conference Special – Bullshit Detector #1: The Polling Recovery

by George_East on September 20, 2011

As Ray North noted yesterday there has been an extraordinary air of self-satisfaction and complacency on display at the Lib Dem conference.   A blinkered determination by Ministers, MPs and delegates alike to only hear what they want to hear, and a very unliberal jumping down the throat of anyone who dares to express a view dissenting from the panglossian utopia that has apparently resulted from their party’s involvement in the coalition.

There are a number of rhetorical points that have come up again and again – although these undoubtedly originate as lines designed in Cowley Street, they appear to have been swallowed whole by the party: there is a polling recovery, the Lib Dems are a restraining factor on the Tories, the deficit reduction programme is economically vital but politically neutral, that three quarters of the Lib Dem manifesto has been implemented, that they had no choice but to go into coalition for ‘the good of the country’ etc etc.    These points vary from outright lies (the deficit reduction), through the delusional (there has been a polling recovery) to the meaningless (3/4s of the manifesto).  I intend to look at a number of them over the rest of the week.

The first is that the party has turned the corner in the 0pinion polls and is now on an upward curve – the public finally ‘gets it’, we are told.  The BBC’s James Landale was heckled last night for suggesting the party’s polling position was dire, by a delegate shouting ‘we are at 18%’.   The Lib Dem polling revival line originates from two polls published in two consecutive days at the end of August.     On 21 August the Guardian/ICM poll showed the Lib Dems on 17%.  The very next day Ipsos/Mori showed the Lib Dems at 15%.    Look, said the Lib Dems as a result, we are no longer in single figures – everything is tickety boo.

In fact, of course, given different polling methodologies the only relevant comparison is with other polls by the same polling organisation.  ICM has consistently shown the Lib Dems with higher ratings than other polls, partly because of the way it deals with Don’t Knows (allocating them to the party voted for at the last election).    Thus if we look at the ICM poll at the very depths of the Lib Dem’s difficulties, at the time of the u-turn on tuition fees, we find that ICM had the Lib Dems on 15%.  In subsequent months ICM showed Lib Dems scores of 18-16-15-15-12-16.  In other words with the exception of the 12% in the June poll, the 17% Lib Dem score last month was precisely  within the margin of error range that the Lib Dems have been showing all year in ICM polling.   There has been no improvement in the polling position (it is just that ICM suggests that the position was never as dire as some of the other polls have indicated).

The Ipsos-Mori poll is more interesting, as the Lib Dems had shown scores of between 9-11% from March-July of this year.  The August poll therefore did suggest a significant movement to the Lib Dems.  The difficulty with this analysis is that the most recent poll, that of 12 September, has the Lib Dems back down to 13%.  Now it is perfectly possible that this represents a genuine improvement of a few percentage points, but it is equally possible that the 15% poll was an outlier and the Lib Dems are  within a margin of error of 11%.

Of the other major polling organisations Yougov has consistently shown the Lib Dems at between 8-11% since the end of April.  It is true that the polls were more in the range of 7-10% in the first couple of months of the year, but this hardly betokens a material uptick in support.   Populus has shown the Lib Dems on either 11 or 12% since February of this year (with the exception of one poll in June showing 9%).  ComRes has consistently shown the Lib Dems at between 11-13% all year (with the exception of one 15% in May, which appears to have been an outlier) – the latest poll shows the Lib Dems at 11%, exactly the same score as on 16 December 2010, at the height of the tuition fees debacle.

There is no evidence to support the idea of a meaningful polling recovery – at best there may be a case for saying that the Lib Dems have gained a percentage point or so since the very depths of their support during the tuition fees debacle.  The argument that there has been a recovery is only sustainable by cherry picking the polls that are most favourable.    There is no evidence whatever to suggest that if the May elections were re-run today, the results for the Lib Dems would be any less dire.   The truth is, to misquote the great late Malcolm Owen, the Lib Dems are currently ‘in a rut, and they are not getting out of it’.

All polling figures quoted are from Ukpollingreport.

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