It’s another one for John Rentoul’s “Questions to which the answer is no”. An article by Sam Coates in the Times says that “Labour’s election planners believe an 8-point gap between the current party of Government and the Tories can be closed. They say that a third of Lib Dem voters have suggested that they might vote Labour, which would equate to 5 percentage points. Meanwhile, they believe that the numbers currently saying they support “others” in polls — greens, BNP and UKIP — may go back to Labour, closing the gap by a further 3 percentage points.” More joys from Labour’s private polling, but I can guess what the thinking is here from other publically available polls.

If you ask people how likely they are to change their voting intention a majority will often say there is some chance of doing so (exactly how much depends on the question). Take for example the PoliticsHome marginals survey – 61% of people said their was some chance of them changing their vote. It’s also worth looking in that poll at what parties those Lib Dem waverers might consider switching to. Of Lib Dem waverers 45% said they would consider voting Labour. Assuming that whatever figures Labour are looking at show roughly the same thing, you can see where they are coming from. If two thirds of Lib Dem voters might consider switching, and half of those might consider voting Labour, there’s your extra five points.

Real life, however, doesn’t work like that. In most cases people saying they might change their vote is a “never say never” answer, people who really are pretty certain of voting a certain way but don’t want to commit themselves totally. In the case of that PoliticsHome poll, the 61% included 33% who said “Unlikely – I may yet change my mind, but I would be surprised if I didn’t end up voting for this party”, people who I think are realistically very unlikely to change.

Polls normally show the Lib Dem vote as being the most “uncertain”, but I suspect this is more a result of the type of person who votes Lib Dem: more likely to see themselves as a floating voter dissatisfied with the big two. Certainly it is a regular finding in polls, but never translates into the Lib Dem vote collapsing at election time (indeed, more often they gain support in election campaigns, though it’s not the given some assume). While Lib Dem voters might claim uncertainty to pollsters, I would be more than surprised if Lib Dem support suddenly dropped by a third over the next 6 months.

It’s also worth pointing out that while that PoliticsHome poll showed 45% of potential Lib Dem waverers might vote Labour, it also showed 33% might vote Tory. If the Lib Dems were horribly squeezed, votes could go both ways.

More interesting is actually the fate of “other” voters. While it seems implausible to expect the Lib Dem vote to drop by 5 points, a drop of three points in support for others from their current high sounds more likely. Whether these voters would shift en masse to Labour seems less likely, especially when it comes to UKIP voters.

I’m sure both Labour and the Conservatives could gather some support from Lib Dem waverers, but 5 points worth is just silly. If Labour are to close the gap with the Conservatives, it’s more likely to be because people switch back from the Tories.

27 Responses to “Will a third of Lib Dems vote Labour?”

  1. Not sure why Labour are so convinced that Lib Dems are Labour-inclined. In my experience, while some are left-inclined – largely those who came from the original SDP – many others are classic liberals who are concerned at the growing power of the state. Most have little time for either of the main parties.

    My guess is that the Lib Dem vote will hold up very well, denying the Tories some marginals but splitting the anti-Tory vote in other places allowing the Tories to come through the middle.

  2. Spot on Anthony. The answer in the real world is “No”. LibDem support is much more solid than LibDem type voters like to portray! However, a 45/33 split in Labour’s favour if LibDems moved to their second choices must have Labour kicking themselves that they didn’t implement their 1997 pledge on electoral reform. I think my maths is right that AV applied to the new constituencies, with the current poll ratings average taken, would result under AV, with a 45/33 split of Lib Dem second preferences, with Labour still as the largest party? Am I right Anthony?

  3. I suspect a Nudge is at work here. If the word gets out that many Lib Dems are likely to switch, more Lib Dems will actually consider doing so; a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy built from creating momentum.

  4. @ Leslie

    I did once read about a theory of a “party of government”, which voters are either pro or anti, and that tactical voting functioned accordingly. In Canada, there was the Anything But Conservative campaign, and there was the UK’s “nasty party” label, all

    But after 13 years, have Labour partially achieved their aim of being the “party of government”? Their tacticians may be relying on stable anti-Tory tactical voting far too much for 2010. I really think that Labour ought to try to hold on to the seats that they have, as they’ll suffer the most if anyone tinkers with the seal allocations, given their constituencies’ poor voter turnout, which will ruin Labour under PR, and under Cameron’s “seat allocation on votes, not voters”.

  5. @ Richard
    I think Cameron is being misquoted or misunderstood viz “seat allocation on votes, not voters” – I may be wrong but I don’t think he ever said this? If he did, it is quite a revolutionary concept and would be a death-knell for Labour! It is perhaps why Labour are toying with existing constituencies with AV, as this would favour them greatly I think?

  6. I can see a situation whereby a significant element of the UKIP vote goes back to the Tories, particularly if Labour do genuinely
    close up. The BNP vote I would guess is fairly firm, no one else offers what its supporters get turned on by.
    As for the Lib Dems, the last poll I saw which asked the question
    Brown/Lab or Cameron/Tory, no other choice which would it be?
    Nationally Lab 41 Tory 39. Key northern marginals, the Tories had 16% more support from Lib Dem voters than Labour.

  7. I also think the notion of such a large switch from Lib Dems to Labour is unlikely, although I do think some of those who left Labour over Iraq may return, but the other possible gain for Labour could be those traditional supporters who are just abstaining in current opinion polls. An election campaign may galvanise 1 or 2% of those to go out and vote.

  8. Actually agree with the article here. The is unlikely to be a huge draw of Labour, *or* Conservatives away from Lib Dem at this point, if anything they’re gaining votes, and will probably be back up to or above 2005 election levels on the day. My trend model shows Lib Dem as having a very noisy sample, but a slight upward trend.

    However, that said, Lib Dem voters do have a history of carrying through with threats of tactical voting. And I do expect at least 2-3% tactical voting in the ‘try to deny a conservative seat’ way in marginals. It’s not the same as gaining ‘honest votes’ but it is an effective benefit to labour that’s not going to show in polling since tactical voters tend to say how they’d want to vote, not how they will vote.

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  10. I’m pretty sure that that Libdem voters are less ante Conservative that in previous elections. The Cs will gain more seats than their share of the vote suggests particularly apparent in L/C marginals where there is a straight choice .

    It is the change in lib dem second preference that matters i.e. from 80:20 to labour to more like 50:50.

  11. The crucial point about AV is that voters from The Big Two Parties are more willing to vote Libdem than for each other. In the recent Bedford by-election for example the Libdems picked up 2/3rds of the second preference votes. In a GE that would double the number of Libdem seats, the gains coming equally from Tories & Labour.

  12. @ Tony Dean

    You may be right, but he certainly proposed evening out the seat on the basis of voters, which would give the Tories an estimated 20 seats more.

    I seem to remember him saying that “all votes should be equal”; it depends how literally you take that.

    As for AV, I worry that this is a rather short-termist approach if Labour seeks an advantage through it. It seems to be based on the assumption that “everyone hates the Tories”, so effectively passing the votes of smaller parties to Labour when they’re eliminated. However, as Scotland in particular has shown, nothing is set in stone.

    Generally, however, while Cameron would need to tread carefully to avoid accusations of gerrymandering, Brown would be ripped to shreds if he tried to pass AV in the remaining parliamentary time.

  13. Brown may well pass the ‘commitment to PR’ legislation before the election, for the purposes of torpedoing any potential Con/Lib coalition. There is no way they could sell a U-Turn on PR to the rank and file of the Liberal Democrats.

  14. I don’t get it.

    “Labour’s election planners believe an 8-point gap between the current party of Government and the Tories can be closed.”

    I can’t see anything factually incorrect in that statement. i would have thought the odds on it happening would not be that much different from those for it not happening.

    “They say that a third of Lib Dem voters have suggested that they might vote Labour, which would equate to 5 percentage points.”

    Again, another factually correct statement.

    “Meanwhile, they believe that the numbers currently saying they support “others” in polls — greens, BNP and UKIP — may go back to Labour, closing the gap by a further 3 percentage points.”

    Yes, they very well may go back to Labour, they also may not.

    This is all ifs, buts, and maybes. Impossible to really analyse. I do agree though that for Labour to close the gap on the Tories, they need to voters to switch back from the Tories.

  15. I think the Tories will actually take some votes from the Lib dem as many just want Labour out. I think Labour have already lost a lot of there voters to not voting (I believe less Labour supporters will actually vote than say they will). The feeling I get is that the public is sick of Labour. I have friends who were Labour supporters and they are now considering voting Tory.

  16. @C.L.A.D
    I agree that a lot of ifs and buts exist in this analysis. I also think Labour pulling back 8 points is a mighty task with their track record and leader. As you say, switching back Tory votes is a must for Labour. They must have something up their sleeve
    more than calling Cameron a toff, it cannot be give away’s as there is nothing left to give away.

  17. @PAUL B
    I must say Paul, you hear the same message I hear.

  18. Absolutely correct.

    Labour can only hope to close the gap by taking votes directly from the Conservatives. A point or two back from the likes of the BNP will be cancelled out by a point or two back for the Tories from the likes of UKIP.

    For me, at the moment, the only issue at the next GE is whether or not the Tories get a majority and, if they do, how large will it be.

    A solid 40+.

    Or a weakly under 20.

    And I think it’s too early to say.

  19. Oh, but there is one point.

    LibDem voters surely wish for some sort of PR system.

    Their best hope of achieving that is to vote for a minority government – of either persuasion – and agree to support it only in return for a PR system being set-up.

    So it would in fact be in their own best interest to vote Labour in a seat which was a straight battle between Labour and Conservative.

    And so try to limit the number of seats the Conservatives obtain.

    If the LibDems latch onto this message/idea, then they may well vote Labour in larger numbers than previously expected.

  20. As a voter who has switched from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems, I can say I will definitely not be going back to the Conservatives, nor will I be voting Labour because I live in a Conservative/Lib Dem marginal where Labour cannot win.

    I might think differently if I lived in a seat where the Lib Dems had absolutely no hope and I suspect that’s the reason for the apparent softness of the Lib Dem vote. But personally, I think I’d rather waste my vote than give it to either of the 2 major parties on current form.

    It depends on how quickly voters cotton on to who can actually win in their constituency as to how many Lib Dem voters switch to other parties as well as Labour/Conservative supporters switching to the Lib Dems.

  21. In the related Times article, “Tories aim resources at winning a workable majority in election”, It says this in relation to Tory/ ib Dem seats, “Cheadle, currently held by Liberal Democrats with a majority of just under 4,000, is among seats no longer regarded as likely to fall despite a well-funded, two-year campaign to woo key groups of voters. Party strategists privately admit that some incumbent MPs, particularly Lib Dems, are putting up fiercer-than-expected resistance.

    The Tories are also finding it more difficult to persuade working-class voters in constituencies in the North of England to switch their support. “The sort of lifelong Labour Coronation Street terrace voters who came to us because they were so angry about the 10p tax issue have largely returned to Labour again,” said one Tory strategist. “

  22. Answer is ‘no’ ofc, but the stats (45% 33%) seem to indicate faily solidly that Labour will still benefit more from tactical voting than the Conservatives.

  23. Over on PB there is agood article looking at preference for the next government amongst BNP and UKIP voters. In both cases the Tories come out well ahead, so little hope for Labour there……


  24. I know a lot of Lib Dems but I don’t know any who would switch to the Conservatives. Labour’s promise of a form of PR may just seal the deal with their left of centre partners.

  25. Lin-the article Peter mentions is based on a YouGov Poll taken last June.

    Sample was 32,000

    Included were 4200 Lib Dems-42% of whom said that “if they had to choose” they would prefer a Cameron Government to a Brown one. 34% said they would prefer a Labour Government.

  26. Is there a poll due in tomorrow’s Times? Rumours of a good one for Labour.

  27. @ KING HAROLD – I actually think a fair amount of the BNP vote could return to Labour – it still only makes serious showings in long-standing Labour areas which have been in effective recession since around 1981, and which have seen influxes of minority groups or migrant workers.

    In those constituencies an active Labour attempt to reconnect with constituents, the council clearing up rubbish and some tough talk on immigration with sufficient wiggle room not to driveaway middle class liberals might work. The BNP vote would remain high in those constituencies, but it could certainly fall.

    However, the BNP stand in a lot of places where they have no chance of remaining their deposits. And people who vote BNP in marginal and non-economically depressed seats are just racists and aren’t likely to ever vote Labour again.

    As for UKIP, there’s little chance. They get some Labour support in Euro elections and they will have an appeal in areas like Norfolk, but Farage and co. are definitely targetting upper-middle class Tory voters in the shires, so I doubt they’re currently attracting any notable Labour support. They might help Labour hold Waveney if things tighten and they run hard there, but otherwise they hold no comfort for us.

    However, the Greens are the big one here. If Copenhagen is a success, or if it’s a failure but Brown is perceived to have done everything he possibly can, or if Heathrow expansion is quietly shelved, or if the Tories look to consolidate their base and business, I could see a lot of Green voters reluctantly moving our way.