Was pretty much the gist of what Chris Huhne said on the Marr programme yesterday. I rather like that response – I hate it when politicians resort to the cliches of “I never pay attention to polls” (course you don’t, just like all the other politicians don’t) or worse “the only poll that counts is election day”. Huhne’s response rather charmed me since he does at least know about * signifying less than 0.5% but more than 0 in a poll.
Sadly, I can’t actually find any historical incidents of the Lib Dems getting poll ratings of an asterisk. The lowest the Liberal Democrat party has ever polled seems to be 4% in MORI’s polls between June and August 1989, when their support was being split by the continuing SDP. Looking at their predecessor, the lowest Liberal party score I can find in a poll was 1.5% in a Gallup poll in 1955.
Of course, historical polls from before 1997 or so are tricky to find online – MORI and ICM have their archives up, but it’s trickier to find historical polls from companies who no longer regularly conduct them. It could be that at some point in the distant past the Liberal party really was just an asterisk, but I expect Chris Huhne was just exaggerating a bit. Either way, in the past the Lib Dems have indeed had much lower scores than 12%.
UPDATE: Thanks to David Boothroyd in the comments who has managed to find an ICM poll from the Sunday Correspondent in 1989 that had the Lib Dems at 3% (ICM have their Guardian series on their website back into the 80s, but only have polls for other clients back to 1990). Can anyone beat that?
UPDATE2: There is a System Three poll in Scotland in 1988 that had the Lib Dems at just 2% (see here). A Scotland poll isn’t quite the same thing as a GB one, but what the hell. Rob Blackie in the comments reckons there was a Scottish poll (presumably from a different company) that had them even lower. Can anyone track that one down?