YouGov’ daily polling for the Sun has topline figures of CON 40%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, Others 10%. It’s the first time YouGov have shown the Lib Dems dropping into single figures, and the first time any pollster has shown them at such a low level since 1997.

I always urge some caution when a poll shows a sharp movement. In recent weeks YouGov have generally been showing the Lib Dems at around about 11%. It was mathematically inevitable that sample error alone would eventually produce a 9% (or indeed a 13% like the one we saw at the weekend). That said, the lowest score for 13 years is worthy of comment and suggests the downwards trend in Lib Dem support is continuing.

Inevitably eyebrows will once again be raised over the sheer spread of Lib Dem scores from different pollsters. ICM was showing 18% for a long time, though they have more recently dropped to 16%, YouGov have tended to have the Lib Dems at around about 11% lately, the other polling companies tend to have them around 14% or 15%. Even putting aside outliers, that a good five point difference. What’s causing it? (If you aren’t interested in geeky polling methodology, you may want to look away now!)

Some of it is clearly identifiable. ICM, who show the highest Lib Dem score, reallocate people who say they don’t know how they will vote based upon the assumption that 50% will end up voting for the party they say they did last time. Currently a lot of former Liberal Democrat voters say they don’t know how they’ll vote, and in ICM’s last two polls this reallocation added 2 points to the Lib Dem score (it would have been 14% without it). Populus also do this reallocation, but at a lower rate for Liberal Democrats. This difference is nothing to worry about – different pollsters are simply measuring slightly different things – YouGov is reporting how people say they would vote tomorrow, ICM and Populus are reporting how people say they would vote tomorrow plus how they think those that didn’t say would vote.

That’s part of the reason, but it leaves at least another 3 point difference to explain. One thing we can rule out is the weighting targets. YouGov weight by party ID rather than past vote so the published figures aren’t comparable, but I checked the sample for this poll and about 26% of respondents who say they voted in 2010 claim they voted Lib Dem (which is pretty typical), so YouGov actually have more people saying they voted Lib Dem in 2010 in their samples than some other pollsters do. For some reason YouGov’s 2010 Lib Dem voters seem to be less likely to be sticking with the Liberal Democrats now.

As to the reasons why, we can only speculate. One possibility is when the weighting data is collected – companies using online panels can ask respondents how they voted at the time of the election then retain that information for weighting future surveys – people still might not report their vote accurately, but at least you can be certain levels of false recall won’t change. Phone pollsters naturally have to ask people to recall their past vote during the survey. If the drop in people supporting the Liberal Democrats is being matched by a drop in the proportion of people reporting to pollsters that they voted Lib Dem in 2010, then there is a risk that pollsters could be failing to account for growing false recall and are weighting them upwards too much (meaning samples would include an increasingly large proportion of the more loyal Lib Dems). Looking at the data from Ipsos-MORI who ask about recalled 2010 vote, but don’t weight by it, there is indeed a clear and rapid downwards trend in the proportion of people reporting they voted Lib Dem in 2010, which suggests this is a possibility.

Another possibility for ICM’s high score is their question wording – they ask how people would vote in “your area”, which could potentially make people think more about their local seat and local MP, which might help the Lib Dems. Personally I don’t think the difference in wording is blatant enough, but you never know (and this would only explain ICM, not other companies). Or, of course, it could be something else to do with the samples. I wrote here about some of the reasons why the pollsters got the Liberal Democrats wrong at the 2010 election – one of which may have been having samples that are too interested in politics and probably too educated (YouGov has since changed sampling to tackle the problem), perhaps it’s something along those lines. Perhaps it is a mode effect of some sort – for some reason answering online making people more likely to say they aren’t voting Lib Dem, or some sampling bias that either online panels or telephone polls are producing… or something completely different.

As to which one is right. Well, naturally I think YouGov are probably correct – if I didn’t, we’d change methods! Equally, I’m sure Martin Boon also thinks ICM are doing things correctly, and so will ComRes, MORI and everyone else. No pollster uses methodology they think is wrong. Something I once heard Martin himself say at a conference was that if you were confident in your methodology and it spat out surprising numbers then once you’d checked everything you eventually just had to trust the numbers. It’s sound advice. It may well be that the big gap disappears with time (ICM and Populus’s way of calculating target weights takes into account long term shifts in past recall, and ICM’s election post-mortem said they’d be reviewing whether they were weighting the Lib Dems too highly)… or it may persist over time and we won’t know for certain until May 2015.

UPDATE: Also worth noting is the government approval rating – the net score was minus 10, the lowest the coalition have had so far.

366 Responses to “YouGov have Lib Dems down to single figures”

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  1. 9%? holy moly! If that does not make headlines I do not know what will.

    Others on 11% sounds interesting, I wonder if YG are starting to record the gains for Greens that other pollsters do?

  2. Ed M’s dig at ‘More to the right, Nick’ hurt.

  3. So maybe the others should broken down, since they are now higher than the lives, Con Lab neck and neck too, slowly moving…Ahead by weekend?

  4. Than the libs that is…..

  5. That’ll teach them to stop my niece going to university.

  6. A string of 11s and 12s followed by a 13 and a 9? Anthony all but said it himself – statistical noise based on sample sizes. It is a steady 11 point trend. I’d be more interested if the numbers were consistently 11s and 12s. Nobody’s that good.

  7. ATTAD=49%
    ATnoneTAD= 51%

  8. Seems England is beginning to catch up with us on the LDs.

    We’ve had them in single figures for some time!


    Thanks for the article. While I like discussing with others here, it’s your posts on polling that really matter (Honestly! I’m not crawling to avoid you sending me to the naughty step as May 2011 approaches – well not totally :-) )

  9. harriet did the damage

    insults can be very effective if used infrequently

    HH comment showed that the reds were fired up and also suggested a swing to the left emotionally

  10. Julian Gilbert

    “That’ll teach them to stop my niece going to university.”

    They didn’t need to be taught – they knew how to do it already.

  11. @COLIN
    A steady string of 11s and 12s followed by a 13 and a 9?
    The LDs must be absolutely overjoyed at their success.

  12. @OLDNAT
    It ‘s in the Cons nature.
    The LDs have picked it all up pretty fast though haven’t they?

  13. I think we’ll see the real LibDem vote sonner than 2015 – the Scottish elections are just 6 months away.

    My gut feel is that they are going to get a panning, though it’ll be interesting to see how the Scottish Lib Dems work to distance themselves from their Tory partners.

    This will leave an interesting situation, where it’s hard to envisage *any* coalition. The sensible one – though I may be the only person in Scotland who thinks so – would ne a Labour/SNP coalition. It’s hard to imagine it, yet they cover much the same political ground.

  14. out of interest just put those figures in the swingometer, would give hung parliament, labour 1 short. Of course there would be boundary changes.
    Would depend on the Speaker!

  15. Anthony is clearly right to urge caution; but these are tough times for the LDs. They’re under scrutiny as never before. They are still likely to pick up the sort of folks who can’t really make up their minds,though, as ever.

  16. @BARNABY MARDER – “They are still likely to pick up the sort of folks who can’t really make up their minds,though, as ever.”
    Sorry I couldn’t disagree more. People who vote LD now must be really hard-core supporters.
    Undecideds won’t plunk for the LDs any more.

  17. At the end of the day the science of polling is always subservient to the art of interpretation…..

    This poll tells us there may be another endangered species in the political forest….the shy LibDem….an elusive creature easily spooked by sudden changes in political climate and whose natural habitat of tuition fees and proportional voting systems is now under threat from the changed political environment….

    I can see a brochure now with Mr Clegg and the Tory Tiger sharing a cup of tea and sympathy. Will the tiger eat Mr Clegg….it could be nothing more than a passing fancy….only the tiger can tell!

    It’s like the Just So Stories….who can tell?

  18. I think the university fees issue is a key factor influencing people’s perception of the Lib Dems – with every TV news broadcast showing pictures of senior Lib Dems standing proudly with placards saying they’ve pledged to oppose increases in fees they are rightly accused of being turncoats and hypocrites. This impression could be compounded with the brewing disputs over control orders in an equally interesting way – in this case the Lib Dems could not only be accused of ignoring another of their election pledges (but just to complicate matters it’s an election pledge disliked by the majority who supports control orders!).

    The fees issue is going to impact most strongly on the “squeezed middle class” according to latest models on the Treasury website and where will the squeezed middle class come elections – not Blue, not Yellow but possibly Red if Ed and his team play the policy game with adroitness.

  19. YouGov Poll

    Not much to say really other than probable margin of errors guessing real scores are Con42/44, Lab35/36, Lib16ish

  20. Land O’Cakes

    You aren’t alone.

    There is no real reason why the SNP, Labour and “the last LD in Scotland” can’t agree to differ on the constitutional issue – and let Scots declare their preferences in a referendum – while getting on with governing in these difficult circumstances.

    Cabinet positions could be allocated as in Northern Ireland.

  21. @Colin

    It’s not statistical noise. It’s student tuition fees. Compared with a few days ago, the coalition is now having to defend an unpopular policy which adversely affects something in the ball park of 10,000,000+ parents concerned for their childrens’ future, instead of a popular policy that affects only 20,000 and a few exploitative landlords.

    Has Christmas come early? A couple of months back I predicted it would be January before we saw this. Your effort proved to be far closer to the mark.

  22. Phil,

    It’s all pot luck…. ;)

  23. Interestingly, thiss poll also has government approval at -10 – I might be wrong, but this seems to be about the worst it’s been.

    Critically, only 37% approve – that’s less than the level of Tory support alone, so it is beginning to look like a general disenchantment rather than a decline in Lib Dem support alone.

    It was pretty inevitable and it won’t be a surprise to the coalition. What happens next will depend on how deep the dissatisfaction runs and how the coalition reacts to it. The record of the Tories is opposition was one of being very jittery and highly strung when they received polling set backs. DC and GO are not popular within the ranks of the back benchers so this will be an interesting element to observe.

  24. IF the polls for the rest of the week back this up and it doesn’t turn out to be statistical noise, then I think Phil and DavidB will be right – we’ll have to point at tuition fees as the cause.

    But it’s a big if – it might be right back to 11 tomorrow, in which case it’s at best just part of a gradual trend, or alternatively no more meaningful than the 13% at the weekend.

  25. on a lighter note

    i see that the QE2 has been launched, she weights in at an impressive $600 billion but of course the passengers have not embarked or any supplies taken on board, total tonnage is any-one’s guess 2 trillion 3 trillion 4 trillion…………..

  26. Actually I am a tiny bit surprised how long it has taken to get to this point. okay it’s one poll and the trend value seems to be 11 ish which really isn’t that great either.

    in terms of seats this could see them down to single figures too (!) If they got their remaining votes in the wrong places, they could even have less seats than the unionists or SNP. This sort of polling points at a horribly hung parliament, with 3 parties the minimum for an overall majority. Interesting times.

  27. What was it that Chris Huhne was saying about remembering the times when the Liberals were just an asterisk?
    Maybe he was making a prophecy.

  28. Anthony – I have said for the last few weeks it will be sooner, much sooner rather than later on the singledom for Lib Dems, though I didn’t think the Government rating would get this low so soon. A few more weeks of around the double figure negative and the Tory figures will start melting away….surely.

  29. Anthony,

    Is there any chance you could let me know how the Greens fared in that poll?

  30. Alan Sheffield

    Some would suggest that Huhne was short by 3 asterisks.

  31. A lot has been made by some posters of the fact that in other countries coalitions are normal. That’s true, but in the countries I’ve had experience of I don’t remember the relationship being quite like it is in the coalition here.
    They rather tend to have a cool professional relationship which sometimes involves criticism of each other.
    NC patting GO on the back after the CSR didn’t look like a cool professional relationship to me. It looked like old mates from the same party congratulating each other.
    And where is the criticism from the LDs? I can’t remember one time the LDs have criticised Conservative policies. They spend all of their time defending them.
    This is not a normal coalition relationship.

  32. @oldnat – Well, that’s two of us then. One more and it’s a movement;-)

    We will be in a very different position by the time of the Scottish elections. Real people will have lost jobs – or fear it – and real services will be cut. A national ‘grand coalition’ might seem more possible – though it would depend on Labour and the SNP putting emnity aside and acting in the (perceived) national interest.

    I wonder what odds I’d get on that now?

  33. Julian,

    non-coalitions are abnormal. single party gov. is abnormal. in fact is there another country in Europe where a single party rules?

  34. Do the students of History here know what it was like the last time we had a Con-Lib Government, including Ramsay Macdonald (whose ‘hands were kissed by every duchess in London after he left the Labour Party)?

    The 1931-1940 Government’s record is worth a look

  35. My memory Anthony is that AR asked the question with ‘in your constituency’ which is even more specific than ICM.

  36. @ Land O’Cakes

    Mmmm cakes. Welcome aboard (if you are new).

    Old Nat & I are quite keen on an SNP/ Lab coalition, assuming neither Party wins an outright majority.

    I’d like to see the same at Westminster; that would give my superiority complex an enormous boost
    (I’m alluding to a previous thread, where it was suggested that those who dwell in Scotland have an inferiority complex).

  37. This is the biggest load of baloney I’ve seen in a long time. The lib dem influence at least means the tuition fees(that labour introduced!!) will now be more progressive in terms of the fee payback. As for the poll rating. What about the recent by elections? They show a 19/20pc rating with lib dems doing well in Tory areas. It’s all very complex at the minute with lots of shifting sands. The media is very anti lib dem so it’s not surprising that people aren’t willing to say they’ll support the lib dems. I suspect though that there’s a lot of quiet loyal lib dens out there and they’ll do much better in may than people expect.

  38. @Wayne
    “guessing real scores are Con42/44, Lab35/36, Lib16ish”

    I might be being particularly dense but could someone explain to me what this post means. I find this to be a very useful blog and follow most of the debates with relstive ease but I really don’t understand this one, am I missing something

  39. Land O’Cakes

    The real problem is – political parties! Yes, I know they are necessary vehicles for representing similar political stances – I’ve in three of the damn things! However, the tendency to see “ours” as “shining whites” and “them” as the Spoonerism, drives me to despair.

    A Catalan type party structure in Scotland would be much preferable. That way we could get sensible alliances of Scots MPs at Westminster and MSPs at Holyrood.

  40. I tend to agree with Colin on this one. My theory is that we’re residing in a long period of relative inertia in terms of public opinion movement, and this 9% for the Lib Dems is probably a one-off oscillation to the bottom range of their margin of error parameters. Tories and Labour remain unchanged and I rather suspect YouGov will have the LDs back to the 11 or 12% mark very soon, even by tomorrow quite probably.

    Without wanting to sound like some seer possessing higher powers of foresight, because we’re all casting around in the dark a little if we’re being totally honest, but I think the YouGov poll ratings for the three main parties are going to remain pretty much as they are now (40;40;12 ‘ish) for many months to come.

    If I could use the parlance of one of my favourite card games, pontoon, I ‘d say it’s “stick” for some time now with a possible “twist” in the Spring of 2011, maybe even later.

    One slightly mischievous thought, perhaps and addressed to good old Eoin. Why no Labour advance in this poll with the Lib Dems subsiding by 2 or 3%. I thought your model said that they would always be the beneficiaries. Lib Dems up by 3 tomorrow, Labour down by 3? I shall watch with interest!!

  41. @Anthony Wells

    Some plonker posting on Smithson’s political betting site has just referred to your article above as a “blatant attack” on ICM’s methods.

    IMO your piece is fair and balanced (i.e. explaining differences and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions) although I hesitate to use that phrase in the era of Fox News.

  42. ashley,

    i like seeing you post but i am sorry to say that the tuition issues matters to me dearly. the only baloney i dectect is the delussioned beleif that it is progressive to cripple our youngest adults for working hard at school. It is perverse in a knowledge economy age to pursue in this manner

    [see a repost below]

    This tye of legislation puts an excruciating burden on young adults wanting to better themselves. In the era of the pursuit of a knowledge based economy, it makes no sense. I defy anyone reading this post to tell me they would have continued with their education had they faced these bills. Most crucially of all any student loan to pay these bills can now be charged at commercial interest. The previous slow rising interest was manageable. This interest rates now being advocated for the bills I list below leave any future student’s finances in one terrifying mess before life has even properly begun.

    Oh I wish for the days of Charles Kennedy.

    Tuition Fees £9,000
    Accomdoation £4,000
    Travel Home £510
    Books £200
    Gas & Electricity £520
    Clothes £500
    Telecoms £300
    Food Bills £2,000
    TV Liscence £145
    Lesuire Facilities £320
    Total annual cost £17,495
    Three year course £52,485
    Five year course £87,475

    The bills I list for the 5 year course would be charged at an annual interest of at least £2624 per annum. (rising of course since interest is then charged on interest).

  43. Also worth noting is the government approval rating – the net score was minus 10, the lowest the coalition have had so far.
    It could be
    Tories not liking the idea of sharing the defence of their nation with the French;
    Or giving prisoners a vote;
    Or the Tories cheerleading a 2.5% budget increase for Europe when spending is being cut here at home. PM Cameron’s ‘triumph’ may actually have alienated some of his supporters who expected him to achieve a cut in UK contributions to Europe.

  44. Does everyone remember that seven months ago when the leader debates were taking place, that the Lib Dems took the lead in the polls. The press were going on about Clegg like he could walk on water.

    Now people realise what three party politics means, with the third party giving up their manifesto to support the largest party, people are not so keen.

    Well done Mr Clegg. If you can’t get the reduction of MP’s through parliament and don’t win the change to AV, you will have reduced your party back to irrelevance.

  45. Howard – I’d forgotten that! I was chatting to Andy Morris earlier on today and saying that the difference that actually confused me the most was between YouGov and Angus Reid, who are now also have data from the election to use for weighting. Some of that could indeed be the question wording.

  46. Amber – indeed, almost as soon as I’d agreed with Phil and DavidB about the tuition fees I remembered the prisoner thing too (not to mention Europe, which will likely get some negative reactions from those Tory supporters who care deeply about it)

  47. R Huckle

    “Now people realise what three party politics means, with the third party giving up their manifesto to support the largest party, people are not so keen.”

    But that hasn’t happened in Scotland or Wales.

    Are you suggesting that this is because we have 4+ party politics (at least until the LD destruction in May), or that the English are uniquely incapable of dealing with more than a simple dichotomy?

  48. @Nick Hadley

    We’re not as far apart on this as you might think. I agree that the phenomenon of regression to the mean does suggest that without any other evidence you have to treat every new high and low as an outlier. But the fluctuations in the LD support do coincide with the rise in salience of the housing benefit issue (i.e. soft Labour switching back) and then its replacement by the student fees issue that must be really toxic to the LDs. If anything this toxicity may have intensified since the poll was taken. So regression to the mean and the increasing salience of the fees issue could just end up pulling in opposite directions.

  49. I wonder has a study been done on VI and bad weather? Clocks going back, dark nights, rain, the cold. It must be Nick Clegg’s fault?

    No in all seriousness, tuition fees are payable in November. yes the whole freakin year’s bill is payable this month. It must really sharpen the minds of the parents/kids paying it..

    one of my old students was chatting to me esterday. a law student in sheffield. now she was a tory through and through, but she informed me of her complete votle face (vi). She was reassured when I told her that any changes vis a vis the Browne report, would not affect her, but nonetheless, there was no doubt opinion had soured.

  50. @R Huckle

    “Well done Mr Clegg. If you can’t get the reduction of MP’s through parliament and don’t win the change to AV, you will have reduced your party back to irrelevance.”

    I think you’ve hit upon the one event, albeit on the distant horizon, that could precipitate a significant and long lasting change in the political weather. The AV Referendum, with the local government elections as rather interesting background music, could shake the coalition to its very core, especially if the Lib Dems raison d’etre, a move towards proportional representation, bites the dust. If, and these are all big “ifs” by the way, the Tories have played a big part in thwarting Clegg and his party’s dreams, then I think the coalition may come asunder, particularly if this humiliation is accompanied by a rout for the Lib Dems in the local elections.

    A perfect storm may well be brewing, although Miliband and Labour have a tricky hand to play in the political poker to come. Their role will be pivotal in terms of how it all plays out. For Clegg, it’s potential life or death, for Miliband it will define his leadership. For Cameron……….now there’s the really interesting question!

    Until then, I think a lot of our domestic politics will be wind and chaff; a lot of noise constituting very little.

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