Shy Liberal Democrats

As regular readers and watchers of polling methodology will know, one of the questions facing pollsters is what to do with people who say don’t know or refuse to answer voting intention questions. A purist approach is to ignore them, to base reported figures only upon people who actually say who they would vote for or, for companies using a squeeze question, who they are most likely to vote for – this is the approach used by most pollsters in the UK. The alternative approach is to estimate how they would vote based on one of their other answers.

This re-allocation of don’t knows was pioneered by ICM after the 1992 debacle when the pollsters all vastly overestimated Labour. They noticed that there were a lot of former Conservatives now saying don’t know, and theorised that many of these were people who would still vote Tory, but were reluctant to admit to pollsters that they were supporting an unfashionable party. This was supported by recontact surveys after elections, when people who had said don’t know to pollsters prior to the election did tend to end up voting for the party they had done at the previous election.

As a result, ICM started reallocating 50% of don’t knows and refusals to the party they said they supported at the previous election. During the 1990s this invariably helped the Conservatives, and became known as the “Shy Tory adjustment”. The name stuck, so it was often still known as the shy Tories through the last two terms of the Labour government, when it actually tended to help Labour instead. Andrew Cooper of Populus called them “Bashful Blairites”.

In recent months it has changed again, polls are now showing a large proportion of people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 saying they don’t know how they would vote in an election tomorrow, and ICM’s reallocation of don’t knows is now favouring them. In ICM’s last three polls the re-allocation of don’t knows has bumped up the level of Liberal Democrat support by 2 points – yesterday’s topline figures of CON 36%, LAB 38%, LDEM 14% were CON 37%, LAB 40%, LDEM 12% without the don’t knows.

Naturally this leads us to the question of whether this is a sound thing to do. Certainly there is solid evidence to back up what ICM and Populus do. Re-contact polls after past elections always supported it, and ICM’s re-contact survey this time round found that about 50% of people who said don’t know in the pre-election polls did indeed end up voting for the same party they did in 2005. Equally, at past elections the adjustment has tended to make ICM’s figures more accurate. None of this guarantees it will still work in the future – the current political situation is rather unusual and these former Lib Dems may behave differently – but it’s a sound starting point.

The difference between re-allocating don’t knows and not doing so is more one of principle. Should polls report just what people say, or should we estimate what the people who refuse to answer think? There are good arguments for both, and in terms of voting intention I think it’s a positive that both are produced. We can see what people are actually saying, but also take account of the fact that there are lots of former Liberal Democrats out there saying don’t know, who may or may not filter back come election day. It’s just important to know which pollsters already factor in those don’t knows, and which ones don’t.


284 Responses to “Shy Liberal Democrats”

1 2 3 4 5 6
  1. In addition to the perceived wicked breech of faith perpetrated by the Liberal Democrats, they are now compromising with the Tories on an almost daily basis. Now we see Cable and May getting down to brass tacks regarding immigration. Something the vast majority of the population feel very badly let down on by the successive Labour governments Now damn the Tory right, damn the trendy lefties, there is agreement and it will work. How very frustrating for some.

  2. I have known parties rule *out* a coalition with another.

    The Dutch PvDA (Labour) ruled out a coaltion with the PVV (anti EU and anti Islam) judging them to be essentially racist.

    They were heavily criticised for that stance however.

  3. If anyone feels inclined they may wish to examine each of coalition arrangements for the countries listed at:

    h ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_coalition_governments

    @Howard
    Am I right in reading your post at 5.27 to be in favour of announcement of coalition prior to a GE? Or have I misunderstood?

  4. Roland
    Yes I agree that the only adult way to conduct a coalition is to seek agreement, not just grudgingly accept one.

    We have a lot to learn here but will it dawn on our electorate before 2015?.

  5. Mike N
    You misunderstood me.

    The whole point of coaltion politics is that each paryy sets out its own agnda which it hope is an atractive one. The LD policy on tuition fees is to abolish them.

    Unless the next party conference decides otherwise.

  6. Sorry I am not one over the eight yet (maybe later). I must remember to press spellchecker more often.

  7. @HOWARD
    I don’t think I have been as impassioned by any political issue since the left were pushing CND. Whatever the Labourites try to make out the Libs are having quite some input into this administration. The immigration issue is a good example. What angers me is the bloody arrogance that the coalition is in some way a “fit up” or not “kosher”. Right now there is a lot of goodwill between the two coalition partners and the appalling attitude of certain Labour supporters will harden it.

  8. another problem with coalition and FPTP is vote share versus seats

    the dems say we should have 40% say in the govt based on vote share

    the blues(and the reds) say, now hold on a moment we have six times as many seats as you which means you get 15% of govt

    if you look at the cabainet you will see that there has been a comprimise on this and the cabinet is about 25% dem

  9. Howard
    “The whole point of coaltion politics is that each paryy sets out its own agnda which it hope is an atractive one.”

    Attractive to who? To another party? To the electorate?

    “The LD policy on tuition fees is to abolish them.”

    Cue smiley thing.

  10. @ROLAND
    “What angers me is the bloody arrogance that the coalition is in some way a “fit up” or not “kosher”. Right now there is a lot of goodwill between the two coalition partners and the appalling attitude of certain Labour supporters will harden it.”

    Very well put.

    Also we must remember that MP’s are our representatives, elected to take decisions on our behalf. They are not delegates. So DC got the support of his MP’s as did NC, before entering the Coalition.
    In neither case is there a need to refer back to the electorate. How bureaucratic would that be?

  11. anyone fancy a dose of Irish austerity

  12. In Australia the two conservative parties (basically one city, one farmers) have for many, many years been in coalition when in power. Farmers get Agriculture and Water ministries.

  13. Irrespective of whether there was a political mandate for the LDs and the Cons to enter coalition, the fact that there is one will have a profound effect on the way votes are cast at the next GE (and that’s regardless of whether it is under FPTP or AV), IMO.

  14. I do not know quite how we got into a situation where many Labour supporters were very willing to coalesce with LD, welcomed the idea even, but resent LD finding a better deal elsewhere. I find the attitude bloody arrogant, but it may be the fault of LD candidates struggling under the FPTP system to gain support where the Labour candidate was in a no-hope situation and thus giving a false impression. They have not done so in the rural SW I can testify.

    I look twenty years ahead when these questions will be resolved by English people being able to vote for what they want and getting it (at least partially) see my above posts.

    At the moment if you are a Nigel Farage fan, you can forget any smidgen of his views ever having a bearing on the country’s policies. Even in the wilds of Devon, they can’t get anywhere under FPTP. Nigel should be in Parliament. He is knowledgeable, eloquent, and whilst I disagree with his policies, he should be there.

  15. Sorry a small revision for purposes of clarity..

    Irrespective of whether there was a political mandate for the LDs and the Cons to enter coalition, the fact that there is a coalition will have a profound effect on the way votes are cast at the next GE (and that’s regardless of whether it is under FPTP or AV), IMO.

  16. @Phil

    “Sorry to have to contradict you, but I believe the LDs have gained 8 seats and lost 9 in by-elections since the GE. None of the gains were from Labour.”

    Actually, they’ve gained 9 and lost 8 (latest figures show 2 more losses since I last looked). LD gained from Lab in Spennymoor in September and in Keynsham in July.

  17. @ROBERT IN FRANCE
    Again a good point. The whole concept that two separate parties cannot share power after campaigning on their own individual agendas, is the utter desperation of a very sore loser.

  18. @Howard
    If you recall GB and Lab courted LDs for quite a period before the GE.

    I don’t have a problem with the LDs being in coalition with the Cons – other than that IMO many Lab leaning people who voted LD not knowing that the LDs could join up with the Cons. (And I think S&C was strategically correct.)

  19. AW

    War between PB and UKPR!

    I hope not. Mike Smithson has outlined his method and in the end it does not make a lot of odds does it?

  20. Is there any evidence that DKs and Won’t Says are more or less likely to vote than those who declare an intention ?

  21. @HOWARD
    I saw Mr Smithsons article earlier, it appealed to me because the Labour lead is about .3 of a %. Otherwise as you say.

  22. Mike N
    Excellent comments with which I, of course, concur.

    I think, like you, that the betrayal of the Liberals has caused a seismic shift and will herald a new era of two party politics. I doubt if there has ever been such a swift loss of support for a national party. Fully two thirds of their support has gone – millions of people. NC is going to need a quick move to HoL to continue his career.

    It is always difficult to make predictions and a week is a long time in politics but I’ll say it now (as a hostage to fortune) – the LDs will be effectively extinct as a national electoral force within the next three years.

  23. The method adopted on Political Betting is interesting and reveals the slow decline in the popularity of the Cons and LDs and the slow growth in the popularity of Lab.

    I think I said yesterday that Lab was probably on about 38%. And this is roughly what PB shows.

    Usinf PB Lab are ahead of Con by 0.8%.

  24. Ian C

    Thanks for supportive comments. I was beginning to feel isolated.

    I agree on the seismic shift. One strange thing I’ve sort of detected on here is that LDs in particular do not seem to comprehend what has happened – and they have this idea that come the next GE Lab leaners will continue to TV for LD candidates.

  25. (most of the points dealt with in the post below have been covered in the posts above: you guys can write faster than I can type… ;-) But anyway, it’s a nice precis, so here it is)

    Fortunately for the country, Alec is broadly correct: we have run much bigger debts before, this is controllable, we won’t lose the State. Unfortunately for the country, I am also broadly correct: we have an enormous deficit, we are in trouble. So how to reconcile these two stances? Let’s look at the figures.

    Part 1: How big is the debt and deficit?
    Very approximately, the debt is currently at about 60% of GDP. The reason for the uncertainty is because it’s growing very fast. It’s growing very fast because the deficit is big. The deficit is curently about 10% of GDP per year. So about a year ago, the debt was around 50% of GDP. And in about a year, the debt will be about 70% of GDP.

    Part 2: OK, I give up: are those big numbers?
    Historically speaking, the debt is not big: the debt as a proportion of GDP was bigger between very approximately 1915 to 1970, and between very approximately 1720 to 1870. But those were times of enormous change: Scotland and Ireland joined the UK, the UK became an global imperial power, World Wars I & II, Irish secession, the Great Depression, loss of Empire. It’s difficult to justify a debt of 60% of GDP in our current circumstances. But even so, it’s livable with.

    Part 3: OK, we can manage the debt. So why the panic?
    Because it’s not just the debt, it’s the deficit: it’s not just the size of the debt, it’s the speed at which it’s growing. By the end of next year, the debt will be very approximately double what it was in 2007 and getting worse fast. The deficit has to be dealt with. We can have a productive conversation about how it will be dealt with, and what is the best way of dealing with it. But ultimately it will be dealt with, whether by us growing the economy, the Government shrinking the State, bond markets refusing to purchase UK bonds, the currency collapsing, or whatever.

    Hope that helps, regards, Martyn

    (Incidentally Alec, where were you getting your figures from? I got mine from http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk, which is handy-dandy. It says that about half of the 20th century – 1900-1915, 1970-2000 – had a smaller debt than now)

  26. (most of the points dealt with in the post below have been covered in the posts above: you guys can write faster than I can type… ;-) But anyway, it’s a nice precis, so here it is)

    Fortunately for the country, Alec is broadly correct: we have run much bigger debts before, this is controllable, we won’t lose the State. Unfortunately for the country, I am also broadly correct: we have an enormous deficit, we are in trouble. So how to reconcile these two stances? Let’s look at the figures.

    Part 1: How big is the debt and deficit?
    Very approximately, the debt is currently at about 60% of GDP. The reason for the uncertainty is because it’s growing very fast. It’s growing very fast because the deficit is big. The deficit is curently about 10% of GDP per year. So about a year ago, the debt was around 50% of GDP. And in about a year, the debt will be about 70% of GDP.

    Part 2: OK, I give up: are those big numbers?
    Historically speaking, the debt is not big: the debt as a proportion of GDP was bigger between very approximately 1915 to 1970, and between very approximately 1720 to 1870. But those were times of enormous change: Scotland and Ireland joined the UK, the UK became an global imperial power, World Wars I & II, Irish secession, the Great Depression, loss of Empire. It’s difficult to justify a debt of 60% of GDP in our current circumstances. But even so, it’s livable with.

    Part 3: OK, we can manage the debt. So why the panic?
    Because it’s not just the debt, it’s the deficit: it’s not just the size of the debt, it’s the speed at which it’s growing. By the end of next year, the debt will be very approximately double what it was in 2007 and getting worse fast. The deficit has to be dealt with. We can have a productive conversation about how it will be dealt with, and what is the best way of dealing with it. But ultimately it will be dealt with, whether by us growing the economy, the Government shrinking the State, bond markets refusing to purchase UK bonds, the currency collapsing, or whatever.

    Hope that helps, regards, Martyn

    (Incidentally Alec, where were you getting your figures from? I got mine from h ttp://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk, which is handy-dandy. It says that about half of the 20th century – 1900-1915, 1970-2000 – had a smaller debt than now)

  27. mike

    we know whats happened but there is nothing we can do about it

    but do you understand that tony and gordon’s decison to abandon a ref on PR has comdemed the country to drift to the right for ever more

    gordon could have had a ref on PR in the last parl, but no he wanted to hang on under a very unfair system and include a AV ref in the manifesto as a get out of jail free card in case there was a possiblity of a deal with the dems, but you know we had the same deal in the 70s and the reds scr*wed us over

    gordon could have offered a pre election deal with an agreed platform. i wonder why he didn’t do that

    you want us to pull out of the coalition and you think that we might get back our lost voters, but what then the tories would hate us and with good reason and if we are lucky enough to be in a postion to do a deal with the reds, they will just f*ck us over like they always do

  28. Mike N,

    I may not agree with your political sentiments but you are no fool. So I am surprised that you find the PB average ‘interesting’ and revealing when it says nothing significantly different to the large numbers on the home page of this site?

    I think Smithson’s potshot is curious. Yes, a poll of all polls should encompass all pollsters, but frankly if some are only going to do one a month then by day 29, post the poll, it’s a bit meaningless if four weeks of politics have changed the landscape. Equally, the preponderance of YGs in there can be unhealthy if YG’s methodology is out but that’s not likely. So it just means that the more YGs included possibly ups the blue and red numbers by a point or two, and LDs down similarly, but ‘the gap’s the thing’

    I see nothing to suggest that Smithson’s PAPA talks any more sense than Anthony’s PA but they could always have a fight and see whose dad’s bigger… :-)

  29. RiN
    “you want us to pull out of the coalition and you think that we might get back our lost voters”

    I don’t know whether I want LDs to pull out now. I can understand why it’s difficult for LDs to say “it’s over, dear”.

    And re the ‘lost’ voters…I can’t see LD getting them back. Which is why I’ve said that entering coalition was a strategic mistake. But maybe I’m wrong (it’s been known).

    I diagree about a drift to the right for ever more. I’m not convinced that there is any drift anyway – just an electorate tired of Lab gov but unwillnig to embrace fully the Cons.

    I was disappointed that Lab did not pursue electoral reform from 1997. As you see it’s only later that the significance and impact of decisons can become evident.

    I thought GB had offered a pre-election deal to the LDs? Or at least was courting them.

    Time to go dark

  30. @R I N
    The reason “Mike” wants your party out of the coalition is because its working to damn well and could very easily keep Labour out of power next time around, and maybe the time after that. If their attitude towards your leadership and your party has not given you ample warning about the Labour party, you deserve all you get.

  31. @Hooded Man
    Just spotted your post so had to comment…

    I see what you mean but what I meant was that the PAPA layout made it easier to see the underlying trend over time. (But perhaps I’ve missed somethng here on UKPR?)

    I’m off

  32. It’s not just Labour-ites that are abandoning the LDs as some Cs like to make out. If you voted LD as you thought they had the best policies on the economy, immigration and education, then is there much point voting for them again, given they haven’t been able to deliver on any of these?

    Immigration might be getting dealt with but there’s little evidence of anything LibDem happening in there. Likewise, the economic cuts or tuition fees.

    There might then be a struggle on who to vote for (EdM’s SDP-influenced Labour or the largely unelectable Greens spring to mind as most likely) but little point putting your cross next to a coalition party that has compromised it’s most attractive features to the point of abandonment.

    And it certainly doesn’t mean an eternal drift to the Right. Even still, most LD members have said they would prefer a coalition with Labour than Tory (with a large chunk not caring). But the LDs have never been part of one or the other of the big two and I don’t expect that to change for the next 20 years at least .

  33. @ Martyn

    There are two different issues in your post.

    The first is about the figures.

    Deficit and debt figures are not comparable for longer period, especially not arguments like “exceptional times” and alike. It’s OK for a politicians, but it’s better to leave it to them.

    An industrialising, an industrialised and a post-industrial country have completely different needs. Also a country that operates on gold standard and credit based monetary system.

    In addition, the way in which the state finances are compiled changes time to time, so the figures are not comparable (e.g. how the state owned sector was calculated pre-1984 or how state debt has been transferred to Bank of England). Just because they take it from the budget report, it does not make the figures comparable.

    Strictly speaking, in economic terms any money that is out of the walls of the Bank of England is the debt of the UK, but of course it’s not very meaningful here, although the economy feels it through the balance of payments.

    The second is about the weight of the current figures.

    The 60% debt (it’s a bit higher), is really nothing. A mild inflation with relatively stable interest rates could write off a large part of it (or economic growth).

    I agree with you that the 10% budget deficit is a problem (although again, because of budgetary conventions, the next year debt is not equal to last year debt plus deficit).

    But the problem is deeper: households are saving (see the large drop in household spending growth), companies are saving (most large companies are self-financing and the smaller don’t get loans and there is no noticable increase in the payment period for receivables) – who will spend? The inevitable conclusion from the budgetary plans of the government is that if there is no growth in household borrowing or company borrowing or current account surplus then it will mean stagnation or negative growth or (which is more likely) a drop in disposable income of the population (perhaps around 8-10%, I may model it, if I find the time).

    There is no way any politician can come out (cf. the arguments of the Irish and the Greek government) with such a statement: in order to reduce the budget deficit, we will reduce your living standards between 8-20%. Instead: we need to reduce the public debt to have better public service (x pounds are spent on debt service by day – but it’s not the debt service that is cut, but the spending), we are in the same boat, etc. This is why certain expenditure items are particularly squeezed: they reduce the standards of living.

    There would actually be another solution: increasing public spending, but in a targeted, coherent way, but that would require things that no British government would choose: the government would have to act as a business: using the NHS, the forces, the police, the councils, etc. for influencing the goods and services markets: whom they buy from and in exchange what the particular firm offers (beyond the goods or services), that is using the fact that the government concentrates 40 odd percent of the national income not for cutting down how much Whitehall pays for pencils, but for prefering certain suppliers that are listening to government desires in terms of employment and investment. If it requires higher price, be it, it would be still cheaper.

    The US will likely make the rest of the world pay for their adjustment – the UK is not in the position to do so.

  34. RCWhiting – they are much less likely to vote. As I said above, about half of those saying don’t know end up voting for the party they did the time before, of the remainder, the biggest chunk end up not voting (and, of course, a large chunk of don’t knows are people who didn’t vote the time before either, and they are very unlikely to vote)

  35. @ Roland

    Pension holiday years of the 90s is exactly the same thinking as Sid the worker…
    ————————————-
    Exactly, Roland.

    Nobody can accuse individuals or governments of being less wise than anybody else. Company directors, pension fund advisors, actuaries, banks… we were all in the boom together.

    But to get out of the recession… we appear to be expecting some groups to take a lot more of the pain than others.
    8-)

  36. oh, and I do think many LDs did realise that the coalition would leave them in a weaker position after the next election (I certainly did). But better 5 years in power than 80 years outside. However, if the compromise is too great that principles are abandoned, then that 5 years is not real power.

    I still believe the LD manifesto was the best one of the last election but there’s so little being enacted, there’s really no point voting LD at the next election, as that becomes a vote for the coalition policies. And most of those I would never have voted for.

  37. @STAR CHIEF

    “Immigration might be getting dealt with but there’s little evidence of anything LibDem happening in there. Likewise, the economic cuts or tuition fees.”

    I dont know if you have been abroad for months or if you read the Daily Star, but a certain Vincent Cable has been deeply involved with each of the 3 issues you mention. If you are the kind of LD who should have voted Labour in the first place, fine, but dont try to sell a bill of goods which rejects Liberal ministers are having an important say.

  38. @ Roland

    “Liberal ministers are having an important say”

    Certain LibDem ministers are having an important say I would say.

    VC is a strange one, by the way, he is playing for all audiances and he is also heavily involved in informal briefings. It’s a risky strategy.

  39. @ Roland

    I hope you are as happy with the Dems after the next election, when they have abandoned all their ‘consensus’ with the Tories & happily gone into a coalition with Labour. ;-)

  40. @LASZLO
    You may be right , however I don’t see and hear Dr Cable making a damn nuisance of himself as I had wrongly expected 5 months ago. BTW, there is very little doubt Laws will be back soon. Dave loves him nearly as much as he loves Samantha.

  41. amber

    roland will come after us with his shotgun if we did that

    i’m off out to buy a bullet proff vest :-)

  42. @ Roland

    He’s briefing against GO. And if there is no growth, who could claim “I was right”… I don’t like it at all.

    I genuinely think that the government has a major problem with not having any experience in government (except for KC). I lost count of Gove’s U turns and many of the CSR policies simply cannot be implemented. Labour overcame it (although it was not the reason for it) by sticking to Tory policies for 3 years.

  43. @AMBER
    I am truly glad you said that Amber, because I can answer this way. If Labour are largest party, no overall majority after the next GE, unless there is a formal tie with the Tories, the LDs are in my view duty bound to try and work out a deal. It may not be possible if Labour are Balls like and obstructive, but if the mutual goodwill is there in the same way it is currently with the Tories, it will go ahead. Let me make you a promise, if the Lord spares an old man to see such a thing, I, in the circumstances I have described, will not try on any of the pathetic arguments which have appeared on this board lately. Further I will attack any Tory who does.

  44. @ROLAND HAINES
    So you’ll keep voting Tory if they have an amnesty for illegal immigrants? If they vote for the STV system? If they introduce tax increases and are against austerity cuts?

    Or, like LD voters, will you find that that party no longer represents your views? The compromise was too great for the sacrifice?

  45. @LASZLO
    Well if he is taking a pop at Osbourn, he really does need to be careful. If there is no growth Osbourn is finished anyway.

  46. roland

    that is a very generous attitude, i’ll take me coat off :-) :-)

  47. @STARCHIEF
    So vote Labour.

  48. star chief

    vote green

  49. HOODED MAN

    I am not sure your particular criticism of Mike Smithson’s “average” poll is wholly valid as I don’t he has said he will not update the current month within the month.

    Generally I think MS’s approach is simplistic but I strongly prefer it to Anthony’s which I think overall is currently biased towards the YouGov polls because there are a lot of them.

  50. “We have got to start putting pressure on politicians particularly the Liberal Democrats; they have to be held accountable for what they have done there. They have tried to give the impression this would be a government of consensus but where is the consensus?

    “There are good people in the Liberal Democrats who have long been on the side of decency and justice. A lot of them are deeply dissatisfied, and if we build our resistance, and that may bring pressure to bear inside their party. The people we have to influence are the Liberal Democrats…..”

    He is planning a series of conferences and tracking polls to check his membership’s views.
    ————————————————————–
    Okay, kudos to the first person who tells me who I am quoting, above.

    And polling is genuinely mentioned, not shoe-horned in, so it isn’t ‘show & tell’.
    8-)

1 2 3 4 5 6