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”

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  1. Just nipped on to these august pages between woofing a bit of excellently prepared tea down and then disappearing to watch my laddo play football. Then it’ll be back home to watch the Ashes until the early hours. Bliss it is indeed to be a sports addict at this time of year!

    @Mike N

    You’re not isolated at all and, as you know, I share your view about the legitimacy of the coalition. You put your points well and convincingly and deserve better than some of the vitriolic responses you’re getting. I will join forces with you again when I’ve more time between various sporting commitments! In the meantime, enjoy the friendly banter!

    On another subject, I’m thinking of taking a breach of copywright action against the Guardian newspaper. Look what they had to say in their leading article this morning and tell me that it isn’t almost word for word what I said in my posts to Neil A last night:-

    “The formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has changed many things in British politics. It is not just that coalition government has put down stronger foundations at Westminster than many believed possible. There is also the sense of a new fluidity and uncertainty. Ideological assumptions that had seemed to be fixed have become more mutable. Sacred cows have been allowed to go free-range. The process brings losses and gains. Yet while it is possible that the old adversarial alignments may reassert themselves in time, it is also highly possible that politics is in new territory now, to which all must adapt to survive.”

    Well I never, and this from a Lib Dem supporting newspaper as well. Should I be flattered or are we both talking baloney??!

    A very good evening to all and come on the Poms!

  2. @ Amber

    Len McCluskey

  3. @ Roland & RIN

    Further I will attack any Tory who does.
    —————————————
    As you were, RIN – no need to shop for the vest. :-)

  4. @ Laszlo

    Kudos, my friend. It is a very interesting interview. IMO, Len is no Arthur Scargill.

    The tracker polls are almost certain to be published; I’m hoping Anthony will cover them on UKPR, if they are produced with the assistance of a reputable polling firm.
    8-)

  5. IAN C

    I think your analysis about the fall oif the Lib Dems is very perceptive and I have stated on this blog many times over the last 6 months that after the next GE I expect them to be back to where they were in about 1965 both nationally and locally.

    There is one possible escape from this disaster, for which the more prescient amongst them need to start planning now. This is to break the coalition in the middleof next year (Clegg or no Clegg) and enter a rainbow coalition with Labour which would enact a limited number of key things before calling another GE – they could

    – introduce a 1p in the £ incometax surcharge for 4 years
    – as a result of the additional income, reduce the scaleof cuts by 50%, rescind the VAT increase, restore child benefitasa universal
    – put forward a mixed grad tax/ loan sytem for university fees involving fees fixed at £3250 for 10 years

    The Lib Dems coud then portray thermselvers as having ‘seen the light’ and been willing to go to greatr lengths to retrieve the stuation.

    Would Ed M be interested in all this- I think so!

  6. Mike N,

    I studiously try to avoid ‘criticising’ anyone or anything!
    I was referring to the polls themselves, rather than the average of PB.
    Many polls are too infrequent. MS was sneering at the 5 out of 7 YGs being included on ukpr but they are weighted for how recent they are and are not out of date.
    If you look at ICM or Comres their archives are monthly, YGs are daily. Not saying it’s any more right with YG but at least they haven’t passed their sell by date ;-)

  7. I’ve just been reading an overview Michael Gove’s White Paper.

    Two points stand out for me:

    1) Heads having the power decide who is excluded. This one is odd, as in almost every other walk of life, it considered fair to allow an appeal to be heard. Obviously Heads could be judge, jury and executioner. Will the proviso that they have to find another place for the child and fund it make it worthless? This sounds tricky and hard to implement.

    2) Pupils will be encouraged to studies humanities subjects. Are these the same subjects that will not be funded any more at University?

    The package will be a big one to deliver, alongside the other reforms this Parliament.

    As a side note, I heard Unite’s new Leader on the news. He sounded like he won’t be taking the cuts lightly.

    Perhaps Ed M may wish he remains low key, but I suspect this may not be the case!

  8. DavidB,

    Would 1p on income tax really pay or all that?

    Lets have 2p on then!

  9. @ Garry K

    “Pupils will be encouraged to studies humanities subjects. Are these the same subjects that will not be funded any more at University?”

    But Gove’s background is history, but universities are controlled by VC.

    Anyway, I don’t think Gove will remain in post before the White Paper goes to legislation.

  10. david B

    i notice that your “plan” does not include any constitutional reforms

    in fact your “plan” has nothing of interest to a lib dem apart from the tuition fee but that is not labour policy

    decisions decisions who would we most like to be scr*wed by the tories or the reds

  11. @ Garry K

    “I’ve just been reading an overview Michael Gove’s White Paper.

    Two points stand out for me:”

    To me what stands out the most is a truly awful executive summary.

  12. Garry K –

    HMRC put out stats on what various tax changes would yield:

    http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/tax_expenditures/table1-6.pdf

    Obviously they are only a broad guide, and wouldn’t give a good picture for big changes, but a 1p rise in the basic rate of income tax would raise £4bn a year, slightly less than a 1% rise in VAT.

  13. I actually read the article on the BBC website.

  14. Anthony,

    Thanks for the link. I’ll remember that one.

  15. i was going to point out david’s terrible maths but i knew i could rely on other posters to do the job for me

    Would Ed M be interested in all this- I think so! but you fail to consider how lib dems might react

    libdems to labour under the red jackboot until they have atoned for their sins, is that what you have in mind

  16. @DavidB – “- introduce a 1p in the £ incometax surcharge for 4 years”

    I don’t necessarily agree with much of your post, but I do like the idea of announcing time limited tax rises. I think this is one way to craft a genuine deficit reducrion plan that doesn’t rely so much on cutting at the most sensitive time but also doesn’t give an improession that you’re just looking to carry on as before.

    I might consider other taxation routes however – anything that taxes employment more is also something we could do without at this stage. Personally I was looking at things like temporary suspension of some pension tax credits and a death tax on estates – things that could raise money quickly but effectively postpone any negative impact on the economy today.

    To be credible, you need to explain how you would return the taxes at the time you promise within simply going back into deficit. Growth can do some of that, but credible spending reductions but on a gentler path are part of the picture.

  17. As I have said on this site previously my problem with the Lib Dems going into coalition with tories is not that there was no pre annouced coalition, but that instead of a bit of compromise the Lib Dems have sold out on much of what they were perceived to have stood for, tuition fees are the most obvious example, cuts another one. Part of the problem here is that much of the leadership seems to have actually disagreed with a lot of the manifesto and consequently effectively lied to the British public.

  18. DavidB,

    That was a rather extraordinary post. I look forward to Howard’s response immensely :-)

    RiN – I’d say your responses have been admirably restrained.

  19. hooded

    i might have been a little testy today :-)

  20. Oooh, C40 L40 LD9.

    A watershed moment for the yellows?

  21. Latest government approval: minus 10 (Approve 37%, Disapprove 47%)
    Latest YouGov/Sun voting intention – CON 40% LAB 40% LDEM 9%

    Regards, Martyn

  22. Neil A,

    A watershed?

    It feels more like You Gov ground hog day.

  23. @GrahamBC – “….but that instead of a bit of compromise the Lib Dems have sold out on much of what they were perceived to have stood for…”

    I just think there is a bit of memory lapse going on here. The chat rooms at the time the deal was announced were full of the notion that Cameron had showered Clegg with all kinds of compromises and many Tories were deeply unhappy with what they had to give up.

    In reality, I think things are relatively even, probably slightly more to the Lib Dems (largely I think due to Brown’s bit of mischief making announcing his own coalition talks that terrified Cameron into chucking yet more promises at Clegg). The trouble for the Lib Dems is that the tuition fees crystalises the ‘broken promise’ issue, in a way that, say, the effective dismantling of the notion of a cap on immigration doesn’t for the Tories.

    Lib Dems shouldn’t be blaming themselves for giving too much in the coalition – they should be looking to string up which ever nerd thought signing specific pledges before an election was a good idea.

  24. I wonder if anyone still has a labour pledge card from 1997. I cant remember what they all were but I think reducing hospital waitiing lists and class sizes were two of them. Making a pledge is not a bad thing but making sure you honour them is another matter. The lib dems have back flipped on many things they opposed in the general election and use the coalition agreement as an excuse it is no wonder they have lost so much support. Facts are facts 60% of the elctorate voted for the condems now that has wilted away to 49%. Worrying times for Mr Clegg.

  25. @Neil A

    “Oooh, C40 L40 LD9. A watershed moment for the yellows?”

    It wasn’t last time. Wait for a change outside the MOE. 40-40-9 = no change. Again.

  26. ALEC 10.11

    Good response to Graham B C. Agree with nearly all of it.

    All these people comparing the workings of a coalition with the manifestos/pledges of the parties IF THEY WERE THE SOLE PARTY IN GOVERNMENT are in cloud cuckoo land.

    One might say even more so if you are referring to the MINORITY partner of the coalition.

    Mostly it’s just hypocrisy/bullying from the left, though might not be fair to paint Graham B C with this brush.

  27. Yougov poll for ITV Wales released today.

    Constituency voting intention
    Labour 44%
    Plaid 21%
    Tory 21%
    Lib Dem 9%
    Other 6%

    Regional List voting intention
    Labour 41%
    Plaid 20%
    Tory 20%
    Lib Dem 9%
    Ukip 4%

    Referendum for Welsh Assembly on March 3rd
    Yes 48%
    No 30%
    DK 22%

  28. A challenge for all us poll junkies. Can anybody think of anything remotely interesting or original to say about these daily YouGov tracker polls? We’ve just about squeezed the last dregs of excitement from them, haven’t we?

    Go on then, I’m going to have a go at my own challenge. What about the extraordinary 3% swing to Labour since Tuesday? Ring the church bells, get out the bunting and bedeck the streets with boughs of holly. The revolution is coming!

    Here we go, here we go, here we go……………………….

  29. @FAR EASTERNER

    The point is if you arent voting for a party based on their manisfestos what are you voting for. Just becuase you dont win a majority does not give you the right to back away from your promises.

  30. @Nick Hadley

    Here’s something a bit original (though you may or may not find it interesting).

    Yesterday’s poll (Con 42 Lab 40 LD 10) seemed to be quite significant because behind the drop in the Con lead (+3% to +2%) the poll included a much higher proportion of 2010 GE Conservative voters than in the previous week.

    That is, the ratio of 2010 Con to Labour voters yesterday was 643/497= 1.294. In the previous (3% Con lead) poll the ratio was 1.210 and trend towards an increasing Con lead over the past week had been closely correlated with an increase in the ratio from only 1.072 when Lab was 5% ahead.

    Put another way, you would have expected yesterday’s change in the sample to have increased the Con lead if the previous correlation had continued. Instead the Con lead diminished.

    So yesterday’s poll may have marked a more significant movement in voting intention back towards Labour than appears to be the case. Tonight’s poll might just reflect that movement rather than be something new. If it is a repeat, we will see the ratio falling back a bit from 1.294 when YouGov publishes its detailed tables tomorrow.

  31. @Epochery

    I agree with you about party manifestos. That’s why of all the alternate voting systems, I prefer the Italian one, where the largest coalition of parties gets a boost in seats as the winner within an otherwise proportional system. To reach the winning post, it effectively forces parties to put together coalitions before the election rather than leaving the power with the politicians to decide afterwards. The Italians know what they are voting for, and their choice of party can’t plede post election coalition negotiations as an excuse for breaking promises.

  32. I don’t agree with Nick (Hadley)!

    I am not bored yet.

    There is some science in it. To see the Lib Dems on 9% actually cheers me up. Labour’s recovery since GE is massive. Whether that would hold up when Murdoch unleashes his dogs of war in a GE campaign is open to doubt. All the same, polling like this at least gives me hope that Michael Gove won’t be around for ever.

    To come back to the comments above, if the Liberals want to have any chance of recovery then we have to start hearing their distinctive voice (if they have one).

    For example is VC really going to stop Murdoch making virtually all of British TV part of his family business? Am I a banana?

  33. (to head off Gove’s spelling Gestapo)
    plead not plede

  34. @Epochery – “The lib dems have back flipped on many things they opposed in the general election and use the coalition agreement as an excuse it is no wonder they have lost so much support.”

    &

    @far Easterner – “All these people comparing the workings of a coalition with the manifestos/pledges of the parties IF THEY WERE THE SOLE PARTY IN GOVERNMENT are in cloud cuckoo land.”

    Firstly – I’m not sure if I’ve come across far Easterner before, so welcome if I haven’t. However, in terms of the argument, I tend to lean towards Epochery.

    While coalition is clearly a different situation and a measure of policy mixing must take place, what I think has really irked people on the tutition fees, is that while I think they have an agreement to be able to opt out of the vote in the coalition agreement, Clegg is insistent that its positively the best policy to follow.

    It’s one thing to reluctantly have to drop favourite policies because you’re in a coalition, but actually seeming to enjoy doing it appears to be treating voters with contempt. Bad move.

  35. @ HOWARD

    “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.”

    I enjoyed your post Howard, very honest. I was even beginning to warm to your arguement until that last paragraph put me off completely :-)

  36. I do hope that the revolting students are just as keen to use their votes in May.

  37. zeph

    can’t they just go home and stop being revolting :-)

    good night

  38. @DavidB

    I’ve just read your 8.19 post and don’t understand your figures. I estimate that your shopping list requires an income tax rise of at least 5p just to cover the 50% reduction in spending cuts and rescinding the VAT rise.

  39. @ Zeph & RIN

    This is a bit out of character for me but….

    Students saw Clegg & Co. sign a pledge; now they are exercising their democratic right to protest against a policy that isn’t what they voted for & the best you can do is dig out the old ‘revolting’ pun.

    Really, you chaps must try harder. ;-)

  40. RiN
    Lib Dems under red jackboot
    Sounds reasonable to me.
    Seriously, I don’t know if we are really absorbing the figures. As I posted last week on current polling in Scotland, a key area for the Lib Dems, they are according to the Scotland Votes calculator on track to win no mainland seats. In a UK election according to Electoral Calculus they are on track to win 3 of their current 11. Today it was announced that they took in less money than ukip for the first time and they are not taking in enough to run a party. For the uk they have catastrophically lost their crucial Short money.
    This is nothing to do with compromise or unfair criticism. The Lib Dems compromised with Labour in the Scottish Parliament and did just dandy. They took credit for everything positive and dissociated themselves from everything else. This time the majority of their voters feel that they have given away almost everything to get nothing. It is a bit like that Tory who talked about the sandwich. The voters feel ridiculed as the unfortunates who bought that fellow’s jewelry.
    I do agree with whoever said that the root cause may have been that the leadership may have wanted to move in this direction anyway but didn’t dare say. A Laws return would be a Labour dream.

  41. Whilst I am no fan of tuition fees, I do find the sight of “angry” students vandalising stuff because they want the right to earn big salaries without repaying loans a bit stomach-churning.

    “What do we want?”

    “Subsidies from the taxpayer!”

    “When do we want it?”

    “Now!”

  42. Barney

    “current polling in Scotland” may be a misnomer. i note upthread another Welsh poll from YouGov.

    I’m sure we would both like to see similar Scottish polling.

  43. @Neil A

    Just retiring to bed after watching England’s steady start in the First Test in Brisbane. Your reference to today’s student protests leads me to attempt a slightly risqué joke that may or may not pass muster with Anthony. Here goes and may the Moderator have mercy on me.

    I’m inclined to agree with the recent misgivings about the quality of today’s education and the grammatical standards now observed by modern students. Today I saw a student wielding an anti coalition banner that said, “Stop the cuts”. Can’t these layabouts spell any more? Surely there’s an “n” missing from the word cuts!!

  44. Neil A

    Perhaps it’s because the likes of DC & Clegg got by on

    “Subsidies from the taxpayer!”

  45. Nick Hadley

    What a Nordic-centric post! Cnut was a very effective king of Denmark, Norway, bits of Sweden and some southern territories as well.

  46. @ Phil 11.08

    Really nice piece of observation!

  47. @ Neil A

    “What do we want?”
    “Subsidies from the taxpayer!”
    “When do we want it?”
    “Now!”
    ————————————————
    ….Like our generation(s) got, Neil. They are not asking for anything that we didn’t have ourselves.

    And a main plank of the deficit cutters’ argument was: “We ought not to leave debts for our children to pay [let’s make sure they have too much debt themselves to pay for anybody else’s].”

    [This part was the quiet bit of the message that wasn’t said out loud].
    8-)

  48. @ Matt

    Thanks for the Welsh poll. Does this make it likely that Labour would have a majority in the Welsh parliament?

    There seems to be less acrimony between Plaid & Labour than there is between SNP & Labour… is this a reasonable assertion, or would you disagree?
    8-)

  49. Amber, yes the squeezed generation. Some members of my generation might smugly complain about providing subsidies when they have had student grants and a free NHS.
    Now we are looking at soldiers in our schools, and degrees from MacDonalds.
    There is a generation of voters who the coalition cannot count on.

    Incidentally, if parties agree a coalition before an election, surely that makes them one party?

    (Missing your comments on the other side but maybe some will drift back)

  50. PamF
    “Incidentally, if parties agree a coalition before an election, surely that makes them one party?”

    Certainly it would focus the attention and mind of the electorate on what they want as an outcome. Seems sensible and desirable to me.

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