Lord Ashcroft has published a recontact survey of people who were contacted in the original Populus poll of Oldham East and Saddleworth voters. Full tabs are here and Ashcroft’s own commentary here. The poll confirms the churn underlying the by-election result – of 2010 Lib Dem voters, only 55% of those who voted in the by-election stuck with the party, with 29% instead defecting to Labour. The main reasons given by these defectors were, unsurprisingly, unhappiness with the Liberal Democrats’ decisions to go into coalition, or unhappiness with the specific policies of the coalition.

This drop in Lib Dem support was cancelled however out by Conservative tactical voting: of 2010 Conservative voters, 33% who voted in the by-election ended up backing the Liberal Democrats. Just under half of those who switched to voting for Elwyn Watkins explicitly said this was a tactical vote.

As was speculated before the election, the publication of the ICM and Populus polls showing the Lib Dems in a clear second place probably did encourage further tactical voting – 20% of those people who told Populus the week before the election that they would vote Conservative went on to vote for Elwyn Watkins.

In Lord Ashcroft’s commentary he addresses the claims that the Conservatives could have been the main challengers in the seat had they campaigned earlier and more enegetically. Personally my opinion was always that the seat was utterly unwinnable for the Conservatives anyway – the Conservative party does not win by-elections from third place behind the Liberal Democrats anyway, the idea of them doing it when they are (a) in government, (b) behind in the national polls and (c) the seat starts out as an ultra-marginal between the other two is fanciful.

Nevertheless, Lord Ashcroft suggests this poll backs up the argument that the Conservatives could not have positioned themselves as the best party to beat Labour if they’d just fought a bit harder. First because those contacted by the Conservatives were not significantly more likely to vote Conservative. Secondly because almost half of voters have decided before the campaign began who they would vote for – not, in my view, a particularly good bit of evidence – firstly because that means half the electorate decided during the campaign, secondly because just because in the event those people’s intentions did not change, it doesn’t rule out the possibility that they could have if the campaign had been different.

Thirdly, and most convincingly, because Populus asked those people who voted tactically how they got the impression that the Liberal Democrats rather than the Tories were best placed to beat Labour. Only 9% said this was through the Liberal Democrat campaign – 65% said it was because of the result of the last election, and they had either remembered themselves or seen in the media how close it was between Labour and the Lib Dems in May 2010. A deficit of only 103 votes is almost unsurmountable evidence that you are the party best placed to challenge the frontrunner.


32 Responses to “Oldham and Saddleworth revisited”

  1. Anthony,

    A very well argued piece..

    Two small points it I may..

    1. This does nothing to sooth the concerns of the local Conservative Association who claim that little resources were appropriated. If we are saying that camapigning achieves so little, ie that people make their minds up anyway, then why bother campaigning?

    2. You rightly show people had a storng awareness of previous May performance and bravo to them. But surely the insurmountable task facing the Libs would have been known to voters who paid any heed to all this wonderful national polling YG give us?

    My point? Blueys never stood a chance granted, but did yellows? If they did not, and I don’t think they did, then there is a merit for blues to position themseves for the next GE from second place… Any campaigner will tell you that capturing a parliamentry seat is like gardening.. it takes years of maintenance and hard work to produce those bright floral patterns…

    Blue might as well have trampled over their own garden bed, in Oe &S

  2. A 20% shift from Con to Lib Dem in the final week of campaigning is a good squeeze. It it evidence that opinion polls close to an election can alter the result, or just a bar chart fueled “CON can’t win here” squeeze message?

    55% of people stuck with the Lib Dems. That’s 55% of the 14083 from the may Election, or 7746. That leaves 3414 new votes to make up the by-election’s 11160.

    45% of people who voted LD in May didn’t this time. 6337 voters. Labours vote increased by just 500. Assuming the Labour stay-at-homes were roughly matched the Conservative Better-Labour-Than-Libdems tactical vote as one tory said on the news, the LD defection to Labour was quite small. Rather, people just stayed at home.

  3. I should add that there was probably some Labour – Lib Dem churn. Labour voters upset over Woolas’ lies swapping with Lib Dem voters not liking coalition with the Tories. Does the Ashcroft poll have any of that data?

  4. @Colin Green

    “the LD defection to Labour was quite small. Rather, people just stayed at home.”

    I find it difficult to understand how a rate of 29% defection to Labour can be regarded as ‘small’. Particularly when the 2010 LD vote in OES will not have contained any tactical votes from Labour supporters.

  5. Lib Dems were absolutely never going to win this by-election given the so-called ‘great betrayal’.

    Therefore a good second place would have been better for the Conservatives though it would have been in spite of the Lib Dems.

    But Dave needed to help out a *desperate* Nick.

    The fact that Dave thinks it more important to prop them up then get a half decent result for his own party is something that is slowly beginning to dawn on Conservatives (whether MPs, members or voters).

    They don’t like it and at some point in the next 12 months there will be a reckoning.

    Elsewhere 55% retention from their May 2010 figure mirrors perfectly the ComRes and Pop polls recently of a 12% national VI figure.

    I would assume that already a small number of Lib Dem MPs are trying to work out the best pull-the-plug departure strategy and the best timing for it. I would expect that number to grow remorselessly over the next 24 months.

    The Ashcroft analysis all looks rosy for Labour but after another slicing of the ball to the side of an open goal by EdM at PMQs today you really do start to wonder what it could look like with strong and effective leadership that bashes the Conservative-led government day after day.

    He’s *got* to do better. If he is not by early 2012 then he will be the victim of another Labour leadership coup attempt. This time one that suceeds.

  6. “But Dave needed to help out a *desperate* Nick.”

    Aye, and to be fair he succeeded. Had the LDs dropped to third ay OES NC would have been faced with growing dissent in his party. As it is, his day of reckoning has been postponed/averted.

    The other aspect to OES is whether it will encourage the two parties to field a single coalition candidate in parliementary by-elections.

    OES shows that the Cons are open to TV. Probably the same aplies to the rump of the LDs. Such TV would be encouraged by a single ConDem candidate running on the coalition/ABL ticket.

  7. @Robin

    It wasn’t a 29% defection. Labour gained around 500 votes which isn’t 29% of anything. It’s a net gain of about 3.5% of the Lib Dem vote from May.

    The data tables show some Labour voters changed to Lib Dem because of Woolas. Some LD voters changed to Labour because of the coalition. Clearly more moved from LD to Lab but not 29%. The biggest drop in the previous LD vote came from their voters staying at home.

  8. @Mike N

    I’m not entirely sure he did do much to postpone Clegg’s troubles. That the Conservatives rode in to ‘save’ the Lib Dems is going to be a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of the party. That it *didn’t work* and they still lost, is going to be a worse one.

    And of course, Conservative party members tactically voting for Lib Dems does very little to help the Lib Dem’s little problem with their party membership not generating enough funding to cover the loss of short money. I’m still considering collapse of the coalition via the Lib Dems having to declare bankruptcy to be a very possible event if they can’t find much needed backers.

  9. JAYBLANC
    “I’m not entirely sure he did do much to postpone Clegg’s troubles.”

    Hmm, maybe you’re right, but Colin Green (see post above yours) seems to be finding comfort from the result. And I recall seeing NC just after OES result looking confident and ‘happy’.

    I’d forgotten about the LD’s funding problem. Which part(s) might go bankrupt?

  10. The federal party has been running at a significant deficit for the past few years, and last years posted figures showed them having less in the bank than their deficit for the year. They also have a lot of their “zero interest loans” come to term this year, and will need to find covering donations to pay those back even if they are then to be immediately repaid.

  11. A quick internet search shows the Lib Dems receive about £3m per year in donations. More last year because of the GE. Unlike Labour, the Lib Dems are in the black. The loss of short money, £1.75m per year, put a big hole in the party’s finances. There have been a number of job losses to reduce costs.

    Talk of bankrupcy is a bit much though. The party will have to cut back to match its income but that is a long walk from being declared bankrupt.

  12. MikeN

    “And I recall seeing NC just after OES result looking confident and ‘happy’. ”

    Hmmm- that is not the Clegg I am seeing !!

    I think you have got this one way off beam.

    As JayBlanc put it- the rank and file are not happy about the tactics of Dave. There will be a reckoning- and thats aside from the dribble of defectors to UKIP.

    Oh and the notion of ‘single candidates’ is a dead duck- it has been ruled out across the two parties.

    Only a couple of refusniks are holding out.

  13. @Colin

    All political parties have to publish their accounts, and you can read the register at ht tp://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/party-finance/database-of-registers/statements-of-account

    Last year’s haven’t been published. I’m going from 2007-2009… And even outside of GE Campaigning, they were running steep deficits. You have to go back to 2006 to show when they last had a surplus.

    The Liberal Democrat party’s total funds at end of year 2009 was £109,651. Their budget deficit for 2009 was -£182,076.

  14. “Third and most convincingly”

    Not saying you’re wrong, but is the sample size for that..23

  15. @ Colin Green

    I don’t quite get the point you’re trying to make.

    The tables show clearly that OF THOSE 2010 LIBDEM VOTERS WHO VOTED THIS TIME, 29% of them switched to Labour. The fact the Labour vote only increased by 500 was because of a lower overall turnout.

    Actually, the Lib Dems did quite well to hold their defections to Labour down to 29%: the last national YouGuv computer tables I’ve seen show that 41% of previous Lib Dem voters would switch to Labour (although admittedly that poll was taken post-by election).

    Overall, the Lib Dems did as well as could be expected in this by-election. The tables show that they were the ones to advance during the campaign. (This can be seen clearly from responses to the question “When did you make up your mind how to vote?”).

    But Anthony’s closing sentence is profoundly true: the 103-vote majority provided the Lib Dems with the perfect opportunity to tactically squeeze the Tory vote, and most of that squeeze had probably aleady taken place before the campaign had begun (so great was voter awareness of the closeness of the result last time).

    One final thought: it’s good to see that Labour prevailed among all social classes, all age groups and both gender groups (though admittedly the sample sizes are a bit small).

  16. Matthew – fair point, well made.

  17. I’ll note that the legislative required deadline for submitting accounts to the Electoral Commission isn’t till the end of July, and those accounts can be published anything up to 20 days afterwards. So it will take some time before we can know how much financial trouble the Lib Dems are in.

    But we do know how much they spent on the 2010 campaign (£4,787,595) and how much they received for the first three quarters of the year (£4,328,862) the bulk of which as donations prior to may. Only £350,645 was donated in Q3. And assuming they also have their normal operating costs outside of what they spend on the 2010 campaign…

  18. Rob Sheffield

    Re NC’s demeanour – I’m sure I caught a television report on Saturday (I think) with a commentary that he was looking relaxed and confident. Certainly the image of NC reflected this. But that was then…

    Will DC’s help to the LDs in OES place pressure on NC to reciprocate and support the Cons candidate at the next parliamentary by-election? It is only a short step from this to a single coalition candidate. I’m not writing off this possibility just yet.

  19. I’m not sure about this result. The increased GE vote for the tories might have come partly from anti Brown Lib dems who returned to the LDs at the by election.

    I initially thought Cameron had thrown this seat away but even if they’d fought it properly the tories might have only got 18-22% so it was a possible calculation on cameron’s part.

  20. Mike N – “… reciprocate and support the Cons candidate”

    I speculated that part of Cameron’s OE&S tactic was to lure the Tory right wing into supporting a pact (not thinking he would have any success).

    Lo and behold after the result, Mark Pritchard, a former critic of the “purple plotters” called for a quid pro quo, and open debate about cooperation at byelections during this parliament.

    The 1922 executive though, were reported to be calling at No 10 on Monday to express their concerns, but I haven’t heard any more on that.

  21. “The increased GE vote for the tories might have come partly from anti Brown Lib dems who returned to the LDs at the by election.”

    I can’t see the logic of this. Surely LibDems who were primarily anti-Brown would have stuck with Watkins, as he was best placed to beat Labour here?

  22. Billy Bob
    To be fair to DC he’s a clever political opportunist. His OES ploy makes it ‘easy’ for NC to say to his LD collegues “we have to reciprocate, and it will cost us nothing”.

    I feel this coalition candidate arrangement has a good chance of occurring.

  23. The increased GE vote for the Tories might have come partly from anti Brown Lib Dems who returned to the LDs at the by election

    Nope. Only 2% of those who switched their vote did it for this reason (well 3 out of 130 – and at least one of those switched LD to Lab). [page 14 of tables]

  24. Billy Bob

    “The 1922 executive though, were reported to be calling at No 10 on Monday to express their concerns”

    Good point, thanks.

    Also note that the whole Clegg survival strategy post new year was announced as ‘openly publicising our disagreements’. Which has annoyed the Conservative blogosphere and the right no end- ditto the non-aggression approach to Old & Sad. That won’t happen again: at the very least not as brazenly. Dave needs to tread carefully after that 13% collapse.

    Two things to note well:

    1) there is no large scale desire in either parties rank and file for a single-candidate agreement- whether at BE’s or in the locals or at an GE.

    2) in the parliamentary parties there is even less- outside of the small coteries around Dave and Nick.

    The reason why there is support for these types of tactical devices may be because Dave and Nick (and their coteries) both would like a single centre right party to exist.

    That is certainly the suspicion of centre left Lid Dems and right wing Conservatives. More reasons for why it won’t happen IMO.

    Get out the parrot sketch !

  25. MikeN

    “I’m sure I caught a television report on Saturday (I think) with a commentary that he was looking relaxed and confident.”

    Was that commentary on Sky News !

    Or perhaps- just as likely- Laura K or Nick P.

    On C4 news he looked ill :-)

  26. Gove’s suggestion in HoC that Tories in Hull, at the local elections, should tactically vote LD was interesting.

    This UK coalition seems very different from those that have developed in Scotland and Wales. I can’t think of any occasion when Labour ever suggested that their supporters should vote tactically for the LDs.

  27. Rob Sheffield

    Can’t remember which news it was, but I very rarely watch Sky news.

  28. @Rob Sheffield,
    I do not understand your opinion of Ed Milliband .When
    even Julian Glover describes his speech to the Fabian society as “thoughtful” you know that he is doing something right! Camerons behaviour in the Commons

    today was much more muted,the comments of Flashman
    have obviously had an effect. The people of this country
    deserve a sensible ,thoughtful opposition,not one scoring cheap political points at a procedure a lot of people do not watch.

  29. Amber’s 5% still holds (37/42/9/11).

    Yet another new record govt disapproval -27%.

  30. what would have been the result had there been no tactical voting by the conservative voters who voted lib dem? would be interesting to see a more real view of people’s opinion

  31. ann in wales-

    re: EdM’s performance at PMQ’s

    have a a read of this

    h ttp://www.labourlist.org/pmqs-liveblog-january-19th?utm_source=taomail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=110880+PMQS+verdict%3A+Messy%2C+and+lacking+killer+instinct+%2F+Time+to+end+the+AV+war%3F+%2F+Free+schools+-+How+much+do+they+really+cost%3F+%28LL528%29&tmtid=110880-11082-11082-162-12-1560-64014