At the beginning of the year YouGov re-asked a question on where people would place the parties, the party leaders and themselves on the left-right spectrum – a question we’ve returned to a couple of times a year since we first asked it in 2002. As I’m sure people will point out, political views these days probably can’t be so easily characterised on a single left-right axis, but it still serves as a good measure of how close people see the political parties to themselves.

There are some interesting patterns on display. Firstly the Conservatives and David Cameron are seen as being as almost right wing as they were under Michael Howard. Cameron’s score on the left right scale (where -100 is very left wing and +100 is very right wing) is +48, compared to Michael Howard’s score in 2005 of +52. The Conservative party in general scored +53 in 2006, now it scores +47, not significantly more centrist.

This is not to say that the whole strategy of making the Conservatives look more centrist and moderate failed. It succeeded…for a while, then around 2009/2010 perceptions of the Conservatives moved rightwards again (probably as they were forced to talk about deficit reduction and cutting public spending, as opposed to their strategy of focusing on the environment and public services during the early years of Cameron’s leadership). From +53 in 2006 the Conservatives had moved in to +37 by 2009, before moving out again in 2010. Cameron started at +35 on the scale in 2006, and moved into +28 by 2009 before slipping rightwards. Whereas once Cameron was seen as to the left of his party, he and his party are now seen as equally right-wing.

Moving onto Labour and Ed Miliband, the perception of Miliband as “Red Ed” seems to have found some traction with the public. On the left right scale he is viewed as being as left-wing as Cameron is right-wing, with a score of -45. He is perceived as being more left-wing than Gordon Brown, who as Prime Minister recieved scores of between -20 and -27, and vastly more left-wing than Tony Blair who used to be perceived as slightly right of centre, with scores of +3 to +7.

While it is not seen as being as left-wing as its leader, the Labour party itself is also seen as having moved significantly to the left since the general election. In May 2010 it received a score of -27, in the latest poll its average rating is -39. Coupled with the Conservative move to the right, this means the public perceive our political parties to be more polarised than they have been for at least a decade.

Finally we come to the Liberal Democrats, and the impact their entry into coalition with the Conservatives has had upon how they are perceived. Until the general election the Liberal Democrats had consistently been perceived as a left-of-centre party, scoring between -9 and -17 on the left-right scale. They are now viewed as being almost exactly in the centre, with a score of +1. Nick Clegg himself is now seen as firmly right-of-centre with a score of +10.

Given the public themselves inevitably place themselves in the centre, this should in theory be good for the Liberal Democrats. In fact the Liberal Democrats have managed to secure the worst of all worlds. People who consider themselves as being left-wing tend to view the Liberal Democrats as being right wing. People who consider themselves as being right-wing tend to view the Liberal Democrats as being left wing.

As a footnote, the data also gives us firm evidence of what most people assumed anyway – that the votes the Liberal Democrats have lost since the election have been their more left wing voters, leaving them with a somewhat more centrist rump. “Lost Liberal Democrats” (those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 but wouldn’t tomorrow) place themselves on average at -20 on the left-right scale. Those who have remained loyal place themselves on average at -6.

This post is also up on the YouGov website here – the full tabs for the left-right questions are here.

81 Responses to “The left-right spectrum”

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  1. So Ed Milliband is more left wing than Tony Attila the Hun Blair. Hooray.

    Left / Liberalism is fine and valid. New Labour was a paper chase, paranoid, silly party. No One liked it. it was a period solely defined by the Tories being even more stupid than Labour.

    Time to get back to sensible arguments; Labour essentially more inclined to support working class / lessen social differences / more social freedoms = Liberals ; neither one thing nor the other – Tories ‘slash and burn benefits / maximum freedom for business (long live 2008!!!) / no-one pays taxes.

  2. @Eoin/TGB
    Here’s hoping that your rumour is from the same source that had Lenihan pencilled in for FF leader!

    Thanks for the clarification. Nonetheless, if -33 is according to AW “slightly left of centre”, I don’t regard -39 as “excessively” left wing in terms of perception, although of course that’s just my opinion.

  3. My cousins lived in the house R MacDonald was born in (5 Gregory Place, Lossiemouth) I spent my childhood holidays there (the link is to Drainies)
    I think Balfour may have spent part of his childhood in the family stately home in Shapinsay

  4. Phil
    You are being kind in saying pencilled in It was almost as definite as the guarantee that the SNP would have the same vote as last time!

  5. Anyone noticed the oil price going over $100/barrel today? That sort of external pressure on the economy can make any chancellor or internal policy irrelevant.

  6. keithp

    Yep oil prices are a didaster and not likely to plummet any time soon.

    But is any other major economy going back into recession instead of growing.

    Apart from those applying the TINA austerity measures, like Ireland?

  7. 40/42/8

    You Gov has Tory keeping up and Libs slipping-ish. No change for Lab.

  8. ComRes 34/43/10 nc/+1/-2 (from last phone poll)

  9. That’s a big difference between 34 and 40 for Con.

  10. Anyone else thinking that You Gov are starting to stick out like Angus Reid pre-election?

  11. 40, 42, 8. Surprising

  12. I for some reason feel sorry for the Lib Dems as they are seen as either Tories lite or labour lite. In the trend of that polarisation is increasing is that The conservatives are the ones who are more else the reason for polarisation I see them now as the right wing thatcherite party with a few one nation Tories. Labour is seen as mainly social democrats though could be said to be a democratic socialist party as well as few people realise the difference between Social Democrats like me and democratic socialists. On the Lib Dems is it that know they have moved to the centre-centre right is that just the MPs as a lot of liberal democrats would still be seen as centre left

  13. Yawn. Within moe.

  14. @Robin
    Within YG’s MOE, but not MORI, COMRES or AR’s MOE.

    Still tomorrow’s DT front page nay bring others into line with YG.

  15. Do you think the Libya thing will influence votes much?

    I always thought it was pretty clear the Government let him go because he didn’t do it anyway (quite apart from having cancer).

    But maybe it has some legs.

  16. Sticking to the theme of the thread (I refrain from commenting on YouGov opinion polls entirely now!!)

    I’ve always thought, based on my experience of campaigning over many years, that the proportion of the voters who have political views that could be described as avowedly left or right wing is surprisingly small, and quite possibly diminishing. The factors that determine how, or if, they vote can be broken down as follows: –

    – Family tradition/custom and practice.
    – Tribal party loyalty (quite often linked to above factor)
    – Incumbent Government’s perceived impact on their standard of living (the classic floating voter who votes with his or her pocket. They tend to determine election outcomes)
    – Negative personality factors – typically dislike of a Prime Minister (Brown’s Achilles heel) or Opposition Leader (Kinnock, Hague, Howard to name but few)
    – Positive personality factors – e.g. Clegg in TV debates and “seems a nice chap” mentality.
    – Time for a change – “give the other lot a chance”
    – Single issues (immigration, Europe, environmental, penal policy, MPs expenses, nationalist causes, Iraq war etc) that agitate specific groups. These cut right across the left and right spectrum.

    There are other factors of course, some esoteric and eccentric, but the number of voters, even those who swear party allegiances to their dying days, who hold a set of views, or adhere to an ideology that could be accurately described as left, centrist or right wing, is comparatively small (although totally over-represented on this site! People like me, for example!)

    My sense, unless some great cause emerges that politicises a whole new generation of idealists, is that we live in a largely apolitical world now where voting choices are determined rather like consumers select service providers. Who’s going to give them the best deal in their essentially materialist and, for most of us who bother to vote, still fairly affluent and comfortable world. Accordingly, voters get the politicians, and the politics, that they deserve.

  17. By the way, don’t you love Wiki-leaks? It’s like the joker in the pack.

    Livens up public opinion no end.

  18. Link to ComRes site with the results
    h ttp://

  19. Here’s a question for statistics geeks. YouGov have 3 8s in a row for Lib Dems. If you have go back to November you get 4 11s in a row and 4 10s in a row. Given the general randomness of polls, how many of the same score in a row do you have to get before it seems to unlikely to be true?

  20. @Colin

    Depends how many times you look. The more often you look, the longer the run has to be before it starts to be suspicious.

    Given no change in actual VI, for the LDs the chance of one day being the same as the previous one is only a little under 50%. I’d be looking for a run of at least 6 and more like 7 or 8 before thinking something odd was happening.

  21. On what seems to be exactly the same methodology for alternating telephone/online polls, ComRes are showing a consistently smaller Lab lead using online polling. It doesn’t give any insight as to which is right, but it might be relevant if (online) YouGov starts to show a consistently smaller Lab lead than other companies.

    Night all. Mad Men Series 4 beckons.

  22. Latest polls from each pollster:

    ComRes 31/01/2011 34 43 10 -9
    YouGov 31/01/2011 40 42 8 -2
    Angus Reid 29/01/2011 32 43 11 -11
    Ipsos-MORI 24/01/2011 33 43 13 -10
    ICM 23/01/2011 35 39 15 -4
    Average 34.8(Con) 42(Lab) 11.4(LD) 7.2(Lab lead)

  23. Gary’s presentation reminds one of the mother of the soldier YouGov who says, look my son is the only one marching in step.

  24. Howard

    I tend to look at the range of polling and assume that

    None of them have it “right”
    The “average may (or may not0 be “righter” or “wronger” than individual polls
    The biggest variation looks like being among those (in particular demographics?) who wander between LD and Con.

  25. All are within 3% of the average except YouGov, where the Tory figure is out by 5.2% and the LibDem by 3.4% and ICM LbDem is out by 3.6%.

    YouGov have the highest Con and lowest LibDem and second lowest Labour.

  26. I’d have loved to have seen Ed Miliband’s left-right score before and after he openly called himself a “socialist and proud of it”.

  27. Since 10th January YouGov has never scored Con at lower than 37% and mostly higher than that. The other polling companies have not scored Con at higher than 36 and mostly lower than that.

    In contrast the Labour score is much more consistent around the 42 mark.

    The Lib Dems are a couple of percent lower on YouGov than the rest and consistently so, ignoring the ICM outlier of Jan 15th.

    I don’t see that the stance of ‘MOE’ can be longer maintained. The difference in the Con result is of vital importance to Con strategists, since it is that party that, even with reduction of seats, needs a stronger performance than 38%. YouGov gives it hope but not the others.

  28. Howard

    I agree with your comments.

    Of course, none of the pollsters figures are ‘right’ … and none are ‘wrong’. But when one set is constantly adrift of the others it would suggest something is amiss with it.

  29. Crossbat11:

    “Negative personality factors – typically dislike of a Prime Minister (Brown’s Achilles heel) or Opposition Leader (Kinnock, Hague, Howard to name but few)”

    No, at the time, all of them.

    For me the least disliked were Harold Wilson (disapointing performance not up to expectation) and the masochist John Major (admired for valour beyond the call of duty) if we take into account the hand he was dealt.

    In retrospect I see that I judged Harold Macmillan too harshly, and even Alec Douglas Home would be preferable to most of his successors.

    Or am I just getting old?

  30. Michael

    “I’d have loved to have seen Ed Miliband’s left-right score before and after he openly called himself a “socialist and proud of it”.

    I’d have loved to see how many (a) disagreed with his judgement, and (b) thought that he himself believed it to be true.

    Such is Blair and Campbell’s Legacy and Thatcher and Ingham’s too.

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