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. It’s interesting that we’ve essentially gone back to the 80s, with the Tories perceived as excessively rightwing, Labour excessively leftwing, and the Lib Dems slap bang in the middle, the difference being that they’re in government this time.

  2. Is it definitely true that voters on average place themselves at the central zero mark? It may well be, but I don’t know.

  3. where does supermac score or ted heath

  4. Nick – there or thereabouts. On the lastest figures the average figure for voters themselves was -1. We’ve asked the question 12 times since 2002, and the average place the public have placed themselves has varied from -3 to +2.

    Richard in Norway – it’s done by a grid, so even if the same question with the same scales had been done by phone pollsters prior to the advent of online polling, it wouldn’t really be comparable.

  5. At the risk of derailing my own comments thread, Jim Pickard at the FT reckons there is a compromise (or at least some sort of get out) about to be proposed on the AV bill filibuster.

    [The filibuster is over. There is now agreement on a timetable after discussions in usual channels, committee will complete on Wednesday and the Bill will be sent back to commons before Monday 14th, which all sides are happy with. The government will bring forward a package of concessions at report stage, but no sign of what they actually are yet – presumably the press will be briefed on them at some point tonight – AW]

  6. The Guardian:

    Labour sources said they were confident that the government would agree to hold “real and meaningful” public inquiries where there is strong opposition to new parliamentary boundaries, which will have to be introduced if the Commons is to be shrunk by 10%.

    I hope these promised talks are […] real and meaningful [Fine without the partisan point – AW]

  7. I wonder why left wing is presented as negative and right wing as positive in the poll questions? :-)

    Why not go the whole latin hog and call it ‘sinister’?

    I am always on about dog whistles, it’s that chip again.

  8. BTW you don’t re-register to get your colour, you re-log in otherwise it tells you somebody else is you! :-)

  9. Blair on Sky talking about the need to avoid “medieval religious autocracy”.

    I make no comment.

  10. Howard – it isn’t. In the question it is given as a verbal scale – very left-wing, fairly left-wing, slightly left-of-centre, centre, etc, etc.

    We then convert it into a nice numerical representation of people’s answers (where very left wing is taken as being -100, fairly left wing is -67, slightly left of centre is -33, etc).

  11. I guess it is the average of ther public placement of themselves that is around zero.
    I would hazard, though, that most people (young turks aside) place themselves more moderate than others would and view others more extreme than the same people view themselves.

    So whilst I think I am a minus 25 others may score me a minus 45 or 50 for example.
    This disconnect I would suggest is likely to more stark with professional politicians.

  12. Jim Jam

    It was interesting to note that in all the demographic and geographic categories (while the most popular option was DK) more people categorised themselves as being in the centre than anywhere else on the scale.

    A bit like those who come on here saying things like “Everybody hates *****. All my mates say so!”

    That a few more Tories think of themselves as slightly right wing, a few more Labour folk slightly left wing, and LDs (both loyal and disloyal) as centrists, may well say more about their assumptions about the party they support than anything else.

  13. Anthony

    Very comforting, I was of course only…….. well, I did add smilies.

    I do think it’s a good indication of why we are doomed to (rewarded with?) centrist governments and why whoever wants to win wil always gravitate to the mediocrity of vision, such as people as I possess.

    Funnily enough the ERS shows that AV is as likely to produce a landslide as a hung parliament. Seems good to me, a shake up every now and then is good for us (see 1945 and 1983)..

  14. Anthony,

    MORI asked similar left right perceptions of the three party leaders [as opposed to the parties themselves].

    DC was viewed as being light blue as opposed to Royal blue..

    It is in MORI’s 59 page end of year review if you are interested…

  15. Positioning of parties in the right-left axis is somewhat relative, depending on the political configuration of each country. Let us examine the two countries where I vote, Greece and France. In Greece there is no libdem/centrist party since 1981, actually in Parliament there are three right-wind parties, three left-wing ones and the Socialists, who are thus perceived as being centrist both by their own electorate and the whole of the voters, who place them in position 5 (Here 0= very left, 10= very right). The Radical Left Coalition and the Communist Party in their political discourse do not include the Socialists in the left, only the Democratic Left party (the most moderate of all three) acknowledge them as belonging to the progressive area, and are harshly criticized for this by the other two (they call them “crutches” of social democracy). In France, on the other hand, there are three centrist parties in Parliament, two in government with Sarkozy and one in opposition, so the socialists are perceived as a left-wing party, and all parties to the left of them recognize them as such. So when in France we say “la gauche”, we mean Socialists, Greens, Left Front (=Communists + Left Party) and Trotskysts (NPA and LO). In Greece, the term “Aristera” commonly refers to the three parties left of the Socialists + the various far left groups. Some socialist leaders, including PM Papandreou, refer to these parties as “the other left” (i alli aristera), implying that they consider themselves as lefties as well, but this is not reciprocated.

  16. I wonder what concessions them Labour Lords have filibusted out of Cameron.

    Is “filibustered” a verb? Or filibusted?

  17. @Cerebus
    “It’s interesting that we’ve essentially gone back to the 80s, with the Tories perceived as excessively rightwing, Labour excessively leftwing.”

    Excessively? Where did that come from?

  18. I was doing some research recently and came across a coincidental fact that I thought I would share…

    The 1910 election[s] as we know porduced a hung parliament…

    Exactly 100 years later, the same thing ocurred…

    In 1911 there was a by-election for Oldham

    Exactly 100 years later the same thing ocurred.;

    Weird eh?

  19. Phil I sent you a long reply earlier, did you get it?

    To the ROI question

  20. Winning a GE these days is not rocket science. There are two simple rules. Blair understood them well.

    i. Your own side will vote for you anyway.

    ii. So you need to win votes from the opposition.

    If you are the Labour party, this means moving to the right (a la Blair).

    If you are the Conservative party, this means moving to the left (as Cameron did back in the day when the Tories looked to be heading for a 100+ majority). Because the Conservatives moved back to the right – they failed to gain that 100+ majority or, indeed, any majority at all.

    Rather over simplified – yes.

    But essentially true – yes.

  21. TGB

    In 1911 there was also a Parliament Act to curb the power of the Lords ???? :-)

  22. Who on earth were the 5% of “very/fairly left wing”-ers who rated Cameron similarly? It seems like there must’ve been some donkey voting going on here…

  23. OldN,

    Too true.. In 1911 LG/WC were both Liberals… I wonder will we say that about NC/DL in 2018?

  24. TheGreenBenches, and I bet the PM went to Eton as well.

  25. Liz

    Asquith went to a Moravian Church boarding school at Fulneck, near Leeds, then the City of London School.

  26. There is a ComRes released at 10pm tonigt… rumours are unconfirmed yet, so I can’t post what I have heard.. if I get them confirmed I’ll report back

  27. The idea that “in theory” a party which seeks to adopt centrist policies as a means of being seen to sit on the centre ground and so inevitably garner popular support is very New Labour and rather old hat if I may say so.

    For example, I suggest that some of the positions taken by the right within the Conservative Party similarly strike a populist chord – the approach to the EU, immigration and capital punishment being cases in point.

    Similarly, although Miliband has yet to develop policy in any detail, the broad policy stances that seem to be differentiating him from what went before are both further to the left and populist at the same time, such as taxation of the highest earners, taxation of the banks, the living wage and opposition to further private involvement in the running of some key public services.

    I suggest that public perception that Miliband is now (shock horror) further to the left than Blair can only be a good thing in terms of generating support so long as the specific policy stances that define such public attitudes are ones that are generally popular.

  28. Liz

    I decided to keep looking up the schools attended by UK PMs. The first two PMs in the 20th century (Salisbury and Balfour) were Etonians, but the next was Eden in 1955, followed by his two Tory successors, MacMillan and Douglas-Home.

    Cameron is the first Etonian since then.

  29. TGB

    Re PM schooling and historical analogies

    In the 20th century, Etonians had to wait for 50 years then (like buses) three came along at once.

    I do hope the same doesn’t happen again. :-)

  30. OldNat,

    Bloody Balfour was to us, what the wonderful Duke was to you lot… ;)

    A school is a school, sometimes Etonians deserve pity, not rebuke..

  31. @Eoin/TGB (Re: ROI – previous thread)

    I had missed it, having been at work all day. Thank you for the trouble of replying. That explains a lot. Maybe as personalities change over time barriers will start to come down.

  32. TGB

    “sometimes Etonians deserve pity, not rebuke.”

    That was certainly the view of the gas fitter from Scottish Gas who replaced my daughter’s boiler.

    He reckoned he was the only gas fitter in Scotland who had been to Eton. (“I didn’t fit in”, he said with a smile as broad as his accent. :-) )

  33. Oldnat,

    Maith thu ;)

  34. Howard – I expect you can blame the mathematicians. On the Cartesian coordinate system, values of x less than zero are to the left of the y-axis, and values greater than zero are to the right of it. The Political Compass does the same thing.

  35. Thegreenbenches

    Ehat unconfirmed rumour have you heard? Don’t worry we won’t tell anybody or hold you responsible in you’re wrong.

    just whisper…

  36. Nick P,

    “we won’t tell anybody or hold you responsible in you’re wrong.”

    You might not…….

  37. Oh God

    I guess I’ll have to wait.

    dammit dammit dammit


    It will be interesting to see where ComRes fit in tonight?
    Will they be closer to Angus Reid 32/43/11 (Labour lead 11) and Ipsos-MORI 33/43/13 (Labour lead 10) or ICM
    35/39/15 (Labour lead 4) and YouGov 39/43/8 (Labour lead 4).

  39. My prediction:

    Con 33
    Lab 46
    Lib 10

    Although Lab might even be higher than that, and Con lower.

    (red tinged specs)

  40. OLDNAT, would you know which school can boast of educating the largest number of UK PMs?

  41. Liz

    Sorry, I don’t have that. In the 20th century it must be Eton.

    I think Harrow and the High School of Glasgow are in joint 2nd place with two each.

    Given that most PMs before the 19th century were aristocrats who would have been educated at home before going to University, “None” is probably the answer to your question.

  42. OLDNAT and others, I love coming to this site. You are all so learned, and I learn so much from you all.

  43. Except me, Liz.

    I just try not to be partisan-ed out.

  44. You are included too NickP. What I learn from you is that I am not the only one who is impatient.

  45. I am hearing echoes of the initial rumour.. that the poll is moderately good news for blue…

    John Rentoul who normally leaks a bit in advance is keepng Strum, this puts me in a quandry… is he strum because he is upset at the poll finding?

    is he strum because there is no credibility to the rumour?

    I guess patience is the best answer?

  46. OldNat

    Looking at the Wikipedia list of PMs from Walpole onwards, Eton seems to have it in all centuries! 19 PMs in all, I make it, have attended Eton. The closest is Westminster with 7 and Harrow with 6. Glasgow High School might have 2.

  47. Liz

    I do indeed have a large reference library by my desk (but if you promise not to tell anybody, I normally ignore it and google what I need!) :-)

  48. The Lords shenanigans may not be over. The Guardian:

    ut Labour is still threatening to block the bill during its next stages unless the government gives ground in two further areas by agreeing to:

    • Vary the size of the new parliamentary constituencies by 10% above or below the electoral quota size of around 76,000 voters. This would mean that constituencies could vary in size from 83,600 voters to 68,400 voters. Under the government’s plans, constituencies can only be varied in size by 5% either way of the 76,000 quota. This means that a constituency should contain no more than 79,800 voters and no less than 72,200 voters.

    • Establish a commission to make an assessment after the passage of the bill as to whether 600 is the right size for the House of Commons.

  49. Ian Anthony James

    Thanks for that.

    However, Drainie Public School is the most northerly public school attended by a UK PM (given that Scots and
    English define “public” schools differently! :-) )

  50. Phil – excessive relative to the electorate, in the sense of being positioned well to the left/right of a majority of voters (in terms of perception, rather than substantively).

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