Some of the internet got very excited over a LibDemVoice poll earlier this week showing 46% of Lib Dem members don’t want Nick Clegg to stay on as party leader at the next election.

The question itself was rather more nuanced than some of the comment upon it suggested – it gave respondents options of Clegg staying for the election, stepping down just before the the election or stepping down sooner than that (and also separate opinions for stepping down as leader and deputy PM). Most of the 46% of Lib Dem members that wanted Clegg to go were happy for him to stay on for now – 32% of respondents wanted him to step down as party leader at some point, compared to only 14% who wanted him to step down in the next year. It suggests to me that this is more about Lib Dem members thinking Clegg is probably not the leader to get them votes at the next general election, rather than a sign of unhappiness or opposition to him per se.

While I’m here I should write quickly about how representative the polls on LibDemVoice are. Stephen Tall and Mark Pack don’t make huge claims about representativeness and are always quick to stress that they can’t claim they are representative. This is admirable, but is sadly not a carte blanche, as however much the person doing a poll hedges it with caveats and warnings these are rarely picked up by third parties who report a poll and are more interested in making it newsworthy than reporting it well.

That said, I think they are actually pretty worthwhile. They have the huge advantage of being able to actually check respondents against the Liberal Democrat member database so we can be certain that respondents actually are paid up Lib Dem members and not entryists, pissed off former members, other parties supporters causing trouble, etc. LDV also have access to some proper demographic data on the actual membership of the Lib Dem party, so while their sample is unrepresentative in some ways (it’s too male for example), they know this and can test to see if it makes a difference. They have also compared it against some YouGov polling of Lib Dem members which had very similar results, and actual Lib Dem party ballots, which had excellent results in 2008 and rather ropey ones in 2010. Mark Pack has a good defence of them here.

Of course, there are caveats too. The danger for such polls is if they end up getting responses disproportionately from one wing of the party or another, from supporters or opponents of the leadership. I am not a Lib Dem activist so such things may be over my head, but from an outside perspective the LibDemVoice website doesn’t seem to be pushing any particular agenda within the party that might skew the opinions of their readers or which party members take their polls. If reading LDV does influence their opinions though, it could obviously make respondents different to the wider Lib Dem party (for example, here Stephen suggests Nick Harvey’s increase in approval ratings could be the effect of making regular posts on Lib Dem Voice, which would indeed be a skew… but not on a particularly important question!)

I do also worry about whether polls that are essentially recruited through online party-political websites or supporter networks get too many activists and not enough of the armchair members, or less political party members (not an oxymoron, but the type of party member who joins for family or social reasons, because their partner is a member or because they want to contribute to their local community through being a councillor and the party is really just the vehicle).

All that said, while they aren’t perfect and Mark and Stephen never claim they are, I think they are a decent good straw in the wind and worth paying attention to, especially given the verification of whether respondents are party members.

Two new polls tonight – the daily YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 42%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 6%, so no significant change there.

There is also a new TNS BMRB poll, which has almost identical topline figures of CON 32%(+2), LAB 42%(nc), LDEM 10%(nc), Others 16%(-1). Changes are from their last poll a month ago.


Lord Ashcroft has released some more polling on gay marriage, asking a question on whether people would be more or less likely to vote for a party that legalised same-sex marriage.

As regular readers will know, I have an awful lot of reservations about would X make you more or less likely to vote Y questions. To tick them off quickly –

(a) people tend to use the question to register their support or opposition to a policy, regardless of whether it would actually change their vote
(b) people are extremely poor at understanding the drivers of their own voting behaviour anyway
(c) if it asks about a specific party, people who are already voting for that party regardless say it makes them more likely to vote Y, people would would never vote for them anyway say it makes them less likely to vote Y. Neither of these groups matter
(d) by singling it out it gives the issue being asked about a false prominance, when actually lot of other equally or more important issues would be there influencing people’s votes
(e) more or less likely is a pretty low bar. It isn’t saying people definitely would or would not vote Y if X happened, just more or less likely. It’s pretty easy to tell a pollster that to indicate your support or opposition to a policy, it can be a more difficult decision when it comes to an actual ballot box

Despite these problems, more or less likely to vote are much beloved of campaigning and pressure groups as it makes whatever pissant little issue they are campaigning on seem like something incredibly important that will decide elections.

Anyway, this isn’t to particularly criticise Ashcroft’s question, since they’ve done all they can to try and get a decent question out of it – they gave people the option of saying they supported or opposed gay marriage, but that it wouldn’t affect their vote and they looked separately at current Tory voters and potential Tory voters.

Overall, Ashcroft found people in favour of gay marriage by 42% to 31%, with 27% saying they had no real opinion either way. People who were opposed to gay marriage were more likely, however, to say it would affect their vote – overall 10% of people said they were more likely to vote for a party that supported gay marriage, 12% said they were were less likely.

It becomes more interesting when we look at the crossbreaks. Amongst people who voted Tory in 2010 and would still vote Tory today the vast majority say the issue makes no difference – 6% say it would make them more likely to vote for a party, 9% less likely to vote for a party. Amongst lost Tory voters, who voted for the party in 2010 but wouldn’t now 26% say supporting gay marriage would make them less likely to vote for a party and only 4% more likely – this fits nicely with a support that the Conservatives have lost to their right and UKIP.

However, there are two sides to the equation. Looking at the votes the Conservatives have gained since the election 15% say they are more likely to vote for a party that legalises gay marriage compared to 11% less likely. Looking at those who are not voting Tory but may consider it, 12% say they are more likely to vote for a party that supports gay marriage compared to 9% less likely.

Of course while Ashcroft and his pollsters have done their level best to write a good question, most of the caveats above still apply – questions like this give undue prominance to an issue of low saliance and even wording like this it probably grossly overestimates the importance of the issue in voting intention. It does however, as Ashcroft concludes, demonstrate that the effect of gay marriage on voting intention is not all one way.

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 44%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 7%, very much in the normal range. On a Monday night you may be wondering where the monthly Populus and ICM polls for the Times and Guardian have got to – my understandiing is that Populus/Times are skipping August, as they have done in past years, and ICM/Guardian will probably be next week.

The YouGov/Sunday Times results are now up here, with topline figures of CON 32%, LAB 43%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 7% – still within the margin of error of the 9-10 point Labour leads that YouGov have now been showing for a couple of months. The rest of the poll had questions on exam results, tuition fees and Julian Assange.

On exam results, 48% think the reason A-level results are consistently improving is because the exams are getting easier, 22% think teaching and school standards are improving, 12% that pupils are cleverer or working harder. 61% of people think it is right to introduce a tougher marking regime.

Turning to higher education, 30% of people think that a university education is worth £9000 a year, 53% think it is not worth £9000 a year. However, asked if they think graduates will or not be be better off if one balances the debt they will incur from university against the increased earnings they may achieve people are evenly split – 41% think most graduates will still end up better off, 42% think they will end up worse off (this does pose the question of how some people can think that a university education isn’t worth £9000, but that people paying that will still end up better off in the long run.)

On a different subject, 60% of people think Equador was wrong to let Julian Assange shelter in their embassy, and 55% think they were wrong to offer him asylum. However a majority (54%) also think that Britain should respect diplomatic convention and not attempt to enter the Equadorian embassy to arrest Assange (33% of people think we should). By 51% to 25% people think that Assange would receive a fair trial in Sweden, but by 51% to 29% they think he would not in the USA.