A new year – time to take stock: What Opinion Polls teach us from being in Government and what it says we should do in 2012
4 January 2012 14 Comments
As we say good bye to 2011, it is time to take stock and look forward to what we need to do in 2012. As politics is all about the poll on polling day lets have a look at what we can learn from the polls since we have been in Government.
Polls are relative to the opinion poll company undertaking the poll so if you look at polls, make sure you compare like for like i.e. the same poll against the same poll. Also look at the poll that gets it right most often as a comparison to the actual vote. For this reason I use ICM and I have written about using the ICM polls to chart how we are doing here.
What we can do from historical charts is see how we are doing from a historical perspective (good poll ratings in green, poor in red):
We can then use the opinion polls since being in Government to have a look at patterns of when we are doing better and worse in the polls to see if this helps inform what we need to be doing:
I have put the events that were happening at the time next to where it happened so we can look for patterns and what we can see if this:
I’m not sure there is a distinct pattern for falling opinion polls but there are lessons. In the first year we had the budget, spending review and the tuition fees to deal with. In all of those cases the general perception was that we were ineffectual. While we know that there have been some Lib Dem gains and improvements to the proposals, the major issue in all of them was the shock at the extent of the cuts and rise in the fees. We failed to get a Lib Dem headline through the shock and we generally came across as very defensive, particularly Clegg (to be mocked for it). From February 2011 to June 2011 we were seriously attacked by the Tory machine in the run up to the referendum and elections and the extent of the cuts continued to create fear. The Lib Dems failed to show we were making a difference.
Interestingly, the attacks on the NHS reforms didn’t really give the Lib Dems a boost. Only once the issue had gone away did things start to improve. Equally, September to October saw falling poll ratings too, despite the conference. This was a relatively quiet period for the party and we failed to get many headlines which showed we were making a difference. The conference generally came over as defensive of our record (not easy, but right) and if there is anything to learn from the down periods in poll ratings it is that being defensive on our record does not work.
The upward poll ratings are more interesting. January 2011 to March 2011 saw the largest improvement in poll rating since we have been in Government yet this was perhaps the period where the leadership was least in control. Lord Oakeshott made significant criticisms of the Government and resigned from the Government. He was making regular appearances on the TV and radio and had a knack for easy one liner. At a similar time there was a lot of criticism of the cuts from local Lib Dems and Shirley Williams and others in the Lib Dems started to give serious criticism of Lansley’s NHS reforms. Together this seemed to give a sense that the Lib Dems were different from the Tories and had influence in Government – even if Clegg didn’t want them to be making these criticisms.
The phone hacking and the response to the summer riots saw the Lib Dems assert our more distinct identify which stood out from those of the Tories and from Labour, although I notice that Miliband did try and copy the Lib Dem positions (a new threat). And more recently we have seen a new assertion of Lib Dem values from vetoing the Beecroft proposals on employment law changes, attacking the eurosceptics and setting out the open society i.e. liberal society, which has benefited our poll ratings.
So what have we learnt?
- Owning all decisions the Government makes does not work. This has been the biggest mistake we have made since the formation of the Coalition.
- On big decisions announced by the Government, there needs to be at least one major Lib Dem concession, directly attributable to the Lib Dems, which shows our influence.
- Asserting how we are different to other parties, including attacking the Tories, works.
- Having the leadership attempt to control the party does not work. When other people have set out Lib Dem positions, even when it has been against Clegg, the message has got through.
So what does this mean for 2012?
- Lib Dems should disown what we don’t like that the Government is doing.
- Lib Dems should aggressively promote policies we have implemented.
- Lib Dems should speak with more than one voice.
- Lib Dems should continue to set out independent values.
- Lib Dems should not be defensive of decisions we have had to take.