Britain’s leading pollster has a bleak prognosis, but a former Lib Dem leader explains his change of heartby Peter Kellner / April 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
The collapse in Lib Dem support is the most dramatic feature of the party landscape since last year’s election. Recent YouGov polls have shown Labour up around 12 points since last May and the Lib Dems down 14 points. Support for the Conservatives has scarcely moved—and very few voters have switched between the two main parties.
YouGov’s most recent nationwide survey, involving nearly 50,000 people, shows that as many as 69 per cent of Lib Dem voters have deserted the party since last May. But so have 24 per cent of Tories and 16 per cent of Labour voters. Labour is the only one of the three main parties whose recruits outweigh its deserters.
Of the Lib Dem deserters, 2m would now vote Labour, and 1.3m now don’t know—although bear in mind that most of the 2m who have switched to Labour are Labour identifiers (people who “generally” think of themselves as Labour) returning home since the last election.
Who are deserting the Lib Dems in greatest number? As one might expect, the party has lost ground most spectacularly among students, Guardian or Independent readers, those who identify themselves as very or fairly left wing, and trade union members. Yet it has even lost support among Sun and Daily Mail readers, a traditionally more right-wing base.
However, these bald figures conceal a much wider set of movements. Some 29m Britons voted last May. Almost 10m would behave differently if an election were held now. Labour has gained ground overall—but 1.4m people who voted for the party last May would not do so today. Even though Nick Clegg has seen his party haemorrhage support over the past 12 months, there are 600,000 people who did not vote Lib Dem last May who would do so now.
That said, such a dramatic fall in support is undeniably bad news for Clegg. He was able to woo voters last year, as previous Lib Dem leaders had done, by presenting his party as a progressive force that could keep the Conservatives at bay. Such an appeal has not succeeded so far in the local election campaign this year, and seems unlikely to do so at the next general election. Unless he can secure a new tranche of votes, from the centre and right-of-centre, his party seems doomed to suffer—certainly for as long as it is in coalition with the Conservatives.