The Liberal Democrats have lost almost 4m voters since the 2010 election. Is this the end?by Peter Kellner / August 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
A 2010 protest against student fees; if the Lib Dems stay on 10 per cent public support, at the next election they could have 10 MPs, not 57
The question is as tough as it is obvious: can the Liberal Democrats revive their flagging fortunes?
New polling data, gathered by YouGov, explores the nature of the party’s support at the last election, pinpoints the groups that have drifted away, and identifies problems the party must tackle if it is to avoid a near wipe-out at the next election.
The impact of the defection of Lib Dem voters is hard to overstate. The Lib Dems won 57 seats at the last general election, when they won 24 per cent of the vote across Britain. If they remain stuck on 10 per cent, then they would be reduced to just 10 MPs, on the conventional assumption of a uniform swing. Recovery to 15 per cent would lift this to 28 seats, half their present total.
Much of the Lib Dems’ current travails can be traced back to the nature of their vote in 2010. As usual, it contained a much higher proportion of fair-weather friends than Labour or the Conservatives. This is seen when we compare voting behaviour with results to another question that YouGov regularly asks: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish National, Plaid Cymru, or don’t you usually think of yourself as any of these?” This tells us not which party people would vote for but which they identify with. These “party ID” figures contain some awkward truths for the Lib Dems.
In 2010, the great majority of Labour and Conservative voters also identified with their party (the figures were 84 per cent and 76 per cent respectively.) With the Lib Dems the figure was much smaller: just 43 per cent. Of the 6.8m people who voted for them, just under 3m identified with the party, while almost 4m did not.
It has been like this for many years. The Lib Dem core vote has always been tiny. They add to their support at general elections and, even more spectacularly, by-elections by attracting the tactical votes of people who identify with other parties, and a large slice of the people who don’t identify with…