Voters think our politics is far more polarised than it was during last year’s electionby Peter Kellner / January 26, 2011 / Leave a comment
The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition has caused something odd to happen. It was supposed to usher in a more consensual form of politics. But as far as voters are concerned, the opposite has happened. They think our politics is far more polarised than it was during last year’s election.
From time to time YouGov asks people where they place themselves, our political parties and their leaders on a seven-point scale from left to right. We then give their answers a numerical value, from minus 100 for “very left-wing,” via 0 for centre to plus 100 for “very right-wing.” This allows us to provide an average score for parties, leaders and groups of voters.
During the general election, both Gordon Brown (minus 27) and Nick Clegg (minus 13) were seen as modestly left-of-centre. David Cameron (plus 39) was seen as the least centrist leader, but his rating was substantially less right-wing than Michael Howard, who scored plus 53 at the previous election.
Today, the centre-left territory is vacant. A fresh YouGov/Prospect survey finds that Ed Miliband scores minus 45; Clegg, now plus 10, is deemed to have moved to right of centre, while Cameron has moved further right, to plus 48.
Meanwhile, most voters remain close to the centre. Their average rating has barely shifted, from minus three last May to minus one today. More to the point, seven out of ten voters who give themselves an ideological location say they are “centre” or “slightly” right or left of centre. Few voters these days consider themselves “very” or “fairly” left or right-wing.
This ought to be good news for Clegg. Although his reputation has shifted sharply rightwards, he remains far closer to the centre, in voters’ minds, than Miliband or Cameron. Yet we know that he and his party are far less popular than they were during last year’s campaign. This is largely the price of sharing power—they are blamed both for unpopular decisions in general, and for breaking specific election promises, such as reneging on a pledge to scrap student fees.
But our research uncovers another factor, which shows why the Liberal Democrats could find it hard to regain its lost support as the next election approaches. Last May, five times as many Lib Dem voters placed themselves to the left rather than the right. The party has lost many of those left-of-centre voters. If Miliband can create a slightly less…