Sunday 13 February 2011

How LibDem voters have shifted against the government over cuts

The Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror ComRes polling is bad news for the Coalition, as John Rentoul sets out, with opinion shifting against the government on every front.

The long lost "fair cuts" argument haemhorrages further.

Trailing by 28-57% on whether the government is cutting too severely and too fast suggests the these 'cuts are necessary' case is in increasing trouble too.

A very narrow plurality of the public as a whole (41-38) now say that the governing parties are exaggerating the cuts for party political reasons.

It is interesting that this is the only question in the poll where those voters who still intend to vote LibDem take the government's side of the argument (by 51-31).

Even still loyal LibDems break 35-50 against the government on the cuts being "too severe and too fast" (where Tories back the government 63-22). LibDem voters were split equally (42-42) on this question in November.

LibDems break 25-55 against the government on the fairness of cuts across society (where Tory voters are content, by 55-26), with 60% thinking they poor will be hit worse (55% of Tories disagree). LibDems disagree by 50-26 that the vulnerable are being protected by the Coalition; Tories by 50-23 think the opposite again.

By 38-28, LibDem voters think the Big Society is merely cover for spending cuts. Tories disagree by 15% to 46%. LibDems think the Big Society is a gimmick by 48-20%. (Tories just manage to reject this, 31-30). The party is committed to localism, but their voters do not think the big society will foster a culture of voluntarism (17-45) or redistribute power from central government to citizens (17-40). Tories think it might do both (tied 24-24 on voluntarism, and positive about a shift from government, 32-25)

On all of these questions, the sharp polarisation of Tory and Labour opinion means that the attitudes of LibDem voters often fairly closely reflect the (government sceptical) views of the electorate as a whole.

A lot of attention has been paid to the loss of LibDem support in the polls from the 23% that they polled in May 2010. There has been considerably less scrutiny of the opinions of those who remain. Next Left did look at this last November, pointing out that it made sense to think not only about the broadly half and half split between defecting and loyal LibDems, but also that the half who remained were split fairly equally between those who supported the government's deficit strategy and those anxious but still loyal LibDems who were broadly opposed to it.

While the party is now on 11%, compared to 13% in the poll last November, today's poll breakdown shows a shift against the government's deficit strategy among those LibDem voters who remain.

Anxious LibDems (who agree with Labour rather than Tory arguments over the deficit) now make up a clear majority of those who still intend to vote for Nick Clegg's party.


Of course, the LibDem breaks cover a small proportion of respondents, and is obviously a smaller sub-section than before the election.

It is worth remembering that, as LibDem support falls then, we would expect their remaining supporters to then reflect a better pro-government score.

The remaining LibDems are, of course, much less hostile to the government than a poll of all of those who voted for the party last May. (LibDem May 2010 voters split 61-25 on the cuts being too severe and too fast). Today's poll shows that those "who generally think of themselves as LibDem" are more sceptical of the government than those who give a LibDem voting intention. If the LibDems hit 5-6%, they would probably keep most of their happy pro-Clegg and satisfied with the government supporters, who make up about 5% of the electorate, and who would probably then be a majority of the still loyal LibDems.

Conversely, their only plausible route back towards 20% would be to reconnect with lost LibDem voters, who mostly agree with Labour arguments about the deficit. (Unless they think they can wrestle much larger numbers of the 25-30% of overwhelmingly Tory voters who strongly support the government).

So retaining and rebuilding LibDem support must surely require a less strident defence of George Osborne's deficit strategy, though the government's persuasion failures are not a problem for the LibDems alone.

Francis Maude's response to being roundly booed on Question Time - in insisting on talking louder to repeat the same point anyway - its all Labour's fault and there is no alternative - can be seen to have simply captured in miniature the problem that the government's public narrative can by definition, only possibly preach to an already converted core.

The loss of LibDem voters belief in the fairness and necessity of the government's deficit plans is one indicator of how opinion has shifted against the government, among those voters who were open to its arguments last year.

As a result, the pro-government core is slowly eroding from 30% to only a quarter of the public on several questions. Those are very weak foundations, especially from which to reconstruct the fortunes of two political parties, rather than those of the Tories alone.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I must be the only one in the country who will be voting Liberals, well I might as well get use to it now labour has agreed to boundary changes in a deal with the Tories, my area will become a Liberal area after 102 years in labour.