Wednesday 2 February 2011

Why we don't agree with Nick (and nor do you)

The Liberal Democrats have often been charged with being a 'franchise party' over many years, with the accusation from political opponents being that they say different things in different parts of the country, so as to be able to appeal electorally to those unhappy with Labour in the north and those disgruntled with the Tories in the south. It has been widely suggested that being a party of government will probably make this more challenging.

Polling evidence now shows that voters on both left and right place Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats on the opposite side of the political spectrum to themselves.

The YouGov website's detailed polling breakdown (PDF) behind Peter Kellner's Prospect article sets out that rather than thinking that the LibDems agree with them, voters with diverse views are more likely to agree that they don't. The overal findings show that Nick Clegg is the major party leader closest to the political centre and closest to the median voter. The Liberal Democrats are, overall, seen as very centrist. Yet what contributes to this centrist positioning is, in part, the aggregate of voters on both sides of the political spectrum believing that Nick Clegg disagrees with them.

Across party preferences, voters who see themselves as on the left see Clegg as being on the right, by +38 points among voters who identify themselves as very/fairly left-wing and +25 points to the right for those who are slightly left-wing. These left voters put the LibDems as a party +28 and +16 points to the right.

Those who see themselves as right-of-centre place Clegg on the left, at -10 points for those who are slightly right-wing and -14 points by those who are fairly or very right-wing. These right voters put the LibDems as a party on the left by -16 and -26 points.

(Centrists put Clegg 9 points to the right, and his party 4 points right-of-centre).

Labour voters, who place themselves 33 points to the left on average, put Clegg 41 points to the right-of-centre (though they have David Cameron further out at 62), and Labour voters now put the LibDems 26 points to the right-of-centre as a party.

Conservative voters, who place themselves 32 points to the right on average, put Clegg 12 points left-of-centre, and still see his party as still solidly centre-left, at 20 points along the left-hand scale.

LibDem voters, who place themselves -7 points left of centre, do put the party in a similar place (-6), though the party's 2010 voters as a whole now think the party is marginally to the right of centre (+3). Loyal LibDems still have Clegg just left-of-centre (-3) though including former supporters from last May swings him rightwards (+9).

So there is a 53 point gap between Labour and Tory perceptions of the political position of Nick Clegg himself, and a 46 point gap in where supporters of the largest two parties place the LibDems, but with each group of voters more aware of their differences than similarities. So Clegg polarises opinion much more than David Cameron or Ed Miliband, where the voters of different parties agree about their broad positioning, which opponents see as more intense than supporters.

The Labour Party is seen as considerably more left-wing (-52) by Conservatives than by either Labour (-32) or LibDem (-34) voters.

Similarly, the Conservatives are seen as considerably more right-wing by Labour voters (+62) than Conservatives (+38). LibDem voters (+49) almost split the difference, but they do see Labour as more centrist than the Tories.

Both Miliband and Cameron are seen by their own party's supporters as having views close to their own, with Tories putting Cameron +33 points to the right, and Labour voters placing Miliband -36 to the left.

Current LibDem voters see Labour as being 15 points nearer the political centre than the Conservatives (34 to 49) while those who voted LibDem in 2010 think the Tories are 24 points further from the political centre than Labour, since they both give Labour a slightly more centrist rating (-29) and put the Tories a little further right (+53).

That even loyal supporters of his Coalition partners do not see David Cameron as a centrist politician, putting him at +42 to the right, is a problem for both David Cameron's political strategy, and for his Liberal Democrat partners in government.

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