The Speaker
Friday, 12 April 2024 – 14:57

Lib Dems on the rise while Labour and Conservatives are deadlocked? – What to read into recent polling

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Much of the focus since last year’s general election has been the performance of the two main parties in public opinion polls – especially as it seemed there was a return to two-party politics with the Conservatives and Labour commanding a combined share of the vote in excess of 80% for the first time since 1979.

Since the election, the majority of the headline voting intention results have had the two main parties in a state of deadlock – with very few leads for either party being outside of the margin of error – words that are frequently omitted when they’re reported. This has inevitably led to questions as to why one party isn’t establishing a clear lead over the other – with Labour on the end of many of these questions. The high standing in the polls for both parties could represent a dislike of what the other is offering, furthered by the unpopularity of both of the party leaders. Outliers varying between a 6% lead for the Conservatives and a 5% lead for Labour from different pollsters in September give both parties reasons to be both cheerful and wary.

Though, there has been some change in the polling in the sense that the averages for both the Conservatives and Labour have fallen below the 40% mark, and the minor parties are ticking up, though the Liberal Democrats might be the main beneficiaries.

Having polled just over 7% in the last general election, their rise is hardly meteoric, but there is a steady upward trend across a monthly average of every poll taken. The very few post-election polls averaged their share of the vote at around 6%, though surveys 14 months on have shown them polling at just under 10%. Indeed, each of the last nine surveys have shown the Liberal Democrat support to be at least 9%, with one Ipsos Mori survey polling them as high as 13%.  

This might cause a great degree of excitement for all of the politics geeks among us – and especially those who love the horserace nature of coverage that has increasingly crept into UK politics in the 21st Century.

The aforementioned lack of popularity of the two main party leaders could be a reason for this, but also the fact there is no general election scheduled until 2022. Right now questions about who people are likely to vote for at a general election are entirely hypothetical – and as a result can produce a different thought process for someone to arrive at their answer when participating in a survey. With the Lib Dems seemingly the beneficiaries of some Labour voters from 2017, this could change in a scenario where a general election was called – and if those former Labour voters, who likely voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum – are as anti-Conservative in their politics as many who are currently staying with the Labour camp they could return to the fold easily.

If we were to put and two and two together here, they are probably a little dissatisfied of the party’s position on Brexit and future relationship with the EU and are probably using surveys – and may use local elections – as a protest going forward.

As for the Conservative vote dropping, any kind of “bounce” UKIP appeared to have following the fallout from the Chequers proposals appears to be evaporating. They are a good example of their figure not being read into too much given they fielded fewer candidates than normal at the last election, meaning the likelihood was that not all of those who were surveyed had the opportunity to vote for the party in 2017 – something which also applies to the greens.

While there is certainly cause for some Liberal Democrat cheer at their poll ratings rising – and likely to average double figures in October if the trend of recent months continues – changing positive looking survey results into tangible votes at the ballot box is going to be a real challenge in an environment where the landscape has been so volatile.

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