margins of error

If there’s one criticism of political bloggers and commentators which can stick to the targets like so much grease to the side of an oven, it’s the reactionary knee-jerk which comes from every daily opinion poll. Earlier this week, two daily polls put the UK Independence Party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, albeit by a single point, and from there came pieces in the Spectator about the trouble Cameron finds himself in and from Liberal Conspiracy rubbing hands in glee over the good all this does for Labour.

As a card carrying Liberal Democrat of twelve years standing, I am supposed to be weeping into my muesli and blaming Nick Clegg for every ill under the sun. Whilst I do have issues with the way the Party is going along a number of routes, the UKIP rise has barely registered with me at all. It’s a statistical blip. I know this because of my learnings. I know this because the newest daily poll has them below the LibDems again. By two percentage points.

There are poll findings which concern me, though these are more carefully considered points than the natural fluctuations (within most margins of error) of a voting intention straw poll. YouGov found that, amongst the younger voters, support for the Coalition is running at only 31%. When given the option “A Coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats” to the question “If you had to choose, which of the following options would be best for Britain?”, fewer than 10% of respondents agreed.

For our Party to continue in the Coalition, our message must be distinctive, determined and far louder than it is currently. Voters are not learning about the success stories of the LibDems in Government – from the income tax allowance increase to pupil premiums and scrapping ID cards. The manner in which we have reigned in the Conservative Party’s natural tendencies has been lost amongst so much blather and bluster, most of which stems from a right-wing press desperate for an early election and/or a Conservative leadership challenge. Neither of these pipe-dreams will come to anything, though this can be only one reason why the polls are behaving as they are. In the run up to a festival of democracy – London Mayor, London Assembly, Scottish and Welsh councils, hundreds of English councils *and* two English Mayoral elections – there is bound to be other parties in the back of voters minds. In the aftermath of Bradford West, the power of voting “Other” has been proven to work. Of course voters are going to choose other options in an election period.

Any findings relating to dissatisfaction with the Coalition is of far more relevance than the ups and downs of party polling. 

I am not concerned that UKIP polled ahead of us by only one percentage point for two days in April 2012. By April 2013 such a blip would have been forgotten. Unlike  Nigel Farage’s party, we are in Government and making a change on a number of policies, rather than standing outside any sphere of influence obsessing over a European problem which doesn’t exist. There will be few UKIP voters taking votes away from the LibDems. What all LibDems need to do in the run up to polling day is what we always do: FOCUS.