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Is this why the Libdem election vote didn’t hold up?


3:20 pm - May 16th 2010

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contribution by Renard Sexton

There’s one point about the recent election that has not been discussed about. And that is whether there was a “loud but flakey Lid Dem” effect at play, similar to the “shy Tory” problem of the 1990s.

As put by Nate Silver at 538 earlier this week, this “may not be the pollsters’ fault if voters changed or made up their mind while casting their ballots, as sometimes happens for third parties whose viability is questionable” (emphasis his).

We now have at least partial answers to these questions, which conspired to precipitate an election result where instead of seeing a long-awaited Lib Dem breakthrough we saw a rather demoralising Lib Dem meltdown.

To begin with, the Liberal Democrats pulled 23.6 percent of the national vote, a mere 1.5 point increase over their 22.1 percent share from 2005. As we have learned from our projections, however, if those 450 thousand voters (1.5 percent of the total 2010 electorate) were gained in the right seats, they could flip perhaps 5 to 10 seats to the Liberals.

Unfortunately for Nick Clegg, there were too few new votes and they came in all the wrong places.


In these 10 key marginals, the Lib Dems lost in all but one — including the loss of one of their own seats to Labour (Rochdale, which had notionally moved to Labour during boundary review).

They succeeded in picking up Eastbourne from the Tories, seeing a good 4 point swing. Beyond this, however, success was hard to find. In Oxford East, Islington South and Hampstead and Kilburn — representative of seats across the country — the Lib Dems lost ground to Labour.

While this might have been expected in some Scottish seats, or places where the Lib Dems are weak, to see a loss of vote share in key target seats is indeed quite bad.

In Watford it was a bit different — while the Liberal Democrats pulled a 4 percent swing against Labour, the Tories simply outstripped them, pulling out a 2 point victory.

Directly against the Conservatives, the Lib Dems again had a very rough time. Eastbourne was the only pickup from the Tories for the Lib Dems, while Cameron and co won grabbed 5 seats from the Lib Dems.

All told, the answers to our key questions seem to be as follows:

1. The electoral system did indeed hamper the Lib Dems, but not as much as their poor overall increase in votes. That said, the 2010 of 57 seats for 23.6 percent of the national vote is one of their worst in quite some time — compared to 62 seats for 22.5 in 2005 for example.

2.Internet pollsters overstated the Liberal Democrat share by about 5 points, whereas telephone pollsters produced figures that put the Lib Dems about 3 points too high. This suggests that selection bias from internet polling related to younger voters may be worth around 2 percent. Similarly, internet pollsters (excluding the dubious OnePoll) put Conservatives about 2 points low, consistent with the selection bias concerns we had.

3. Lastly, given that younger voters are the most volatile of all age groups, it is likely that there was some group of younger, less committed voters who responded strongly to polling but did not show up to vote.

Similarly, it is possible that there was some sort of a response bias near the end of the campaign, where Lib Dem voters (empowered and excited for the first time in a while) were more likely to respond to pollsters than on average.

———-
This is an excerpt from a longer piece at 538.com
Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight’s international affairs columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at sexton538@gmail.com

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Reader comments


“There’s one point about the recent election that has not been discussed about.” [sic]

Really? I thought it had been discussed at great length.

Well, you say they came in the “wrong places”, and certainly for this election you would be correct. But there is a long term view here, one that Clegg and the LDs were going in to the elction with that probably had a slight change as the campaign went on, and that’s to make the Lib Dems a relevant option in more constituencies nationwide.

And the fact is that in the long term view, assuming that the LIb Dems at least don’t lose significant support through their coalition with the Tories (and that is an assumption that I am acknowledging is far too early to make), the Lib Dems had an astounding election moving them in to a place where at the very least they have a good platform to win seats from new second place rankings.

Of course there is the question of how the public will perceive the coalition, and how they would vote for conservatives versus lib dems if they believe the coalition is successful. It’s an uncertain time, but the vote gains in the “wrong places” will give the party confidence whatever the other conditions in 2015.

Of course, Clegg did keep banging on about “national share”. A possibility could have been that people who would have voted LD tactically as an anti-Tory action thought “I need to keep the Labour national vote vote up”.

I wonder how many of those younger Lib Dem voters were locked out at the close of polls? Any evidence to suggest that the lockouts had an effect?

5. Charlieman

Renard Sexton, OP: “Internet pollsters overstated the Liberal Democrat share by about 5 points, whereas telephone pollsters produced figures that put the Lib Dems about 3 points too high. This suggests that selection bias from internet polling related to younger voters may be worth around 2 percent.”

When street interviews are conducted — typically by middle class housewives — there is a lot of selection bias. Rough looking blokes are not approached, for example.

Unfortunately, you can’t entirely blame selection bias for errors in internet polls. Rough looking blokes are as equally likely to be invited as women in business suits. And there is no serious age bias; it is easy to find web users between the ages of 18 and 60; 60+ interviewees are more likely to be educated, but that doesn’t mean that we can assume that any party will be favoured.

Would people stop banging on about a Lib Dem “meltdown”? We got more votes than ever before. If that’s a meltdown, I’m Donald Duck.

“Oxford East, Islington South and Hampstead and Kilburn — representative of seats across the country”

eh???

I believe that the polls simply show there was more ‘tactical’ voting at this election than any other election yet. Everyone was so scared of the other guy getting in that they stuck with the big 2 parties. I think most of the people that would have changed to Lib Dem or other smaller parties were just too scared of the Tories getting in. I’m sure that if people would just vote with who they actually agree with most, things would be very different. The sooner we get electoral reform the more balanced things will be. Unfortunately, I can’t see it happening as long as we continue to vote out of fear, even with the coalition deal. I’ll be very surprised if anything approaching real reform actually gets through.

9. paul barker

Lets get a few things straight, The LibDems got their best ever result in terms of votes, increasing their vote share for the 3rd Election in a row. Labour got their 2nd worst result in 92 years or, if you exclude the early years when their vote went up every time, their 2nd worst result ever.
In fact, in terms of vote shares, the closest result to 2010 would be 1923, theyear that Labour passed The Liberals to become the 2nd Party.
PS Have you all forgotten the slaughter in Iraq yet? Dont worry, you will.

Unfortunately I think the LibDems vote didn’t hold up because of their stance on immigration. I’d like to think it wasn’t but I’d be kidding myself.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Leon Green

    RT @libcon Is this why the Libdem election vote didn't hold up? http://bit.ly/9aHfol

  2. Sheryl Odlum

    RT @libcon: Is this why the Libdem election vote didn't hold up? http://bit.ly/9aHfol

  3. Steve Morris

    RT @libcon: Is this why the Libdem election vote didn't hold up? http://bit.ly/9aHfol

  4. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: Is this why the Libdem election vote didn’t hold up?: contribution by Renard Sexton
    There’s one point abo… http://bit.ly/aLtaOj

  5. Liberal Conspiracy

    Is this why the Libdem election vote didn't hold up? http://bit.ly/9aHfol

  6. The Election Blog

    RT @libcon Is this why the Libdem election vote didn't hold up? http://bit.ly/9aHfol

  7. Jane Ayres

    RT @libcon: Is this why the Libdem election vote didn't hold up? http://bit.ly/9aHfol





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