Is now the time to back the Lib Dems?

Is now the time to back the Lib Dems?

Will they repeat their conference bounce come the election?

Conference season 2009 is over and with YouGov having helpfully provided their tracker poll for Sky almost daily, now’s a good time to look back to see what lessons can be drawn for the coming months.

The most obvious effect was that each of the parties gained a boost in their share during and immediately after their conference. That’s perhaps to be expected as each was able to control much of the media’s political agenda and their opponents got little in the way of a look-in. Neither will hold as true come the election.

Mike has long noted the positive effect that increased media coverage of David Cameron has on the Tory vote share, an effect no doubt seen again yesterday. Less frequently noted, but perhaps potentially more profitable, was the impact that the Lib Dems’ conference had on their share of the vote.

At the time, the Lib Dem conference didn’t look like a success. Policy announcements were contradictory or not fully thought through, the party seemed intent on attacking the Conservatives at a time when floating voters are heavily behind them, Clegg’s speech left little in the memory. The one exception was Cable’s proposed Mansion Tax, which did hit the headlines.

Yet despite that, the Lib Dem share with YouGov increased from about 18% during August and pre-conference September up to about 23% during and immediately after their get-together.

Unlike the Tories and Labour, the Lib Dems usually have to fight for media coverage with two exceptions: their conference (when they have something of a monopoly) and during a general election (when the TV stations are obliged to give ‘balance’). If just increased coverage is enough for a section of the public to swing back behind them, then we can expect a similar upturn come April and early May.

Whether or not the additional coverage will benefit them is another matter. In the seats that are important to them – those they’re defending or attempting to gain – the voting public is likely to be well aware of the Lib Dems’ existence; there will have been many Focus leaflets delivered and will be many more to come. If there is an upswing, it may well come in seats where they stood little chance of winning anyway.

Even so, the Marginals Megapoll predicted that they’d win 55 seats. The majority of that was carried out pre-conference – i.e. with the Lib Dems in the high teens nationally. If they’re likely to get a lift during the campaign, it seems improbable that they’d drop much below that level.

At the time of writing, the spread on the Lib Dems is about 49-52 on both the Sporting Index spread and the Betfair line markets. There may well be some value there.

David Herdson

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