And what implications for the by-election?
One of the most striking features of the opinion poll movements since the general election is the disparity between the performance of the two coalition partners. The Conservatives have never polled less than their election score of 37% with YouGov, although they have been a little lower with other firms. By contrast, the Lib Dems have lost close to two-thirds of theirs if the most recent YouGov survey is on the mark. Other firms have them a little better off but still down by at least half.
How to explain the wholly different performances to two parties doing very much the same thing? The simple answer seems to be that while the Tories are doing pretty much what their supporters expected (and, for that matter, what their opponents expected), the public is far more confused about the Lib Dems.
In addition to the headline figures, YouGov have regularly been asking a number of other questions on this subject since the election – most recently in the Jan 5-6 poll – and the results are striking. 75% of people who voted Conservative in 2010 agreed that â€œthe kind of society it wants is broadly the kind of society I wantâ€ applied more to the blue team than to either of the other two parties. Similarly, 76% of Labourâ€™s 2010 voters still said the same about their choice of eight months ago.
By contrast, just 25% of the Lib Demsâ€™ election voters still think the same of Cleggâ€™s party. Exactly the same proportion now feel Labour represents their vision of society best, 13% said that of the Tories while more than a third werenâ€™t able to nominate any of the three.
Perhaps just as importantly, the Lib Dems donâ€™t seem to be getting any credit for taking tough decisions, rather unfairly given how Vince Cable lead on tuition fees. Even among their own current supporters the Conservatives are seen by 47% to 37% as most prepared to take tough and unpopular decisions (interestingly, Labour voters also had the Tories ahead of their own party on the question but then Labour hasnâ€™t really had to take any tough decisions since May).
With so many of their 2010 voters apparently feeling disillusioned and perhaps even mislead about the Lib Dems, itâ€™s therefore unsurprising that more them are now backing Labour than sticking with the yellow team, particularly with Labour being somewhat reticent in proposing alternatives. The things that would be really interesting to know is where this substantial swing has happened.Â How much is uniform and how much is formerly pro-LD tactical unwind?
Are there any silver clouds for the Lib Dems? The only one thatâ€™s immediately obvious is the length of time until the general election, during which they can address the negatives coming out in the polls. Thatâ€™s not going to help in Old & Sad – though by-elections are by their nature special events and this one more than most.
In fact, thereâ€™s another feature of the poll that will make life harder: an apparent growing polarisation between red and yellow camps. Both have few good words for the other and plenty more criticism to throw at each other than they do for the Tories. Even in the unusual circumstances of OE&S, the Lib Dem votes lost to Labour because of national events – an effective swing of 10% -Â will be very difficult to pull back. Can differential turnout and a possible Con-LD tactical vote make that up? Maybe – just – if itâ€™s a very low poll, remembering that the Lib Dem vote in May was probably some way below its â€˜naturalâ€™ level due to Woolasâ€™ campaign. Even so, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s an attractive bet at current prices.