A rather neglected group of voters

Those Lib Dem voters who now say they will vote Labour rightly receive an awful lot of attention from political commentators.This group is the main reason the Labour party has led in the polls for almost three years1

Talk to Labour strategists and they tell you that these defectors are absolutely essential to Labour victory. I think they’re right about that, though I’m less convinced than some that the support of all of these voters is nailed on.

However, there’s another group of voters that I think are just as important to the next election, but receive hardly a fraction of the attention.

2010 Lib Dems who now say they don’t know.

Now, the polling of Don’t Knows and Won’t Voters is neglected in much political analysis, for obvious reasons. No-one cares what non-voters think about anything.2

These people are not non-voters. They voted. They’re just not sure if, or how, they will next time.

Don’t Knows and Won’t votes make up somewhere between a fifth to a quarter of all Lib Dem voters at the last election.

That’s roughly one million to one and a half million votes. Just sitting there.

Today’s Populus poll has as many 2010 Lib Dems saying they don’t know or won’t vote as say they’ll vote Labour, and almost as many as say they’ll vote Lib Dem. If you look at all the Populus polls in November, you get a sense of how big a group this is.

This rate of unknowing is unusual. Recent Yougov polls show that 2010 Lib Dems are roughly twice as likely to say they Don’t Know or Won’t vote than 2010 Labour or Conservative voters.

I sometimes hear from political advisers that they think the next election is going to be a war of attrition. In this view the voting blocks are more or less decided, and the next election with be a trial of the unity and strength of the Tory/UKIP block versus Labour/Lib Dem defectors in a grimly static battle, with the remaining Lib Dem supporters presumably stuck in No Man’s land.

Even if you accept there will be little Conservative > Labour switching (or vice versa) in the coming months, it strikes me as pretty extraordinary that there’s a million or so actual voters basically standing around with a big label saying ‘Convince me, then’, and both of the two main parties seem to lack any sort of idea of what might appeal to them, what they are looking for, or even what they believe in.

Now, maybe all this is frantically happening under the surface, but if it is, I don’t hear much of it, and I point-blank refuse to believe that any Tory messaging at all considers the feelings and beliefs of this group.

Even Lord Ashcroft, who has done detailed polling of 2010 Lib Dem voters, devotes just a page of his report to the Lib Dem don’t knows, and tells us only that they don’t think Labour shares their values, don’t think the Lib Dems are capable, and don’t feel much attraction to the Conservatives. In other words, that they don’t know.

I think quietly, lots of people assume that many of these voters will end up returning to the Liberal Democrats, but they’re clearly not convinced by their previous party.

For now though, there they are, tens of thousands of them, precious people who actually turn out and vote, all looking for a party and a cause to support.

Please, won’t someone find out what it might take to persuade them?

There’s an election victory in it, for someone.

  1. with the occasional brief interruption []
  2. Exaggeration for effect, there []

7 Responses to “A rather neglected group of voters”

  1. Mark Senior

    What is also unremarked upon is that around 15% of 2010 Conservative voters are currently telling pollsters their VI is Don’t Know . Labour 2010 voters are more decided but the figure is still around 10% .

  2. Quietzaple

    Kindly clarify a difference between DK /WV and WNV? Does DK/WV stress that those who don ‘t know may not vote, as compared to WNV who are determined not to vote?

    The bleeds from UKIP after the Euro elections when the foreign and UK tax avoiders’ media rubbish Farage are likely to be more significant, surely?

    • Hopi Sen

      I just combined the Don’t Know and Would not Vote into a sinle figure, but then I thought that might be a bit misleading, so added them both in.

      I couldn’t say anything meaningful about the difference between the two, not least because the breakout of 2010 LDs who now say they won’t vote is so small – in each poll you’re probably talking roughly 5-20 people!

  3. Alan Ji

    1) If they don’t know, its difficult for anyone else to know.
    2) I don’t believe that the changes of opinion you have described are evenly spread, particularly in the marginal constituencies.
    3) For example. the notion that national (for Scotland) vote swings are going to turn half the LibDem seats in Scotland Conservative by majorities of less than 1,000 seems most unlikely. http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/conlist_scot.html
    3) If anyone wants to learn what’s occurring in the marginal constituencies, they need to spend to money to poll in those constituencies

  4. Chris Smith

    Good article.

    This chimes with what I hear on the doorstep. More than ever the ex-Lib Dems, that are considering voting LD again, are never going to admit that fact in public to a pollster. For many the shock of government has been too much to handle (and this would have been equally true in a Lab-Lib coalition despite the activists preference). It will partly depend on which way the seat faces – Labour facing Lib Dem parties will face a significantly tougher challenge than Tory facing ones. My only extra take on this (being a Labour facing Lib Dem!) is that I suspect that UKIP will take far more votes off Labour in these areas than people think.

    A week is a long time in politics though!

  5. Dan Filson

    I often canvass people who are fairly blunt about not being interested in voting, not being interested in politics and not being interested in political parties. They aren’t voters but they are electors. In a perfect world we would try and get past the front door and sit down with them and talk them into recognising the folly of their ways. But the reality is that there are higher priorities for those who go canvassing.

    I come across people who admit to voting LibDem last general election and now see the error of their ways. I have not come across even ONE who has gone the other direction.

    As to Don’t Knows, some genuinely have not focussed yet on what their choice will be in May 2015. I understand that however impatient I might be. It is to my mind more honest than someone saying thy have always voted Labour when their voting record right in front of me as I canvass them shows they have not set foot in a polling station since our records began. And many who actually voted LibDem in 2010 in a wave of Cleggmania have suffered a curious form of amnesia and persuaded themselves that they didn’t Fortunately YouGov’s polling methodology picks up what their memories have not.

    Does Labour care about Don’T knows – you bet! But when you are working towards a Labour victory in an election, you being by working out what the turnout will be, what share of that is needed to win, what the Labour promise is required to be in order for the presumed Labour turnout to liver enough votes to win the election and once you have that number of promises from then on you have to decide whether to move on to another ward or constituency or to devote your energies on how to get your promises out on the night or continue to amass votes for little further advantage.

    Election fighting is about the effective use of scarce resources – time and money. We haven’t got the money so need to use time at its most effective way, not as we would like in a perfect world with infinite time..


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