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.