The Lib Dem bubble hasn't burst

Latest polls put Lib Dems ahead of Labour and show little decline in support.

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1272145532250

Latest poll (YouGov/Sunday Times) Conservatives 43 seats short of a majority.

There are no fewer than six new opinion polls out today, most of which show the Conservatives' lead beginning to recover.

The latest Ipsos MORI/News of the World poll will undoubtedly attract the most attention. It puts the Tories up four points to 36 per cent, Labour up two to 30 per cent and the Lib Dems down nine to a pre-debate level of 23 per cent. But since none of the remaining five show a similar decline in Lib Dem support, I think it's safe to assume this is a rogue poll (around one in twenty are).

Elsewhere, the YouGov daily tracker has the Tories on 35 per cent (+1), the Lib Dems on 28 per cent (-1) and Labour on 27 per cent (-2). If repeated on a uniform swing at the election, the figures would leave David Cameron 43 seats short of a majority in a hung parliament.

It's worth noting that after reaching a peak of 34 per cent last week, the Lib Dems' share of the vote has settled at around 28-29. This is still unusually high, but it does suggest that the surge may have peaked.

Meanwhile, the latest ComRes survey for the Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday shows the Conservative lead falling back to five points after two earlier polls put it at eight-nine points. The poll puts the Tories down one to 34 per cent, the Lib Dems up two 29 per cent and Labour up three to 28 per cent.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament, Conservatives 54 seats short.

Like ComRes, the latest ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll also suggests support for the Lib Dems remains healthy, with Clegg's party up one to 31 per cent. The Tories are on 35 per cent (+2) and Labour on 26 per cent (-2). On a uniform swing, the figures would leave Cameron 50 seats short of an overall majority.

There is also a new BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday which has topline figures of Con 34 per cent (+3), Lib Dems 30 per cent (-2) and Lab 26 per cent (-2). Finally, a OnePoll survey for the People has the Tories on 32 per cent, the Lib Dems also 32 per cent and Labour on just 23 per cent. But it's currently unclear whether the company uses proper weighting, so I'm leaving it out of our Poll of Polls for now.

Overall, it looks the right-wing smears against Nick Clegg have failed to dent Lib Dem support and that his party is still set for a record-breaking performance at the election. Meanwhile, several of the polls suggest that the extraordinary possibility of Labour falling into third place at the election cannot be ignored.

In the case of the Tories, a significant amount of progress is needed in the remaining two weeks if they are to prevent Britain's first hung parliament since 1974.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war