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Welcome to Liberal Democrat Newswire
Dear Friend,

Remember when last weekend I say Liberal Democrat Newswire was returning to a monthly schedule? I hope not because as you can see from this email, plans didn't turn out that way...

Instead, here are the results of the survey of Liberal Democrat members I've run, asking about the 2017 party leadership election. I've deliberately run this very early on in the contest before even the timetable has been fixed. That is because in the early stages of a leadership contest, there is often much media coverage about what ‘senior figures’ think and this can significantly influence how events play out. Yet the party’s leadership is about who will be leader for the whole party, not just the leader for senior figures. Hence the survey, which I hope will help ensure that the views of all sorts of party members can influence how events play out, regardless of whether or not they have the mobile phone number of a journalist.

So, who do people want as the next party leader? Do members think Tim Farron was right to resign? Read on to find out the answers, after first an explanation about the methodology and whether or not you should trust the results.

Best wishes,


In this edition:
Crossed fingers - CC0 Public Domain

Can you trust the following figures?

Yes, I hope. Here's why. 

The following figures are based on an online survey of Liberal Democrat members, using a similar methodology and set of security features to the survey I carried out in the last leadership election. That got the result almost spot on and performed better than other attempts to measure the contest.

After weeding out fake entries, attempted duplicate voting, ex-members and the like, 2,209 people completed the survey in full, including the leadership voting intention questions (which asked them to rank all 11 of the party's MPs other than Tim Farron - a question design intended to ensure people gave thought to their answers rather than just picked a name or two and moved on).

Because of these sorts of protections, I'm confident that the poll isn't in the voodoo poll category. But it is a self-selecting sample rather than a random or quota sample based on the full membership. To check the robustness of the figures, I've therefore used two safeguards in addition to knowing that the overall methodology worked last time.

One, I've checked the views of many Lib Dem members in the last few days separately from the survey to have a sanity check to compare against the survey. Those views are in line with the survey results.

Two, I've checked to see how different weighting of the survey would affect the results, e.g. if the figures were re-weighted based on the answers to the gender question or to how people voted in the 2015 leadership contest. The findings do not vary greatly within a reasonable range of weightings, with one possible caveat noted below. I've not weighted the actual figures in the end as up-to-date figures for some of the weightings are not available (yet) and knowing how accurately members recall how they voted in a previous leadership election is an area full of unknowns. (People do not report accurately how they voted in previous general elections when polled months or years afterwards so it is likely recall of a party leadership contest is similarly off.)

There will most likely be another survey once the candidates are known and the contest underway. If so, that will be an attempt to predict who is going to win. This survey is more a scene-setter before the start of the race and for that later 'prediction' survey I'd revisit the question of weightings.
Voting at Lib Dem conference

The survey results

(Admit it. You skipped straight here, didn't you?)

Two-thirds of Liberal Democrat members think Tim Farron was right to resign as leader
  • By 66%-34% members who expressed a view said that Tim Farron was right to resign as leader.
  • Of those 66%, over two-thirds thought he was both right to resign and to do so when he did, but the rest would have preferred him to resign at a later date.
  • Many members added comments expressing their view that although they agreed with Tim Farron's decision to resign, they disagreed with his reasons - such as believing that he should have resigned instead because of his performance in the 2017 election (something I looked at in more detail last time)
As for who people want to be the next leader - because we don't yet have a confirmed field, the survey listed all 11 other Liberal Democrat MPs and asked members to rate them in order of preference. This both allows us to see who is the most popular pick and also how the popularity of candidates would look depending on which combination of people actually stand in the end. That will, most likely, be some combination of Vince Cable, Edward Davey, Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson.

Jo Swinson is the runaway favourite
  • When asked to rate the 11 Liberal Democrat MPs other than Tim Farron in order of preference for party leader, 57% gave Jo Swinson their first preference.
  • No other candidate got even as high as 15% of first preferences. On that showing, she would win in the first round in any contest. Even if her vote dipped below 50% in an actual contest, she draws second preferences widely from the supporters of all other MPs, and would still win with ease based on this survey.
  • Because of her clear lead over all other candidates combined, it does not matter what combination of other candidates there really are when it comes to the actual election. She would win easily whatever the actual line up is.
If Jo Swinson doesn't stand...
  • Lamb slightly ahead of Cable - If Jo Swinson wins clearly whatever the combination of candidates, it's a very different picture if she doesn't stand. Rerunning the count with her votes transferred over to their second preferences gives a very close looking race with Norman Lamb fractionally ahead of Vince Cable with 30% to his 29%. Edward Davey is on 18% and the other MPs share the rest of the support, with Layla Moran the best of the rest on 8%.
  • If all the other candidates are eliminated and votes transferred to Norman Lamb or Vince Cable, Norman Lamb extends his lead, just, to a 52% - 48% margin over Vince Cable.
  • Note: It is possible these figures under-estimate Norman Lamb's actual support compared with Vince Cable as the responses slightly over-represent London members, where Vince Cable is stronger, and also the proportion recalling that they voted for Norman Lamb rather than Tim Farron in 2015 is on the low side (though that may be the usual effect of people's memories changing or fading to the detriment of the non-winner when recalling how they voted). The first factor, however, is, at most, not large and the second is unknown.
  • Cable ahead of Davey - If Norman Lamb also does not stand, then Vince Cable wins out over Edward Davey 57%-43%.
.Of course, even if this survey is pinpoint accurate, it tells us how support currently stands amongst Liberal Democrat members. Campaigns can cause changes as Theresa May can attest.

But so far Jo Swinson is the clear favourite and if she doens't stand, it looks to be a close contest between Norman Lamb and Vince Cable with the odds slightly in Norman Lamb's favour.
When do you think the next general election will be? Join the debate on the Lib Dem Newswire Facebook page

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Thank you for reading

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which will now definitely, absolutely, probably return to the usual monthly schedule. The next edition will contain a more considered review of Tim Farron's achievements as Liberal Democrat leader, looking at what happened to the party across a range of measures such as membership, poll ratings and local government strength.

Until next time,


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