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Newcastle University study examines Liberal Democrats' prospects


Reports of the Lib Dems’ demise may be greatly exaggerated, research by Newcastle University suggests.

While they lost seats in yesterday's local elections and are predicted to lose more in European elections and next year’s general elections, a study by politics researcher Craig Johnson says the party’s strong local membership and ability to keep parliamentary seats means they will perform better than predicted.

Craig said: “The general consensus is that the Lib Dems are done and sacrificed their popularity for power when they went into coalition with the Conservative Party. The fact their national polling figures stand at just seven to 10% since the end of 2010 compared to 23% at the last General Election would also seem to back this up.

“Thursday’s local election results were very poor for the Liberal Democrats overall. They lost more than 100 councillors with more losses probably to come.

“However, in their strongest areas, the Liberal Democrats can point to signs of resilience, maintaining their vote in Eastleigh and actually gaining seats in Birmingham Yardley and Sutton. This is not universal: the party has lost support in other Lib Dem strongholds, such as Cambridge, Kingston, and Hornsey and Wood Green.

“And while they've lost seats locally,it's a certainty they will lose seats in the European elections and it’s unlikely they’ll hold on to the 57 seats they won at the last General Election, the idea that the party is dead and buried is wide of the mark.”

Craig examined in-depth the importance of local parties to the Lib Dems and its local income and membership.

He said: “Predictions of doom don’t take into account their ability to win parliamentary seats in their strongest areas. The party’s strong organisational base and active campaigners have been very effective at maintaining the Lib Dems’ hold in those areas and there‘s no sign that this has changed to the extent that it will lead to demise of the party. Also, it looks as though there will be relatively good financial resources to fight the next election in their strongest areas.

“Data actually shows that they are polling relatively well in marginal seats and the fact they won the Eastleigh by-election despite the Chris Huhne scandal shows they can successfully defend seats despite dwindling national support.”

The paper The importance of Local Parties and Incumbency to the Electoral Prospects of the Liberal Democrats is published in the journal Politics.

published on: 23 May 2014