Since the Lib Dems threw in their lot with the Conservatives in the aftermath of the general election, Nick Clegg has come in for a lot of flak on the more left wing blogs and newspaper sites. It is often asserted that Nick Clegg is despised as a hate figure, perhaps even a figure of fun. Is that true?
Well, we have had two recent polls where the public were asked to judge his performance, from YouGov (14 Nov) and IPSOS-MORI (27 Nov). The results are pretty similar. YouGov found 40% thought he was doing well and 50% thought that he was doing badly as leader of the Lib Dems, while IPSOS-MORI found 38% were satisfied and 49% were dissatisfied with his performance as deputy Prime Minister. Despite the difference in the questions asked, the words "margin of error" spring to mind.
Are these unprecedentedly bad figures?
No. These are perfectly normal. Gordon Brown twice managed to hit minus 62 in June 2008 with YouGov. David Cameron was at minus 27 in September 2007 with YouGov. Nick Clegg's positive approval ratings first broke 40% as recently as May 2009. His 38% positive approval rating with IPSOS-MORI is pretty comparable with the 42% positive approval rating that he had with IPSOS-MORI in January.
What has changed is that Nick Clegg has far higher dissatisfaction ratings. In January 2010, only 26% were dissatisfied with his performance. That has shot up.
Do 2010 Lib Dem voters feel betrayed?
On the evidence of the IPSOS-MORI poll, yes, many do. 52% of 2010 Lib Dem voters are dissatisfied with Nick Clegg. This comprises fully 10% of the sample questioned by IPSOS-MORI. This is a troubling figure for Nick Clegg, there's no getting away from it. If that is the result 6 months in, he is going to struggle to win their support back.
How do current Lib Dem voters feel about Nick Clegg?
This is unclear. YouGov found that a mere 14% of Lib Dems felt that Nick Clegg was doing badly or very badly, while IPSOS-MORI found 34% dissatisfied with they way that he was doing his job. These figures are based on small samples, but the difference is striking. Perhaps this reflects the different questions asked. More data is needed.
The internal dissent is certainly higher than David Cameron faces - 97% of YouGov Tories profess satisfaction with him, a result worthy of Pyongyang (ISPOS-MORI registers a scarcely more plausible 92%) - but Ed Miliband has yet to enthuse Labour YouGov and IPSOS-MORI respondents, with 15% of both already unhappy with him. Of course, there are rather more Labour supporters at present than Lib Dem supporters.
Where does all the dissatisfaction come from?
Three words sum this up: current Labour supporters. IPSOS-MORI finds that 71% of Labour supporters are dissatisfied with Nick Clegg's performance as deputy Prime Minister and YouGov finds that fully 87% of Labour supporters think that he is doing badly as leader of the Lib Dems. This fits in with the anecdotal evidence of who is making all the noise about him.
There is also a geographical component to this. Sub-samples are not weighted, so are dangerous to rely upon, but the 68% disapproval in the YouGov Scottish sub-sample will not give Nick Clegg much encouragement in an area where 11 Lib Dem MPs have seats, while both YouGov and IPSOS-MORI find rather higher support for him in the Midlands and the South. There seems no reason to disbelieve this.
How angry are the dissatisfied?
Pretty angry, it seems. YouGov give respondents the opportunity to say whether they think Nick Clegg is doing badly or very badly. 27% of all respondents think Nick Clegg is doing very badly, including an incredible 61% of Labour supporters. That compares with 42% of Labour supporters thinking that David Cameron is doing badly. It is Nick Clegg that's getting the Labour heat.
But outside the ranks of Labour supporters, there is no such anger. A mere 2% of current Lib Dem supporters and a mere 3% of Conservative supporters rate Nick Clegg's performance as very bad. This anger is an entirely partisan phenomenon.
What does this mean?
What it means, I think, is that there is a dialogue of the deaf. Current Lib Dems and Tories don't understand Labour anger. Labour supporters don't appreciate that their reaction is particular to them.
Labour will no doubt feel confident that it will hang onto the support of the very unhappy. But making Nick Clegg into a human piñata doesn't look like a promising way of getting many new recruits.