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Will voters turn away from Labour to the ‘untrustworthy’ Conservative Party or the ‘inexperienced’ Lib Dems?

Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov, on his polling company's Post-Debate Focus Groups.

It is extraordinary how this election has been so dominated by the debate performances.The only question in anyone’s mind last night was whether Clegg could fire another booster-rocket, or whether the sparks had dimmed. As it turned out, the post-debate polls all showed Cameron staying ahead. (Note to the British Polling Council: we should probably all agree in the future on the same sample frame and question for these – YouGov and ICM weight to the debate audience, ComRes to the electorate, both reasonable preferences but producing different results, a matter I discussed in my previous post.)

In addition to the post-debate polling, YouGov also conducted four online focus groups. The first brief report on these was sent to our email list within two hours. It tells us rather more than the straight “who won?” number, so in case you missed it, I reproduce here:


YouGov conducted four online focus groups immediately following the last of the three televised leaders’ debates with members of the public who had been watching. The purpose of these groups was to provide additional colour and understanding to our instant quantitative polling conducted post-debate.

Each group consisted of between 6 and 8 voters who broadly identified themselves as either Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour voters and one group with people who were completely undecided. Everyone who took part had said that they were open to change their mind on who to vote for at some point between now and the election on May 6th. The moderated discussions took place between 10pm and 10.30pm on Thursday April 29th.

The YouGov live focus groups show that passion for Nick Clegg’s freshness and honesty is wearing off. Though Clegg continues to be regarded as personable and engaging by many, questions remain about whether or not he – along with the Lib Dems – is able to offer concrete solutions to the problems the country faces. It seems that despite high levels of support being seen for Clegg during the past few weeks, this support is wavering. One respondent pointed out that Clegg was ‘no Obama’ suggesting that those looking for inspiration and fresh ideas in Nick Clegg have been left disappointed.

Respondents’ view of Cameron echoes what YouGov have been seeing in their quantitative daily polls for the Sun over the past few months. The focus groups suggest that many think Cameron gave a solid performance throughout the debates and that he is a more obvious statesman than the others, but doubts remain over whether or not he can be trusted. Occasional vagueness and evasiveness sometimes let him down, with one respondent pointing out ‘he can be quite vague regarding policies and how he would implement them’. There were also concerns raised over whether his ‘slick’ performance was too much style over substance.

It appears that the unanimous loser in all of this is Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Respondents focussed predominantly on his physicality, noting that he looked tired, he’d lost his spark and he appeared to have given up the fight. Though he was often considered the more passionate, robust and trustworthy of the three, Brown will be disappointed to learn that respondents felt he was hiding behind statistics and repeating the past record, and didn’t do enough to inspire confidence in what he and the Labour Party would do for Britain going forward. One respondent said that Brown ‘just comes across as an anorak who has lots of facts that no one cares about’.

At this stage of the election campaign, people are clearly yearning for more. As reflected in much of YouGov’s quantitative polling, people are hungry for change but they are concerned about how that change might look. Without a Conservative Party instilling clear confidence and inspiring trust in the population, or the Lib Dems convincing the electorate of their experience, it’s still far from a clear race. The Liberal Democrats – though appearing to be the surprise in this election campaign since the debates began – are just falling short of presenting a credible alternative. What remains clear is that the public are Labour-fatigued; what is still less clear is whether voters will turn away from Labour to the ‘untrustworthy’ Conservative Party or the ‘inexperienced’ Lib Dems.


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