I was having a drink with a friend of mine who works for a pollster recently and we started talking about the “silent Tory” phenomenon I’ve written about previously. He wasn’t so sure about this being relevant in 2015 (I should disclose, he’s a Labour supporter), and disputed any comparison between this coming election and 1992. However, he then turned around and said something I wasn’t expecting.
“It’s the silent Lib Dems I’m interested in.”
I asked him what he was talking about. He said that he was convinced there are a lot of people out there who will not admit to voting Lib Dem to a pollster, despite the fact that this is exactly what they secretly intend to do.
“Could be worth 5%, I reckon. You might see it finally appear in April, closer to the day – maybe you’ll only see it on the day.”
I’ve been ruminating on this since. Do I believe the silent Lib Dem exists? Let’s weigh it up properly.
It is true that the Lib Dems have taken a mighty beating from the political press over the last five years. This would tend to have the effect of making people shy about admitting to sympathising with the Liberal Democrats, I can imagine. There are also a group of people who although they may not have approved of the Coalition, might vote Lib Dem if it was between them and the Tories; or particularly if it was between them and UKIP.
A lot of people who have voted Lib Dem in the past have been “none of the above” types, who it has been presumed far and wide will not plump for the party now that’s it’s been in government. But perhaps being so villainised by the media will capture the sympathy of some in marginal seats, particularly ones where the Greens have no hope (i.e. all of them)?
On the flipside, it seems far too tempting to feel like a magical five points is going to come the Lib Dems way on May 7th. I’d like to believe in the idea of “silent Lib Dems”, really I would, but somehow I just can’t. It feels too much like political comfort eating.
As with all of these questions surrounding the general election, we’ll find out for sure one way or another in a few weeks time. I suppose if we do see a sudden unexpected bump for the Liberal Democrats on May 7th, I’ll owe my Labour supporting pollster friend a pint.