litdigThe Literary Digest holds an interesting place in the history of politics, thanks to its role in the 1936 US Presidential election. For several elections before it had been conducting a mass poll that had allowed it to successfully predict the result of the election, which obviously helped to gain it a lot of attention and sales. In 1936, it did the same thing, sending out over 10 million surveys to voters, and receiving more than 2 million back, which gave it the confidence to predict the election result. The result of their poll was clear: Governor Alf Landon of Kansas was going to defeat incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt.

As we know, that wasn’t just wrong, it was badly wrong. Roosevelt won the election in one of the biggest landslides the US has ever seen, and the Literary Digest, which was already doing poorly in the face of the Depression, went out of business two years later. Meanwhile, George Gallup had used a poll of just 5,000 people and predicted the result of the election much more accurately (though not completely accurately – he missed the size of the Roosevelt landslide).

Gallup’s success came from something we take as routine now – rather than aiming to cover as many people as possible, his poll had taken a sample from the population. In trying to cover as many people as possible and sending their samples to names they had from their subscriber records, phone directories and car registrations, the Literary Digest had failed to sample across the whole of the population, as the poor were unlikely to fall into any of those three categories and were much more likely to vote for Roosevelt than Landon.

What’s important to note here is that the Literary Digest’s methods had worked before and successfully predicted the result of previous Presidential elections, hence their confidence in calling the 1936 result from their data. What they’d missed was the effect of the Depression on both their sample and voting patterns. A large group of people were excluded from their sample because of their poverty, and because of that poverty that group had a very different voting behaviour.

Which brings us to Liberal Democrat Voice. They’ve been conducting regular surveys of members of their forum (which you have to be a Liberal Democrat member to join) and publishing the results on the site for a while. Now, while this is a sample of Lib Dem members, it’s not a randomly chosen sample but a self-selecting one, especially skewed towards those who like to talk and read about politics on the internet. Now, they regularly claim that when tested against other surveys of Lib Dem members their poll is generally accurate, and thus they refer to the poll as a survey of ‘Lib Dem members’ not ‘our forum members’ in headlines, but we’ve now got a strongly testable prediction to see just how accurate a representation it is.

As many of you will likely have noticed, voting in the Liberal Democrat Presidential election finished yesterday, and Lib Dem Voice published the results of their latest survey, asking how people would vote in that. That gave a result of 52% of first preference votes for Daisy Cooper, 30% for Sal Brinton and 18% for Liz Lynne. Unfortunately, there’s no George Gallup in this scenario, who’s done a survey using a different methodology, so it may turn out that they’ve got the result right. However, to me, it looks like a very big hostage to fortune that might well have oversampled a particular type of party member whilst missing out a large chunk who will vote in the election.

We shall see when the result comes out, but there might be a few nerves at LDV Towers while they await it…

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Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year

Yesterday I discovered that I’d been nominated for Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year. It was a bit of a surprise – partly because I found out from the questions Lib Dem Voice – but an entirely welcome one.

Unfortunately, I can’t be in Glasgow for Conference this year, so I won’t be able to be at the awards ceremony which I’m sure will be as glittering as packed full of celebrities as it has been in previous years. I’d like to take this chance to thank everyone who nominated me, and encourage those of you who can and who haven’t done it yet to go and fill in the LDV survey. You can even vote for me if you like. (At this point, Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’, specifically ‘you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win’ fades up on the soundtrack.)

Mark Pack has a list of all the previous nominees and winners, and it’s an impressive list with an important pedigree of people who’ve quite blogging and/or the party after winning the award. It also confirms what we’ve all suspected for many years – that Jonathan Calder is the Liberal Democrat Leonardo DiCaprio.

I hope you all enjoy the awards, and whoever wins it’s just good to know that someone is reading all this and appreciates it. Thank you, and please keep reading (unless I win and have to follow the tradition, of course).



As I’ve written enough about Eric Pickles here this week, I decided my next piece about him should go somewhere else, so you can find it on Liberal Democrat Voice.


About a month ago, I wrote this post about the question of the ‘national interest’ and whether the Liberal Democrats remaining in the coalition served it. A week after that, I wrote this post on how treating politics as just a game played between the parties isn’t benefiting anyone and is contributing to the public turning away from seeing politics as a way to solve problems and resolve issues.

I’m flagging up these as background because this morning Liberal Democrat Voice have posted this article by Stephen Tall on the future of the coalition. The problem for me is that while it looks at some of the questions I raised in the first post, it does it in terms of the behaviour I criticised in the second one. It’s looking at whether continuing in the coalition is purely a good thing for the Liberal Democrats, rather than whether it’s a good thing for the country as a whole.

(Though in the comments, someone tries to tell me that ‘what’s good for the party is good for the country’ which is a very strong candidate for 2012’s most illiberal statement by a supposed liberal)

The point here is that back in 2010, I don’t think anyone by the most wild-eyed optimist expected us joining the coalition to be wildly popular, but we did it because we thought it was better for the country than any of the alternatives. Any discussion on what we do now should be based on the same principles – what’s best for the country? Instead, we’re getting stuck in questions of party advantage, and it’s being suggested that we should stay in the coalition not because of what it might achieve in the next three years, but because we have to prove a point about ‘pluralist politics’. Yet again, we’re forgetting that political parties are meant to be tools for achieving political aims, not an end in themselves. There’s an odd notion running through Stephen Tall’s article that the voters will apparently be impressed by us digging in for the hell of it, regardless of what Liberal Democrats in goverment will actually achieve.

Yet again, we’re back to seeing politics as a big game, where the people are supposed to be impressed by the style and not the substance. Parties just become teams to support and you’re assumed to want your team to win regardless of how they do it or what they achieve with their victory. Actual policies and discussions about principles, looking at the reasons why we’re here, become something to be avoided at all costs. We’re here because we’re here, and we’re going to remain here to stop them being here.

The simple question we have to have the answer to is this: what is the coalition going to do over the next three years? If the answer’s nothing more than ‘continue existing’ or ‘not be Labour’ then just what are we doing in it?

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More from the alarm clock of nonsense

Like a true alarm clock, this one won’t be silenced easily. Yes, last week’s relentless pounding by just about everyone on the nonsense of ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ only seems to have engaged the snooze button, as the irritating beep of nonsense is back to disturb us from our happy places again.

I don’t have high expectations of posts on Lib Dem Voice, but when an article there starts by praising last week’s content-free marketing-speak brown-nosing nonsense as ‘excellent’ and ‘really interesting’, it’s a good indication that my low expectations are probably not going to be met.

And indeed, it’s more twaddle about ‘a capabilities approach to public policy’ and seeing the Government as a ‘capabilities guardian’, but beneath all the ‘Look at me! I’m embodying the zeitgeist and defining a new paradigm!’ there’s the usual cynicism about politics. Yes, it’s yet another round of only the middle class the squeezed middle hard-working families Mrs Mondeo from Worcester Alarm Clock Britain matters, so let’s spend all our time pandering to them and ‘raising their capabilities’ while ignoring everyone else. After all, a politics that saw everyone as worthy of consideration and pressing to improve the capabilities of all – you could call it, I don’t know, how about ‘liberalism’? – is obviously far too unwieldy in these days of new progressivism, when we must all be sliced, diced and labelled into our specially prepared and demographically accurate cluster, ready to join in with tonight’s round of capability building. But make sure you get to bed early, so you’re bright and alert in time for the first humiliation of the day!


I’d like to thank the Academy…

The observant amongst you will have noticed that I’m not at Liberal Democrat Conference this year. I had originally intended to go, but then events (the Tour of Britain on Friday, the Free Festival yesterday and various meetings next week) got in the way and meant it wouldn’t really have been worth my while to go all the way up to Liverpool for just a day or two.

Or so I thought. When I heard I’d been nominated for a Blog of the Year award for co-creating the bizarre phenomenon that was #nickcleggsfault , I thought it was nice to be recognised but there was no way I’d win the award, and I assumed that was the general consensus from the lack of interest there was in volunteering to stand in for me at the awards. It was quite a big surprise, then, to turn my computer on this morning and discover that I’d won.

So, with thanks to Stephen Tall for standing in for me and providing a relevant excuse, here’s an approximation of what I might have said had I been there to accept the award last night:

First off, I’d like to thank Justin McKeating – while I used the phrase ‘Nick Clegg’s fault’, he was the person who put a hash in front of it while blaming Nick for stubbing his toe. However, I don’t think either of us expected it to become as explosively popular as it did.

I also feel somewhat guilty about winning this award as I did basically nothing compared to the hard work everyone else has done – I was one of the supporters of Bridget’s motion to get the Digital Economy Bill discussed at the last Conference, I’ve seen the amount of work candidates like Daisy and Tamora do even before they spend time doing digital campaigning on top of that and I’m still a member of Simon’s Vote Clegg, Get Clegg group and see how it’s continuing to generate interesting – and by the usual internet standards, fantastically polite – conversations months after the election. So, to get this award for typing 140 characters early one morning seems almost as absurd as some of the things Nick was being blamed for and so I’d also like to thank everyone out there who took part in #nickcleggsfault back in April and May – this is as much your award as it mine and Justin’s.

It’s still coming home with me and going on my mantelpiece, though.

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Just happy to be nominated

I’ve been nominated in the 2010 Liberal Democrat Voice Blog Of The Year Awards, which probably seems rather odd given how little blogging I’ve done in the last twelve months. And so it would be, if it was for blogging, but instead it’s for the early morning Twitter conversation with Justin that turned into a globe-spanning hashtag that even got mentioned on Newsnight.

Unaccountably, the offers to pay us large amounts of money as experts on the use of hashtags in social media have failed to materialise, and our attempts to persuade people to #SendUsMoney experienced the common Difficult Second Hashtag problem and failed to reach the same level of success. But even if I’m not going to be at the awards ceremony – I’ve too much on here to get up to Conference – I can at least display a meaningless graphic here for a while.

And remember that there’s an open vote for Best non-Liberal Democrat blog running on the LDV site now. I’d definitely urge you to vote for anyone but Tom Harris,

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