Monday 13 February 2012

A lesson in statistics for Liberal Vision re: Liberal Reform

As many of you will know one thing I hate is the manipulation of statistics to try and say something. That certainly has something to do with having worked in statistics both in the public and private sectors. There is nothing I hate more than when political groups misappropriate statistics for their own ends and that includes within our own party.

Yet after the soft launch, or looking at the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen rather hard, of Liberal Left we now have another soft launch for a group calling itself Liberal Reform.

Now Liberal Vision got out the trumpets and Angela Harbutt to some fanfare said in their honour under the title The right sort of Lib Dem group announces its launch:

There has surely been a need for a grassroots membership group that speaks to the mainstream of the party embracing the free market, for quite sometime. According to a Lib Dem Voice survey from April last year, 35% of Lib Dem members and activists describe themselves as ‘economic liberals’, now a bigger presence in the party than those who would describe themselves as ‘Social Democrat’ (noting that less than half describe themselves as “centre left”). So the time is right for a group such as Liberal Reform.
Now the survey dates of that Lib Dem Voice survey were 18th to 24th April 2011. So far starters I know I for one was too busy in the run up to polling day to complete that one. It appears I was not alone, the previous Lib Dem Voice survey had 130 more respondents.

Lib Dem Voice also always add the caveat:

Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.

They have also got things wrong in the past.

Put looking at said survey the rankings are:

Please tick any or all of the descriptions below that you would be happy for someone else to use to describe you:

  • 87% – Liberal
  • 65% – Progressive
  • 64% – Social liberal
  • 60% – Internationalist
  • 55% – Pragmatic
  • 52% – Reformer
  • 45% – Centre-left
  • 44% – Civil libertarian
  • 44% – Radical
  • 41% – Green
  • 35% – Economic liberal
  • 34% – Social democrat
  • 33% – Moderate
  • 30% – Moderniser
  • 27% – Centrist
  • 25% – Keynesian
  • 21% – Libertarian
  • 20% – Ideological
  • 16% – Mainstream
  • 14% – Free marketeer
  • 9% – Centre-right

It is oft quoted that there are lies, damn lies and statistics which makes some of my previous jobs sound like a step down from the press. However, Angela was very particular in her picking of the stats. Comparing Economic Liberal with Social Democrat is not exclusively opposite, but in recent days those of us who were around in the early days of merger have learnt that the younger generation don't quite realise that. Also only highlighting that centre left is below 50% without direct contrast.

As you look at the stats you will note that Social Liberal is 64% to Economic Liberal 35% those two are more or less mutually exclusive opposites. Also while Centre Left is 45%Centre Right is only 9% with Centrist coming at 27%. Therefore the defining of the centre we see that not everyone who says there are either centre right or left considers themselves wholly centrist, these three may well me almost mutually exclusive.

But to highlight only the figure of the 11th ranked word chosen by the 530 Lib Dem activists who filled in that survey to try and illustrate that you are mainstream seems a ridiculous use of survey statistics and would actually be statistically insignificant to claim as the norm or mainstream opinion.

Liberal Reform I note does refrain from using such divisive language, although I did recall seeing something, somewhere last night about not concentrating on targeting soft-left voters as we had done under Labour. Seeing as even when I was working in Labour held seats (as all our targets in Scotland were) I know that we also worked on soft-right voters from the Conservative vote I know that this wasn't the only place we were gaining support from. This comment has either since been deleted or I just haven't relocated it yet.

As I said last week, I don't like being TOLD that there is only one type of Yellowness that us Lib Dems ought to be. I'm all for discussing the values of various policy approaches, but for a party that talks about being left nor right we have some people who seem intend that we can only exist if we pull more one way than the other. Look what is top of that list of words, that is what I think we all should be


Note: the author has worked in the Statistics Branch of a Northern Ireland Department and has provided analysis of customer service stats for two multi-national companies European and Global networks.

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