How unpopular is Nick Clegg?

He’s the most unpopular British politician of modern times. His transition might not have been Stalin to Mr Bean, but hasn’t been far from Churchill to Haw-Haw .

At least, so goes the conventional wisdom about Nick Clegg. Reliable political commentators, Andrew Rawnsley and Peter Oborne included, have based articles on the assumption that Clegg is widely hated. But is that actually true?

Some facts are incontestable. The Clegg family have had dog poo through their letterbox. An effigy of Nick Clegg has been hung at an anti-tuition fees demo.

So there’s no doubt that Clegg is indeed hated by part of the population. But while he’s deeply hated by some, it’s not clear that he’s widely hated.

Exhibit one comes from Lord Ashcroft’s recent poll, enormous both in detail and sample size. Surprisingly, the results suggest that Clegg doesn’t face much stronger overall hostility than either Cameron or Miliband. The proportion that is most unfavourable towards Clegg is only slightly higher than it is for the other leaders: 25% against 21%.


Their average scores are very similar too. Clegg gets 41%, against Cameron’s 49% and Miliband’s 40%. This was conducted last December, and other polls suggest Miliband’s scores have gone up slightly since then, but it certainly doesn’t suggest that Clegg is far from the others.

It’s not just these beauty contests that challenge the assumption of widespread Cleggphobia. A Times/Populus poll in early May this year – when Clegg was supposed to be really suffering – provides more detail on how each leader is seen.

The standard narrative about Clegg is that he’s widely regarded as an unprincipled grasper and that he’s certainly not liked. But this isn’t borne out by the data. Instead, they show a man who is generally seen as decent but beyond his ability to cope.

Contrary to the usual assumptions, Clegg isn’t the leader most associated with being arrogant, unfair, or unprincipled. Instead, he’s the most associated with being likeable and fair (the latter joint with Miliband) – but out of his depth, weak, and indecisive. While he is the most associated with being dishonest, this is much less than he’s associated with other attributes, including being likeable.

None of those negatives are great things to be associated with as a leader. But they undermine the common view that he’s widely loathed.

  1. […] albeit smaller – lift after the worst week. He remains the least popular party leader, although still not by […]

  2. […] albeit smaller – lift after the worst week. He remains the least popular party leader, although still not by […]