So, Sal Brinton is the new President of the Liberal Democrats, a result which seems to have come as a surprise to some people. Me, I had no clue in advance of the declaration, as the Presidential campaigns almost entirely bypassed Mid Suffolk, which is my connection to what one might describe as 'ordinary members' (they aren't ordinary, as I note here).
Nobody visited us, nobody approached any of our members to canvass support on their behalf as far as I can tell, and all we saw was the mailing and, for those of us on e-mail, three messages from each candidate, one of which was probably too late to matter, especially given that nearly three-quarters of members voted by post.
I don't think that Mid Suffolk was particularly unique though, as unless you were easily accessible, or had some Party event taking place on your patch, it was unlikely that a candidate would come your way - Liz Lynne being the honourable exception to that statement. And even she could only visit so many places in the time available.
Naturally, I kept my eye on Liberal Democrat Voice and my Twitter feed, although given my Local Party's bemusement at both, I was never likely to be convinced that what I was seeing online was likely to reflect the outcome. Hell, I didn't believe it in 2008, when it was pretty accurate as it turned out.
Daisy's campaign, whilst it was lively and enthusiastic, didn't appear to have anywhere near as much reach beyond social media, and given her late emergence as a candidate, it was never likely to leave enough time for her to raise her profile to reach beyond the Internet. That isn't, by the way, a criticism. After all, it took Ros two years of travelling the country to establish her credibility as a likely contender for the Presidency.
So, if you're an ordinary member, confronted with three candidates of whom you're likely to have little personal connection, what are you likely to do? The most likely thing is to read the manifestos and study them for marks of credibility. Who else thinks this person is good, and are they someone that I know and trust? In 2008, Ros's campaign had Regional Chairs, all of whom were well connected and well respected. Her background in local government over two decades meant that there was a network of local councillors who knew her, or knew someone who knew her. There were, even in areas where we had relatively little strength in local government, people willing to endorse Ros if asked for an opinion.
It didn't strike me that any of the campaigns had that network available to them - again, time didn't really permit. So, the endorsements were key, and that's where Sal scored hugely. Ordinary members see the names of Paddy and Shirley and, if they vote at all, are likely to be swung by that in the absence of a personal connection. That is, I presume, why candidates seek endorsements.
My friends and fellow readers, you are more Internet-savvy than ordinary members on the whole, more engaged with the day to day stuff inside the bubble - and Liberal Democrat Voice is within the bubble, I'm afraid. You're disproportionately male, disproportionately young, disproportionately politically engaged (well, two out of three isn't bad in my case...), in short, somewhat atypical of the Party's membership. You are, because you're more engaged, less likely to be swayed by endorsements. You are, perhaps, more likely to be swayed by a candidate who engages with you on social media - you were rather more supportive of Tim Farron in 2010 than the membership as a whole (LDV readers favoured Tim by a 2:1 margin, whereas the result was 11:9).
So, are Liberal Democrat Voice polls worth the bandwidth they take up? Possibly yes, possibly no. They may signify trends - ministerial popularity measured over a sufficient length of time might be a signpost towards future problems, or might signal potential future leadership contenders, perhaps. Do they reflect membership opinion more widely? That, I guess, depends on the question asked.
But should we, or anyone else take them terribly seriously? I can't help feeling that I shouldn't, merely seeing them as they are, a snapshot of our views as Liberal Democrats who read Liberal Democrat Voice. And, until there is some other, more truly representative means of measuring opinion amongst members, I don't doubt that Liberal Democrat Voice will continue to poll readers, and that those who wish to interpret the results as being of great import will continue to do so...