Speaking Where I Probably Shouldn’t

Not sure why I would try to contradict an actual British person’s take on public opinion dynamics in the UK, this bit of analysis from one of Josh Marshall’s readers struck me as a bit suspect:

Second, the poll surge seems down to the equal billing given to Nick Clegg during the first ever TV Debate on Thursday. Initially I thought that this was a flash in the pan that would soon die down. But as a friend just reminded me, next week’s debate is on Foreign Policy. If this means talking about Iraq, Afghanistan and Britain’s Nuclear Weapons systems, then Clegg will do well again. If it means talking about Europe or Trade (issues on which the majority of the public are against him – he is a free-trader with strong inclinations towards european federalism), then he might not look like such a great option.

That seems like a mistake to me for the simple reason that to do well Clegg doesn’t need to appeal to anything close to a majority of the voters. What he needs basically is to prevent people who kinda sorta want to vote Lib Dem from deciding that such a vote would be “wasted” and they’re going to go Tory or Labour instead. Which means, in my view, that any issue that highlights his party as a genuine alternative to the other two probably helps unless it’s very unpopular. If 60 or 65 percent of UK voters are Euroskeptics and both Tory and Labour are chasing that Euroskeptic minority, that still leaves a large bloc that Clegg can argue is going genuinely unrepresented by the major parties.

Which is just to say that the nature of third party breakthroughs is often precisely around stances that aren’t necessarily very popular. A popular position, after all, would be held by one of the major parties. A stance that’s sufficiently unpopular that major parties don’t want to take it up is an opportunity for a third party to build a case for itself.