The polls show too many voters find the quiet man easy to ignore

Iain Duncan Smith's immediate political problem can be simply stated: too many of his MPs have developed doubts about his political skills and judgement as party leader.

But what underscores those doubts? The question usually resolves itself, one way or another, into whether Mr Duncan Smith has the ability ever to make an impact on the public. The evidence from the polls is not encouraging.

It is bad enough that among those voters who have formed a judgement about the Tory leader, an apparently growing number – even amongst Conservative supporters – say that he is not doing a good job. What is even worse is the large proportion who still do not have a view about him at all.

According to the latest Mori poll, 38 per cent still have no opinion about how well the Leader of the Opposition is doing. No other leader of the opposition has evinced so little reaction after a year in the job.

Unlike MPs, the public care little about performances in the House of Commons. If they did care, William Hague would have secured higher ratings than Tony Blair. Their judgements are based on what they see on television.

And Mr Duncan Smith's problem is that he lacks presence in the studio. He is not a Jeremy Paxman, a Peter Snow or a David Dimbleby who can impose and convey their personality on the screen. Seemingly a little stiff and a little reserved, he is the quiet man who apparently can be, and consequently is, ignored. Of course effective television is not just made in the studio. Fiery rhetoric can fill the voter's living room too. But Mr Duncan Smith is no orator either.

But what if Tory MPs were to depose Mr Duncan Smith? Are any of the pretenders capable of commanding the attention and respect of voters?

Undoubtedly the one potential candidate who does have that ability is Kenneth Clarke. He remains by far the most popular potential Tory leader amongst the public as whole.

In a YouGov poll taken at the end of last week, no less than 36 per cent said that Mr Clarke would be the best leader of the Conservative Party, well ahead of the 13 per cent who named Mr Duncan Smith. In contrast only 5 per cent backed his most likely rival, David Davis. Replacing Mr Duncan Smith with Mr Davis would be to replace an unknown with an unknown.

However, changing leaders will not on its own immediately improve the party's fortunes. YouGov's poll suggests that while the immediate impact of making Mr Clarke leader would be to cut Labour's lead by three points, Mr Blair would still be six points ahead. But such a boost might mean no more talk of the Liberal Democrats replacing the Conservatives as the main opposition.

The danger of that happening should not be exaggerated. YouGov's latest poll still puts the Conservatives 10 points ahead of the Liberal Democrats. And as things currently stand at least, the Liberal Democrats would have to be well ahead of the Conservatives in votes before they came ahead in seats.

Moreover, at recent elections most voters have felt the Liberal Democrats were far closer to Labour than to the Conservatives on the big issues of the day such as tax and spend. That would have to change before many true-blue Tories could come to regard the Liberal Democrats as an acceptable alternative home.

But Tory MPs would be wrong to believe that disaster could never happen After all it already has in Scotland. There the party has not only lost the mantle of chief opposition to the SNP but now trails the Liberal Democrats as well.

Changing leader once more would undoubtedly be an embarrassment. But if the alternative is endless squabbling that could indeed be tantamount to signing the party's death warrant.

John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing