Emotions Towards the Parties in Wales

Following on from my previous recent blog post about the potential support levels of the parties in Wales, as measured by the Propensity to Vote (P2V) question in the British Election Study, I thought that blog readers might also be interested in responses to another set of questions from the BES which cover some related ground.

As I discussed in that earlier post, the P2V question measures attitudes to the parties in another, and rather different, way from just probing current voting intentions – it asks people how likely it is that they would ever vote for a party. The questions I am talking about in this current post also probe attitudes in a different way from simply current voting intentions. In this case, they try to get at what broader emotional responses people have to the parties.

They do so by asking the following to survey respondents:

“Now we would like to know something about the feelings you have towards each of the parties. Which of these emotions do you feel about each of the parties? Tick all that apply”

The potential answers given to respondents were:

-          Angry

-          Hopeful

-          Afraid

-          Proud

-          None of these

-          Don’t Know


The set of responses offered is fairly balanced in that two broadly positive emotions are provided, alongside two broadly negative ones. Respondents are also able to select a ‘none of the above’-type option, as well as the Don’t Know one.

This set of questions was asked in the BES post-election wave of their internet panel survey. Here is the pattern of responses received, for main six parties, from the Welsh sub-sample of the BES. The numbers in the table are the percentages of the Welsh BES respondents who ticked a particular response for a particular party. As respondents could choose more than one response for each party it is therefore possible for the total percentages for a party in the table below to sum to well over 100.



Source: British Election Study On-Line Panel Study, Wave 6 (post-election wave); number of respondents = 1556.


Perhaps the most obvious thing that leaps out of these figures is the disparity between the sentiments expressed and the actual election result. The parties of the right had a good general election in Wales in 2015, but they nonetheless attract by some distance the largest amount of hostile sentiment. Meanwhile, although Labour won more than three times the number of votes that Plaid Cymru did, the two parties attract strikingly similar positive sentiments, while Plaid were actually the recipient of substantially lower levels of negative sentiment.

The table above does provide quite a lot of data to compute mentally. I’ve therefore summarised some of its findings in a second table. This latter table provides some summary information on the data in the table above for each party: the total percentage of positives and total percentage of negatives, and finally a net score (positives minus negatives):


Total Positive383819402434
Total Negative674033225921
Net: Pos – Neg-29-2-14+18-35+13


I think the findings here reinforce one point that I have made on one or two previous occasions. The relative electoral success of the Welsh Conservatives in 2015 did not occur because large sections of the Welsh population had fallen in love with the party. The Tories had some advantages in perceived economic competence and leadership in 2015; they also ran a very effectively targeted election campaign. But substantial hostility to the party remains in much of the Welsh electorate. Similarly, while UKIP made a significant advance in vote share in Wales in 2015, it nonetheless is also heartily disliked by a considerable proportion of the Welsh electorate.

The other party for which these results are the most interesting, I think, is Plaid Cymru. The numbers in the tables above come, I should perhaps remind you, from a survey done straight after an election where Plaid came fourth in vote share in Wales, winning the electoral support of slightly fewer than one in eight of those participating in the poll. Plaid Cymru in 2015, as in other recent elections, was generally quite well thought of by many people in Wales. But it failed to provide them with sufficiently compelling reasons to vote for it. That remains, as it has been for some years, the main challenge facing Plaid Cymru.

What Goes Around… British Politics and the Welsh Assembly Election

As I have had occasion to discuss previously on the blog, the 2011 devolved elections produced a rather extraordinary set of results. In Scotland, the SNP scored their best ever result – an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament, something which almost no-one had been expecting – while Labour had their worst ever performance in elections to that chamber. Yet on the same day, in Wales Labour achieved their best ever result in a National Assembly election, while the SNP’s sister party Plaid Cymru had their worst ever performance.

One of my published academic articles, which I’ve mentioned previously, conducted a detailed analysis of these two elections. The factors shaping voting choices in Scotland and Wales were analysed in detail and directly compared. The results of this comparison suggested that much of the difference in the 2011 electoral outcomes could be explained by what academic electoral analysts generally term ‘valence politics’. In Scotland, the SNP had substantially out-performed Labour in public perceptions as the most competent party to govern Scotland and defend Scotland’s interests within the UK; by contrast, in Wales Labour was well ahead of Plaid Cymru (and the other parties) on similar characteristics.

However, there was also another very interesting broad finding that emerged from the analysis of the 2011 devolved elections. Put simply, British-level politics seemed to be significantly more important in shaping the decisions of voters in Wales than they were in Scotland. My analysis did not attempt to probe the precise reasons for that (that would be the subject matter of another article), but there are several obvious candidate factors: the weaker indigenous news media in Wales than in Scotland; the weaker devolution settlement in Wales than Scotland, which may incline more voters in Wales to use devolved elections to deliver a verdict on UK politics rather than a decision about choosing a devolved government; maybe even the significantly greater proportion of the Welsh electorate that was born in England. Whether for one of these reasons, a combination thereof, or some others, Welsh voters in 2011 appeared to be far more influenced than Scottish ones in their voting choices by things like their attitudes to the current UK government or their views on the current UK-level party leaders. In Scotland, the SNP successfully turned the election into a choice about the best government for Scotland. In Wales, as I have observed previously, Labour largely won by running as an opposition party – opposing the new, Conservative-led government in London.

While the contrast between the devolved electoral outcomes in 2011 was particularly striking, I don’t think that this distinction between Wales and Scotland in terms of the factors that shape their electoral politics was solely confined to that one year or even to devolved elections alone. Again, as I observed recently on the blog when discussing general elections, Scotland has become a much more distinctive and unique electoral space, increasingly set apart from British-wide political dynamics. Wales’ position remains more ambiguous: it has long had significant electoral distinctiveness from England, but British factors are clearly also of great importance.

Within devolved elections, the influence of British-level politics can work either to the assistance or to the detriment of parties. Focussing for now on the largest party in Wales, I think there is little doubt that in the 2007 National Assembly election Labour was harmed by the broader context of British politics. The election took place in the last weeks of Tony Blair’s Prime Ministership, and with Mr Blair’s popularity but a shadow of what it had once been Welsh Labour saw their vote share fall (when compared to the previous devolved elections in 2003) considerably further than did that of Scottish Labour. By 2011, however, everything was different. Now no longer tarnished by association with an unpopular Westminster government, Welsh Labour could benefit from the British political context and their Assembly election campaign exploited it very adroitly.

But, as the old phrase has it, what goes around comes around. While there is much that could and will happen between now and the first Thursday in May next year, with each week that goes by (indeed, last week it seemed with each hour that went by) it appears more probable that the British political context will be one that creates problems for the Welsh Labour party in the National Assembly election.

Probably the most notable and surprising event in British politics in 2015, ahead even of the Conservatives’ general election victory, was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. His campaign and then shock victory in the Labour leadership contest saw a substantial rise in Labour’s membership; there were also some signs, in at least some places, of it prompting an upswing in the party’s opinion poll ratings. This was particularly the case in Wales, where September’s Welsh Political Barometer poll did appear to point to a distinct, if relatively modest, ‘Corbyn bounce’.

So is Labour home and dry for next year already? I would sound several notes of caution. First, we should remember that there is nearly always a ‘honeymoon’ period for the new leaders of major British political parties. At least some voters are normally willing to give a new leader the benefit of the doubt. However, the uplift in Labour support in Britain-wide opinion polls after the election of Mr Corbyn was particularly small – much smaller than is the average for new Opposition leaders. And on all past patterns, to be on course for a general election victory in 2020, the Labour party should already be moving into a clear polling lead.

In fact, Labour remains well behind the Conservatives – by a margin of between six and fifteen percentage points, according to last week’s five opinion polls. Across Britain as a whole, any Corbyn bounce in the polls already seems to being going into reverse, while other polling questions have suggested that attitudes to Mr Corbyn himself are becoming increasingly negative. Nor are the polls the only troubling evidence for Labour. Since Mr Corbyn’s election, the party’s performance in local council by-elections has been, at best, patchy, with particularly weak results happening in many of the sorts of areas where the party very much needs to be making ground in order to achieve victory in 2020. And again, the trends here in recent weeks have, if anything, been further downwards. Last Thursday, five of the six Labour local by-election candidates saw their party’s vote share fall. (Moreover, these vote shares were not falling from some heights that were impossible to sustain. Relatively poor performances in local election by Labour during the 2010-15 parliament were one of the factors that, with hindsight, were consistently pointing to the party’s general election defeat).

Of course, one might well observe that Mr Corbyn’s leadership has faced a veritable torrent of criticism in the media, as well as by political opponents – who have come not only from other parties but also, in significant numbers, from the ranks of Labour itself. This is all true, and it is probably also true that no leadership could have survived such savage attacks without suffering some political damage. But why should such attacks not continue, and continue to have an effect? This is not as bad as things can get for Mr Corbyn, or for his party.

Sure, the Conservative government will face some difficulties, and maybe very considerable ones. And it is not inevitable that once a party’s poll ratings starts going down that it continues to do so.

Nonetheless, the context of British politics over recent weeks has, as Emporer Hirohito might have put it, developed in ways that are not necessarily to the advantage of the Labour party. And there is considerable scope for this to impact on the Welsh devolved election next year. Welsh Labour faces the prospect of a much more difficult British political environment than in 2011. If it is going to win decisively again, Labour will likely have to do so much more on basis of their own record, policies and leadership than on anything going on elsewhere. What goes around comes around – and exactly the sort of factors that helped Labour in 2011 may well hamper them next May.

The Parties in Wales: Evidence on their Potential Support

As readers of this blog will likely be aware, the most common method of looking at levels of support for different political parties in opinion polls and other surveys is simply to ask people which party they would vote for in an election. These ‘voting intention’ questions can be asked for a number of different elections – here in Wales our Welsh Political Barometer polls normally ask about voting intentions for the general election plus the two ballots in the National Assembly; we have also asked, when relevant, about voting intentions for European elections.

However, that is not the only relevant measure of attitudes to, and support for, the parties that can be deployed. There are alternative measures available, as I’ve discussed on the blog on previous occasions. (See, for example here). Among the other measures that can be used is one, developed originally in continental, multi-party systems, which asks people on a 0-10 scale how likely it is that they would ever vote for a party. Scholars generally term this the Propensity to Vote question (or P2V, for short).

As part of the day job, I’ve recently been spending quite a bit of time looking at the data produced by the on-line panel survey of the British Election Study (BES). Their data is all available here; for those of you not too au fait with using SPSS or STATA to analyse such data, they also helpfully provide a ‘Data Playground’ function, which gives a rather more user-friendly way to produce some rather nifty charts and tables. The on-line BES panel included a large number of respondents in Wales, and I’ve been looking in detail at much of the data produced from the immediate post-election survey that was conducted with these respondents in May.

We know how these people voted. But it can also be of interest to look at their attitudes on the P2V question, because this takes us beyond current electoral support towards looking at the broader potential support bases of the different parties. Sure, the data might now be regarded as being a little out of date – for one thing they pre-date Jeremy Corbyn being anything other than a rather obscure Labour backbencher. Still, I think they’re nonetheless interesting. What do we find in Wales?

Below are a series of bar charts – that I produced using the ‘Data Playground’ function. They show responses from Welsh respondents to the post-election BES wave for the five main parties on the P2V question. Respondents were asked to rate each party on a 0-10 scale, where 0 meant that is was ‘very unlikely’ they would ever vote for that party and 10 meant that it was ‘very likely’ that they would.

(Please click on each chat for a larger version)


And here is a summary table of those results:

Mean Ratings%7-10% 0/10
Plaid Cymru4.029.130.0


So what does this all mean? I think one thing that we can immediately notice is that, despite the electoral advance of the right in Wales in 2015, there remains much greater hostility to both the Conservatives and UKIP than to any other parties. Far more people give a 0 out of 10 score to them than to anyone else.

Labour remain the party that attracts the most sympathy in Wales, and has the greatest apparent pool of likely supporters (which I have, somewhat arbitrarily, defined as those scoring it at seven or higher out of ten). I will be interesting to see the extent to which Jeremy Corbyn has any impact on these figures.

Plaid Cymru were perhaps the party that was least effective, in 2015, at converting potential support into actual votes. They will need to do better in the context of an Assembly election in 2016.

The Electorally Disunited Kingdom

I believe it was my friend Phil Cowley who was the first person to point out that the 2015 general election had produced a unique outcome: it was the first time ever that a different political party had finished first (in votes and seats) in each of the four constituent parts of the UK. Electorally, the United Kingdom has never looked less united.

Of course, Northern Ireland long been a place apart in electoral – and perhaps some other – terms. But what about the nations of ‘mainland’ Britain? How have they reached this point?

As I have discussed at various points on the blog (such as here), there is a long tradition of Conservative weakness in Wales, dating back as far as 1859. The obverse of this Tory weakness has been two substantial periods of one-party dominance – under the Liberals from 1885-1914, and Labour from 1935 until the present day.

Conservative weakness in Scotland is distinctly more recent in origin. But it was not until the post-referendum decline in Scottish Labour’s support that the door was opened for the extraordinary SNP surge that produced their victory in Scotland this year. With no analogous change occurring in Wales for Plaid Cymru, we thus had the outcome that Phil pointed to: the leading party in England in the 2015 election was the Conservatives; in Wales it remained the Labour party; in Scotland it became, for the first time ever in a general election the SNP; and in Northern Ireland it was the Democratic Unionist Party.

Reflecting on this outcome recently, it occurred to me that blog readers might find it interesting to look in a bit more detail at how the nations of Britain have changed electorally over time. I’ll leave Northern Ireland aside, as an obviously distinct case, and I’ll look in detail at the period from 1945 onwards. I’ll also focus mainly on what have been the two main parties across Britain in that time – including, for the majority of the period, Wales and Scotland – the Labour and Conservative parties.

So here, first of all, are a couple of simple charts. They show you, respectively, the vote shares of the Labour and Conservative parties in England, Scotland and Wales at every general election from 1945 onwards. (Click on each chart for a larger image).

Labour General Election Vote Share, 1945-2015, England, Scotland and Wales

Labour Electoral Support, 1945-2015, England, Scotland and Wales


Conservative General Election Vote Share, 1945-2015, England, Scotland and Wales


For Labour, given that the chat starts off from its 1945 landslide win, and given also the broader decline in two-party dominance across Britain during the period, it is unsurprising that we observe a general – though not absolutely uniform – trend downwards in its vote share. Perhaps of greater interest is that we also see some consistent differences between the nations. The Labour vote share is higher in Wales than in either England or Scotland in all elections, in both good years and bad, except for that in 2010 – when Labour was led by the Scotsman, Gordon Brown, and saw its vote share rise there while the party was declining elsewhere. We also can see that, perhaps surprisingly to some, Labour didn’t really do consistently better in vote share in Scotland than England until the end of the 1970s – after which its vote share in Scotland stayed ahead of that in England until the 2015 collapse of Scottish Labour.

For the Conservatives, the chart confirms that they always do worse in general elections in Wales than England. But it also shows the strong performance by the party in Scotland until the end of 1950s, when the long decline of Scottish Toryism began. Still, the Tories had a higher vote share in Scotland than Wales in every election until 1979; from then on, the Conservative vote share has been lower every time in Scotland than Wales. We can also observe that while there has been a steady recovery by the party in Wales and England from its 1997 low-point, nothing analogous has occurred in Scotland at all. Ruth Davidson actually led the Scottish Tories to the worst Conservative/Unionist general election vote share in modern history.

So what, in general, can we make of these patterns? Writing in the London Review of Books in the immediate aftermath of the general election this year, Ross McKibbon, offered the following interpretation of the election results: “The Tories did well in Wales…part of a process by which Wales is becoming assimilated into English politics”. (Ross McKibbin, London Review of Books, 4th June 2015).

To be blunt, I don’t think this interpretation stands up to much scrutiny. I think it would be much more accurate to say that the election result extended much further the divergence of Scottish electoral politics from those in England. For Wales, any differences with English voting patterns were broadly at the long-term mean. Let me illustrate this point with a couple of further charts.

Labour and Conservative Vote Share in General Elections, 1945-2015, Wales Compared to England

The first one here (again, click on the image for a larger version) shows simply presents some of the information from the previous two charts in another way: it gives the margin between the vote share won by the Conservative and Labour parties in England and in Wales at every general election from 1945 to 2015. The upper (red) line is that for Labour, which simply shows that Labour have scored a higher vote share in Wales than in England at every post-war election. The line bobbles up and down, but it is interesting to see that there have been declines in the England-Wales gap at most elections since 1992. And in this year’s general election, the gap between Labour’s vote share in England and in Wales, at 5.3%, was the lowest since Labour became an established political party.

This does seem to suggest some convergence of English and Welsh electoral behaviour. However, the Conservative line does not really suggest the same thing. The line is always well below the zero point, indicating that the Welsh Tories have always scored a lower vote-share than their English counterparts, as we already knew. The gap this year was towards the lower end of those experienced during the post-war period. But it was very marginally greater than in 2010 and, more importantly, was little different from what it was in the 1980s or even the 1960s.

Our final chart below (again, click on the image for a larger version) offers a summary picture of how Wales and Scotland have compared in their electoral behaviour to the largest of the British nations in all 1945-2015 general elections. The chart presents scores for Scotland and Wales on an Index of Dissimilarity, where the nations would score 0 if they gave the same vote share to parties as did voters in England, and a maximum 100 if they gave all their votes to parties that won no votes in England. Looking at the trends over time, we see that Wales (the green line) was more different from England in its electoral behaviour than Scotland was until the February 1974 election; since then, Wales has been more similar to England than Scotland has been at every general election. But this change has not come about because the Welsh have become electorally assimilated. In recent elections, while the trend in Welsh scores is very gently downwards, it is only towards the long-term mean after a high point in 1992. What has changed is Scotland (represented by the blue line) – and in particular in the two most recent general elections, when its preferences have sharply diverged from those in England.

Index of Dissimilarity: Scotland and Wales (compared to England), 1945-2015 General Elections

In short, Wales has not really changed that much electorally. It has long had significant electoral distinctiveness from England while at the same time being influenced by GB-wide electoral trends. This is still true, and to about the same extent as it has long been. What has changed is the situation in Scotland, where it has – for the present, at least – become electorally a very different place from England. That is how we have arrived at the current state of this electorally disunited kingdom.

What Wales Thinks

I’m sure that many readers of the blog, and particularly those who have been following matters in Scotland with interest over recent times, will be familiar with the website What Scotland Thinks. Run by my friend Prof John Curtice – he of the famously accurate election night exit polls – the site was first set up in the lead-up to the Scottish independence referendum, to provide an authoritative and independent source for relevant evidence, and commentary, on public opinion about Scottish independence.

Fortunately, the site has contined to function since the referendum. Indeed, it has expanded its remit beyond matters related to Scottish independence. It also now provides information, and commentary, about electoral voting intentions in Scotland. And it has recently added some material about attitudes to constitutional change in the rest of Britain. If you haven’t yet looked at the site, I would very strongly encourage you to do so.

Among the new material recently added to the site is a section which collates evidence on attitudes in Wales towards how Wales should be governed. To go alongisde the addition of this material to the site, John asked me to write a short-ish piece giving my interpretation of the broad picture suggested by that evidence. That piece is here. Doubtless some of you will have hours of fun in telling me where you think I am wrong about things…

The Draft Wales Bill: the Electoral Implications

It was all fun and games in Wales last Tuesday, as the Draft Wales Bill was published by the UK Government. This putative piece of legislation has had quite a long gestation – a process that includes both the second Silk Commission report (published in spring 2014) and the cross-party talks that generated this spring’s St David’s Day declaration.

There has already been, and will doubtless continue to be, much debate about the draft bill, at least among the Welsh political class. I think it is fair to say, given the reception accorded the draft bill, that it is far from certain to become legislation at all, and certainly not in quite this form. The bill will need to go through both Houses of Parliament. It will also need to be supported by the National Assembly. At present, we are only at the stage of draft legislation, which will face pre-legislative scrutiny in parliament from the Welsh Affairs Committee over the next few months.

I’m not, in this post, going to explore the wider issues raised by the bill or the potential political machinations by which this draft bill might or might not actually become law. Instead, I want simply to focus on the provisions in the draft bill that are closest to the remit of this blog. The draft bill touches on elections in Wales in several places.

There are several detailed provisions regarding the dates of elections – essentially these seem to be there to prevent NAW elections ever coinciding with the other major elections held in Wales: general elections, EP elections and local elections.

There are also some other, more substantial, provisions regarding elections. These come in several forms. First, and most restrictively, the very lengthy list of putative Reserved Matters contained in the draft bill includes: elections to the House of Commons; European Parliament elections; and even elections for Police and Crime Commissioners. The Assembly would be explicitly prohibited from acting in these areas. Thus, it could not abolish Police and Crime Commissioners, and the associated elections, even if there were a large majority in the Assembly in favour of doing that.

Second, there is an important silence in the bill. Local elections in Wales are not listed as a Reserved Matter. On the Reserved Powers model of devolution, the National Assembly therefore could act to change numerous provisions for local elections, and even introduce an entirely new electoral system. The latter, of course, is what the Scottish Parliament did for local elections there; they moved to use of the Single Transferable Vote in 2007. (This is all in line with the agreement between the parties that produced the St David’s Day declaration; as point 42 in Annex A of the Powers for a Purpose document published by the UK Government in tandem with that declaration reveals, devolution of local government elections was a matter on which consensus was reached.)

Third, the Bill quite explicitly proposes devolving some powers over National Assembly for Wales elections. Several things are specifically mentioned as things that there will be control over:

  • “Persons entitled to vote”: So it would be possible to introduce a provision for votes at 16, say, in National Assembly elections;
  • “The system by which members of the Assembly are returned”: This mean that it would be possible to replace the AMS system by another one, such as First Past the Post or STV;
  • “The number of constituencies, regions or any equivalent electoral area”: This means that, while the Assembly will have no control over the forthcoming redrawing boundaries for Westminster, it could choose either to follow these new boundaries or develop some other way of dividing Wales up geographically for electoral purposes;
  • “The number of members to be returned for each constituency, region or equivalent electoral area”: This means, in practice, that not only can the electoral system change, but so also can the overall size of the Assembly. This provision is important in itself, but also gives greater flexibility when considering possible changes to the overall electoral system.


While planning the devolution of powers over NAW elections, the draft bill also incorporates an important safeguard to prevent one party manipulating the system to its own advantage. A two-thirds majority is needed to approve changes in any of the areas outlined immediately above.

There is an important detail to note here: a two-third majority is defined in the draft bill as “at least two-thirds of the total number of Assembly seats” (Section 20.4 of the Draft Bill, p.18). Therefore, we are not just talking about two-thirds of those voting in any division on the matter. Rather, in the present Assembly, forty AMs would have to positively vote for any proposed changes. Any AMs absent from the Assembly or abstaining from a vote would effectively count as votes against change. This makes the two-thirds threshold particularly stringent.

In an Assembly that had a political balance similar to the present, the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru, with their 25 seats between them, would constitute a clear blocking minority against any proposed change. The Labour party could not, say, cut a deal with the Liberal Democrats to change the system. Labour would need to combine with one of the other two parties to reach a sufficient majority for change. But even the 41 seats of Labour and Plaid would only provide a bare majority (given that one Labour member is the Presiding Officer.)

Overall I am inclined to regard the draft bill as somewhat underwhelming in terms of advancing devolution. Some serious people have even suggested that it offers the potential for reversing devolution in some respects. (Which many would not regard as a bad thing, of course!) As currently drafted, it seems to fall quite a long way short of what was proposed in the Silk Commission’s second report. But there is lots of potential devil in the detailed provisions. This one, I suspect, will run and run.

But the electoral provisions of the draft bill are significant. They provide for the possibility that the parties in Cardiff Bay could change both the size of the Assembly and the entire basis of the electoral system. However, such a thing would have to be done on a consensus basis – unless get a really shock result next May, electoral reform for devolved elections in Wales will need a minimum of two parties to agree on change, and quite possibly more than two. That is all very much to the good. Electoral systems should not, under any circumstances, be the plaything of any one political party. We should never see repeated the shoddy provisions on dual candidacy in the 2006 Government of Wales Act – imposed by the majority party against opposition not just from all other parties, but also from most neutral and expert observers.

Nonetheless, as I will discuss in a series of future blog-posts, with the likely change to 30 or even 29 Welsh constituencies for Westminster on the horizon, there will need to be some changes to the electoral system for the National Assembly. The draft Wales bill offers to give next Assembly the ability to respond to this situation – although it by no means guarantees how the Assembly might respond.

Welsh feature from the Westminster Hour

Last Sunday’s Westminster Hour show on Radio 4 had a feature on Welsh politics.

There was a focus on Llanelli, with the two main candidates for the Assembly seat there (Lee Waters of Labour, and Helen Mary Jones for Plaid) heard several times. But there were also a few contributions from a certain Prof Scully from Cardiff University. Apparently, I “run” the Wales Governance Centre – which came as news to my colleagues.

Anyway, if you are interested you can hear the feature here.

Attitudes to the EU in Wales – an Update and Comparison

One issue that we’ve returned to periodically on the blog over the last two and a bit years is attitudes to the European Union. There have been several reasons for this. There was an obvious topicality to this issue during the run-up to the May 2014 European Parliament elections. Then, after UKIP’s success in those elections and their strong polling performance in the months prior to the general election, attitudes to the EU were again one important factor to consider.

The issue is clearly not going to go away. We are promised a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017. We don’t yet know the date of that referendum. Nor do we know the extent of the ‘re-negotiation’ of British membership of the EU that Prime Minister Cameron will seek, or secure. Nonetheless, though much remains to be clarified, the battle-lines are already being drawn. Last week saw the launch of what seems certain to be the main official ‘Remain’ campaign. And we have also seen the establishment of two, potentially competing, ‘Leave’ organisations.

With the referendum looming at some point, our regular Welsh Political Barometer polls will keep asking about referendum voting intentions. They, and other polls that are conducted, will presumably also periodically ask other questions that explore other aspects of public attitudes to the EU. Obviously, we’ll regularly present and summarise the evidence from Wales here on this blog. There are also some very good resources for information about GB-wide polls on the issue – most obviously the Twitter Feed (@whatukthinks) and forthcoming blog from my friend Prof John Curtice, which I’d strongly encourage you all to acquaint yourselves with.

One aspect of this topic that has been raised repeatedly is how attitudes compare between the different nations in the UK. Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru strongly support continued EU membership. And the leaders of both parties have argued that the EU Referendum should require that the UK only withdraw from membership of the EU if all four nations within the UK have agreed to that. The not-terribly-subtle subtext to this demand has been the suggestion that both Scotland and Wales are less Euro-sceptic than England; and from that has followed the argument that “Scotland/Wales should not be pulled out of the EU against their will”.

I can’t believe that either Nicola Sturgeon or Leanne Wood ever thought for a moment that David Cameron would agree to their demand on the referendum result. But the premise that seems to lie behind it is worth exploring: are Scotland and/or Wales really less Euro-sceptic than England?

I’ve considered that question once or twice in previous blog posts. The picture presented by the evidence has not always been wholly consistent. However, when I was recently asked to offer a one-paragraph summary of the general picture, this was what I came up with:

“Views in Wales on the European Union in general differ little from those in England. Wales has been for some years a recipient of significant EU Objective I funding. There is also a very long-standing tendency for Wales to vote more for parties of the centre-left, whose supporters tend to be more pro-EU than those of the Conservative party. Despite these factors detailed surveys indicated that broad attitudes towards the EU in Wales are little, if at all, more favourable than in England; voting intentions on the forthcoming EU membership referendum tend also to be very similar, with Welsh voters at most only slightly more favourable to EU membership… Wales thus contrasts somewhat with Scotland, where attitudes to the EU and referendum voting intentions tend to be distinctly more positive than in England.”

Our latest Barometer poll offers some evidence that allows us to see whether this general pattern is still correct. As well as referendum voting intention, we also asked a question (used previously in many different studies right across the EU) about whether respondents considered the UK’s membership of the EU to be a ‘good thing’ or not. As well as asking these questions in Wales, we also were able to include both of them in contemporaneous surveys in both England and Scotland. So this gives us a pretty up-to-date picture on where attitudes stand in the three nations. I should perhaps also add that, because these three polls were conducted by the same survey agency (YouGov), at the same time, using the same survey method and questions, and weighting the data in very similar ways in all three places, there are far fewer concerns about the cross-national comparability of the data that there might often be.

First, then, the ‘good thing’ question. How did our respondents react to this one in the three nations?


Generally speaking, do you think that the UK’s membership of the European Union is a good thing or a bad thing or neither good nor bad?

Good Thing355039
Bad Thing392531
Neither Good nor Bad151720
Don’t Know11810


The pattern of responses here fits pretty clearly within the general pattern indicated above. England is the most sceptical about the value of EU membership, and Scotland the most enthusiastic. Wales is in the middle, but somewhat closer to England.

What about actual referendum voting intention? The pattern of responses here was very similar:


EU Referendum Voting Intention

Would Not Vote224
Don’t Know151317


Of course there’s a very long way to go until the referendum (although we don’t yet know quite how long). And this is only one poll (or, rather, three parallel polls). But these findings do suggest that it is by no means implausible to imagine England voting differently in the referendum from Scotland, and maybe also differently from Wales. It is also possible to imagine the referendum outcome being achingly close. My own rough calculations from these polling numbers suggest that, if referendum turnout were to differ across the three nations in roughly the same way as it did in the general election – where Scottish voters turned out in somewhat greater numbers than did those in England and Wales – then the ‘Remain’ side would be very marginally ahead. But it would be achingly close.

(Of course, I haven’t talked at all about Northern Ireland in this post. The distinctiveness of the party system in Northern Ireland has long meant that it is not included in most ‘national’ opinion polls, which take their samples only within Great Britain. However, if the referendum were to end up being as close as suggested by the figures here, their votes could really make all the difference!)

The Electoral State of the Parties, 5: UKIP

It is becoming increasingly difficult to recall that, until quite recently, UKIP had made minimal impact on electoral politics in Wales. Other than narrowly winning the last Welsh European Parliament seat in 2009, its electoral record here prior to the 2014 European election had been dismal. But 2014 saw it make a major advance – not only nearly topping the poll for the European election but also establishing itself as a significant presence in the opinion polls. In the final Welsh Political Barometer poll of 2014, UKIP stood on 18% for Westminster voting intention, while some of the Britain-wide polls that year and early in 2015 actually put the party above 20%.

As the general election approached, UKIP saw its support slip somewhat. The Conservatives, in particular, put pressure on UKIP sympathisers in key marginal seats – were they really content to risk Ed Miliband running the country? The general election campaign also saw UKIP, its policies and some of its candidates scrutinised more closely than hitherto. Nigel Farage, who increasingly seemed to be borrowing tactics from the American Tea Party movement, began to attract growing levels of public hostility. And yet despite all this, what was remarkable about UKIP’s general election performance was the extent to which their support held firm. The party secured a clear third place in votes across the UK, well ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Their 14.1% of the vote in England, moreover, was almost matched here in Wales, where UKIP won 13.6%, up from a mere 2.4% in 2010.

The major disappointment of the general election for UKIP was the pitiful parliamentary presence that their nearly four million votes won them. Douglas Carswell comfortably held his seat in Clacton. But Mark Reckless’ short period as a UKIP MP ended, while Nigel Farage fell almost three thousand votes short in South Thanet. Although the party finished in second place in over 120 seats, it won nowhere beyond Clacton.

Outside England, one of the most striking features of the 2015 election was the contrast between UKIP’s performance in Scotland and in Wales. In Scotland, UKIP stood candidates in 41 of the 59 seats. Every single one lost their deposit. In Wales, UKIP stood candidates in all forty seats, and every single one retained their deposit. UKIP provided the most vivid of all demonstrations that, in the 2015 general election, Wales and Scotland were very different places. (One contributory factor behind UKIP’s differing fortunes may have been their respective Welsh and Scottish leaders. Nathan Gill performed capably across the media, coming across as articulate and generally reasonable; David Coburn’s performances might most charitably be described as eccentric).

At the same time, UKIP didn’t actually come very close to winning any seats in Wales. Their highest vote share, in Neil Kinnock’s old seat of Islwyn, was still below 20%. The UKP vote was spread much more evenly than that of the other main parties: from a high of 19.6% in Islwyn to a low of 6.5% in Cardiff Central. UKIP was winning votes in every part of Wales – north and south, east and west, rural and urban. It did best, though, in the south-east: all five of UKIP’s highest vote-shares were in the south-east Wales electoral region. In some other places – such as north-east Wales, into which the party had put significant resources, it actually made somewhat less impact.

The post-election period has not shown UKIP in the best of lights. Nigel Farage’s resignation as party leader, followed three days later by his ‘un-resignation’, hardly did much for the ‘straight-talking-man-of-his-word’ image he has sought to cultivate. Farage also managed to fall out very publicly with three of the party’s most able and high-profile other figures: Carswell, Patrick O’Flynn, and Suzanne Evans. The financial hangover that parties often face after an expensive election also forced UKIP to vacate its London headquarters. And there was open conflict within the party at its recent annual conference in Doncaster. Frankly, the party has often looked a bit of a shambles since the general election.

Yet thus far, at least, this shambles seems to have had little impact on its public support. One or two of the small number of GB-wide polls published since the election have indicated some drop in UKIP’s vote-share. But the most recent Welsh Political Barometer poll actually showed UKIP support for Westminster up since the general election. That poll also showed UKIP continuing to attract significant support for the National Assembly – sufficient to suggest that the party might win up to eight regional list seats in the chamber.

The details of the polling also tell us something about UKIP voters. In line with other research on the party, the Barometer polls have generally found UKIP’s support higher among men than women, and among working class than middle class respondents. But on the two questions our June poll asked about the NHS in Wales, UKIP supporters also stand out: they were much less likely than supporters of any other party to ‘Trust the NHS in Wales to provide a high quality service’, and also much more likely to expect that the ‘standard of care in the NHS in Wales’ will get worse, rather than better, over the next few years. UKIP supporters tend strongly to be older, whiter, less affluent and less well-educated than the average citizen. They also tend to be discontented – with their own lot, with established politics and politicians, and with the way they see their country changing around them. And they tend strongly to be gloomy about the future. For as long as there are plenty of such people in Wales, and they view UKIP as the party best articulating their grievances, and for as long as the issue of immigration continues to be high among popular concerns, we should expect UKIP to be a significant element in Welsh party politics.

If 2014 was the year that UKIP clearly joined the ranks of the main parties in Wales, then 2015 has certainly seen them consolidate that status. Next May’s devolved election offers UKIP the realistic prospect of another significant step forward, by establishing a significant elected presence in the National Assembly for Wales.

Yesterday’s local by-election

We had a local council by-election here in Wales yesterday. (Quite why it was held on a Wednesday is not something I have yet been able to discover).

I don’t normally cover individual local by-elections in any detail on the blog, although my end-of-the-year round up will, as per usual, try to put together the overall picture of them. I would always caution people against over-interpreting any single result, although taken collectively council by-elections they can give us a fair indication of which way the political wind is blowing.

Yesterday’s, in Cardiff’s Riverside ward, was potentially interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a place that has been asked to vote quite a lot over the last few years. In addition to all the regular elections, this was the third council by-election in the ward in the last four years! But second, the by-eleciton gave us one of the first chances to see any potential electoral impact of Jeremy Corbn. Our recent Welsh Political Barometer poll showed some evidence of at least a modest ‘Corbyn bounce’ – but will this translate into real votes in real elections?

As those who follow such things closely will already be aware, Labour held the seat it was defending in the by-election. Congratulations to Caro Wild, the new councillor. My friend Harry Hayfield has kindly put together this table of the recent results in the ward. (For 2012, he has aggregated the votes for all candidates in this multi-member ward.). Many thanks to Harry for this information:


PartyVotes Cast 2012By-election 2013Change on 2012By-election 2015Change on 2012Change on 2013
Con8%107 (5%)-3%155 (7%)-1%+2%
Lab48%1,120 (50%)+2%1,071 (46%)-2%-4%
Lib Dem4%58 (3%)-1%85 (4%)Unchanged+1%
Plaid31%773 (35%)+4%780 (34%)+3%-1%
Green8%-8%109 (5%)-3%+3%
UKIP97 (4%)+4%110 (5%)+5%+1%
TUSC1%70 (3%)+2%21 (1%)Unchanged-2%


And these are the main figures for the two-party swing between the leading parties in the ward, Labour and Plaid Cymru (again, worked out by Harry):

2012 – 2013: Lab to Plaid of 1%

2012 – 2015: Lab to Plaid of 2.5%

2013 – 2015: Lab to Plaid of 1.5%


In short, pretty modest change all round. I can’t see much evidence of a Corbyn bounce here. But I don’t see any real sign of a #Plaidsurge either.