A brief note on constitutional insanity

 

We know that, barring something truly extraordinary, there will be a UK general election on 7th May 2015. That election will consume much of the attention of politics watchers over the next few months, and of course there will be discussion of various aspects of it here on Elections in Wales.

We don’t yet know what will be the result of the general election. But if the result is a clear Labour win – a result that has come to seem less likely over the past twelve months, but remains far from implausible – then there will be change of Prime Minister and installation of the new government the following day, Friday May 8th. If there is not a clear win for either of the two largest parties – a result that has come to look rather more likely over the last year – then there will be pressure from both the media and other politicians to move very quickly either to the formation of a minority government or for the successful conclusion of negotiations over a coalition government.

The rapid change-over between governments in the UK has been termed Removal Van democracy: symbolised for those of us of a certain age by Ken Clarke, the hitherto Chancellor of the Exchequer, driving a rental van the day after the 1997 general election, in which to load his and his wife’s possessions from No. 11 Downing Street.

Do many people in the UK realise just how unusual this way of doing things is? In most countries there is some sort of transition period between an election and the installation of a new government or administration. In the United States, the election is held at the beginning of November, but the President is not inaugurated until late-January (it used to be March!). This is an unusually long hiatus. But in most places there is some transition period. In 2012 in France, for instance, the second round of the Presidential election was held on 6th May, and Francois Hollande was sworn-in on 15th May. In Ireland – which like the UK has a parliamentary system of government, the 2011 general election was held on 25th February; the Dail approved Enda Kenny as Prime Minster on 9th March 2011, and he took office later that day.

The immediacy of the change-over in Downing Street is also unusual even within the UK. Within the devolved administrations, the newly-elected chambers meet some days after the election and appoint a First Minister (and a Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland). For instance, when the SNP replaced had Labour as the largest party in the Scottish Parliament in 2007, Alex Salmond was elected by the Scottish Parliament to replace Jack McConnell as First Minister on 16th May, and sworn in on 17th May, which was some 14 days after the Scottish Parliament election.

I believe that this sort of situation used to be the case in London as well. I understand – although it is surprisingly difficult to find definitive information on the matter, and I’d be grateful if any blog readers can point me in the right direction – that in the 19th century it was the convention was for any new government not to take office until the new parliament met – even in a situation where the sitting government had very clearly been defeated at the general election.

This is one instance where other countries definitely do, and the UK in the past did, things better than the UK does today. Why do I say that? Well, let us consider the situation that political leaders are in immediately after a general election. They have been through a very draining and stressful general election campaign for the previous month (or more). They have then, very probably, been awake more or less all night after the close of the polls, following the national results coming in and attending their own constituency declarations.

Is that really the ideal situation in which to have party leaders and other senior politicians moving immediately into government, forming a cabinet and beginning to take other major decisions? Or, in the event on an inconclusive election outcome, are these the ideal circumstances in which to have leaders moving straight into coalition negotiations, and to be confronted with substantial media pressure for a near-immediate resolution of those negotiations? (On the latter point, recall the indignant tone from much of the press about Gordon Brown ‘squatting’ in No. 10, and their increasing impatience and even fury as the coalition negotiations dragged on for a whole five days).

Personally, I definitely do not think at my clearest, or tend to make my best decisions, when I am exhausted, sleep-deprived, or have just been through highly emotional and draining events (such as an election campaign and election night must surely be for leading politicians.) I very much doubt that many people do tend to think clearly, or are most likely to make good decisions, in these circumstances. (And I’m fairly sure that there is a welter of evidence from physiology and cognitive psychology that supports me here). The mental, physical and emotional state that party leaders and their close colleagues will likely be in immediately after an election is just about the worst possible condition in which to be making major political decisions. We should not be surprised if things go wrong in these circumstances; it’s more remarkable that just about anything ever goes right! It is utter insanity to expect our governments to be formed in such circumstances. Current UK practice is not merely unusual; it is also pathological.

I would propose a minor amendment in governing practice. As now, there should be a period of more than a week between a general election and the first meeting of the newly-elected parliament (in 2010 the election was held on 6th May; the new parliament met on 18th May. For most parliaments the gap has been slightly shorter than that). A new Prime Minister and government should take office on that day. The new Prime Minister could go and meet the Monarch after an affirmative vote in the new parliament. Or the new PM could ‘kiss hands’ in the morning before parliament meets for the first time in the afternoon. It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that there should be a 10-12 day transition period after the election. This would allow some time for an orderly transition when there is a clear change of government from one party to another (as in 1997). At the moment when the new government then took office, all new ministerial appointments could be ‘ready and waiting’; rather than us having the present situation where the filling of junior posts can drag on through the first week or two (or even longer) of a government’s life.

In the event of a non-conclusive election, as we had in 2010, one might be able to have slightly less frantic coalition negotiations – the mandatory 10-12 day transition period would impose a natural timetable on events, and allow just a little more time for discussions to be conducted and reach some sort of conclusion.

In either case, it would give everyone just a little more time to play with. Most importantly of all, it might allow leading politicians more scope to do what is probably the single most important thing for them to do in the weekend following an election: get some sleep.

Plaid Cymru’s Strategic Dilemma

 

For members and supporters of Plaid Cymru, the devolution years have been a strange mix of achievement and failure, fulfilment and frustration. The positives are considerable. First and foremost must be the creation of an elected Welsh legislature and the significant extension of its powers after the 2011 referendum. Also of great importance is the 2007-11 coalition government, with Plaid moving from being a party of protest to one of power – a role to which it adapted with perhaps surprising ease and in which it generally performed competently. But on the negative side of the ledger, after its annus mirabilis of 1999 when Plaid twice came close to beating Labour in the national vote, the party’s electoral performance has been consistently disappointing. Plaid are currently only the third party in the National Assembly, and finished fourth in Wales in the most recent UK general and European Parliament elections. The contrast between the recent electoral fortunes of Plaid and its sister-party in Scotland (who Plaid actually out-performed in 1999) is stark.

The last year or so has produced some signs of electoral improvement for Plaid. The party’s opinion poll ratings have begun to edge upwards, both for Westminster and the National Assembly. The polls have also shown some advance in public ratings of their leader, Leanne Wood. Meanwhile, real elections have also produced a few  successes. The most striking, by far, was Rhun ap Iorwerth’s Assembly by-election victory in Ynys Môn in August 2013 (which itself followed a strong performance in the island’s local election the previous May). However, retaining Jill Evans’ European Parliament seat, in the face of strong advances from both Labour and UKIP, was also a fair achievement. With Labour’s poll ratings in Wales having moved downwards significantly over the last 12-18 months, Plaid Cymru can look forward to the 2016 National Assembly with at least cautious optimism.

However, in looking to advance, Plaid Cymru faces a strategic dilemma. That dilemma can be simply stated: that there is a fundamental tension between Plaid Cymru’s long-term objective of challenging the Labour party’s dominance of Welsh politics, and what is clearly the most sensible short-term strategy for it making a significant advance in the 2016 National Assembly election.

Leanne Wood has stated that Plaid’s long-term strategic objective is to challenge Labour as the dominant party in the National Assembly. To achieve this, Plaid will obviously need to raise their overall vote share well beyond the 18-19% won in 2011. But in addition to simply stacking up more votes, challenging Labour dominance in the Assembly will require Plaid to capture a significant number of constituency seats from Labour in south Wales. Labour won 22 of the 23 constituency seats in the three south Wales regions in 2011; whereas even a strong performance by Plaid on the list vote could plausibly secure it only two list seats from each south Wales region, or six in total. While Labour continues to dominate the south Wales constituency seats so totally (in South Wales West Labour have never lost a single contest for an Assembly constituency seat) it is nigh-on mathematically impossible for Labour to be displaced as the largest party in the Assembly, or indeed for any other party even to approach them in terms of number of AMs. For Labour’s dominance of the Assembly to be challenged, serious inroads must be made into Labour’s dominance of the south Wales constituency seats: there is simply no alternative.

But let us remind ourselves of where Plaid starts the campaign for the 2016 National Assembly election: as the third party in the Assembly, with only the 11 seats won in 2011. A general rise in Plaid’s vote share might plausibly win the party some additional regional list seats. But the scope for gains there is distinctly limited – probably at most to one additional AM in each of North Wales, South Wales West and South Wales Central. A more substantial advance will require some constituency gains. So at what targets should Plaid be aiming?

Sensible strategy is generally for parties to target the most clearly winnable seats. The three clearest target constituency seats for Plaid in 2016 are the following:

  • Llanelli, which requires only a 0.2% swing from the 2011 result for Plaid to capture
  • Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, for which, although they narrowly came third last time, Plaid require only a 3.2% swing to win; and
  • Aberconwy, for which Plaid would need a 3.9% swing.

 

These are the only three constituency seats that look obviously ‘winnable’ for Plaid in 2016: the only seats that Plaid can capture with a percentage swing significantly below 10%.

None of these seats is in one of the three south Wales regions.

The strategic problem facing Plaid begins to come into focus. Do they focus on the most obviously winnable constituency seats? These offer the clearest potential for immediate Plaid Cymru gains. However, winning these seats – two of which are currently held by the Conservatives – would have little impact on Labour’s overall dominance of the Assembly. Furthermore, because both Llanelli and Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire are in the Mid and West Wales region, success in gaining both these constituencies might well mean losing Plaid’s Mid and West Wales list seat, thus producing a net gain of only one seat in that region.

Where is comes next on the list of potential Plaid targets? The next two constituency seats requiring the smallest swings for Plaid gains are Caerphilly, where Plaid would need a 9.7% swing on the 2011 result to win, and Clwyd West, which would need a 10.2% swing for Plaid to come from third place to win. These are the only other two seats where Plaid can win with swings around 10%. Neither of these two seats would exactly be easy wins for Plaid Cymru (to put it mildly). And only one of these two seats is in south Wales (Caerphilly is in South Wales East).

In a very good year for Plaid Cymru (with their national support level at around that won in 1999) and a bad year for Labour (with their support falling to the sort of level won in 2007), it is possible to see a pathway to Plaid winning 18 seats in the National Assembly. (That is not, please note, my prediction for how well Plaid will do in 2016.) Achieving this would require Plaid to capture all its obvious target constituency seats (up to and including Caerphilly), and the mathematics on the list seats working in ways that are as favourable to them as seems even vaguely plausible. On such a scenario, though the parties would be pretty close in terms of vote share, Labour would still be some way ahead of Plaid in the Assembly, at around 24-25 seats.

Moving any further forward than this would require Plaid to be achieving some truly remarkable swings – in some places even to approach the sort of swings they managed in several seats in 1999:

Clwyd South would require a 12.0% swing for Plaid Cymru to capture it;

Neath, a 13.5% swing

Preseli Pembrokeshire, a 13.5% swing

Cardiff West, a 13.6% swing

Wrexham, a 15.5% swing

Swansea West, a 15.8% swing

Rhondda, a 16.9% swing

Torfaen, a 17.1% swing

Cynon Valley, a 17.5% swing

Islwyn, a 18.2% swing

 

In pondering the task ahead of them, Plaid Cymru strategists might be wise to reflect on one aspect of the experience of the Liberal Democrats in 2010. Prompted by the eruption of ‘Clegg-mania’ after the first leaders’ debate into thinking that they might make considerable gains across Britain, the Liberal Democrats diverted precious resources from their original limited list of target seats into attacking across a broader front. They ended up, on a somewhat increased vote share, actually making a net loss of seats overall (including losing Montgomeryshire in Wales).

For Plaid Cymru in 2016 to put resources into targeting seats that are crucial to achieving their long-term objective would risk sacrificing more obviously winnable seats. Yet prioritising the seats where Plaid clearly could win in 2016 would mean, in practice, accepting that they will not seriously challenge Labour’s status as the leading party in the Assembly until some point in the future.

It is clear where Plaid Cymru wish to get to. Their dilemma is that the pathway for them actually getting there is much less clear.

On Uniform National Swing

 

One welcome development in Welsh political life and electoral analysis over the last year has been the growth in regular political polling. We now have more regularly reported measures of party preferences and public attitudes. In discussing the results of those polls, one topic that has cropped up quite frequently, both in Comments on blog posts here and also away from the site, has been that of how polling numbers (which report intended vote shares) are translated into possible election outcomes in terms of seats in parliament or the National Assembly. This is a topic that is easily open to some confusion, and one I’d like to discuss here.

 A first observation is that current polls should never be seen as a prediction of the next general or Assembly election. For one thing, as Sir Robert Worcester of MORI has often said, “Polls don’t predict; although pollsters sometimes do”. A poll asking about voting intention is a measure of party support now; it is absolutely not a prediction of what it might be at some time in the future. Of course it is true, as Nate Silver has observed, that the closer to the election you get the more confidently you ought be able to predict the final election vote shares from current polls. And polls conducted immediately pre-election should be able to get pretty close to the final outcome: if they don’t, something is probably awry with a pollster’s methods.

What I’d like to spend most of this post looking at, though, is how vote shares from polls are generally translated into potential outcomes in terms of seats: ‘what would happen if these findings were repeated across Wales in an election?’ These seat totals are also not predictions of what will happen, but rather projections of the current position as revealed to us by the polls. But how are such seat numbers generated? And how seriously should we take those numbers?

The method I use for all such projections reported here is that of Uniform National Swing (UNS). This method is also used by many others, such as the UK Polling Report site, and by the BBC. An obvious virtue of UNS is simplicity. To apply it you just compare the percentage support for each party in a given poll with the percentage support they received in the most recent relevant election. The percentage change (or ‘swing’) in support from the last election, whether positive or negative, is then applied uniformly to every constituency (and electoral region for National Assembly elections) in Wales. Repeat the process for every party, and see which party comes out on top in each constituency. Once this is completed, you have a full set of projected results for the whole of Wales. It really is as simple as that.

To illustrate, let’s use the recent BBC/ICM poll. This put Plaid Cymru support for the constituency vote in National Assembly elections at 24% (an unusually high figure in recent years); this compares with the 19.3% that Plaid won on the constituency vote 2011. Applying UNS from the poll to a projected Assembly election therefore means simply working through all forty constituencies and adjusting the Plaid vote upwards by 4.7% (i.e. 24-19.3). The Conservatives were at 19% in the same poll. This compares with the 25.0% that they scored in 2011. So for the Tories, UNS means working through all forty constituencies and adjusting the 2011 result downwards by 6% (i.e. 25.0-19).

For working out a projected general election outcome from a poll, all that needs to be done is to work through all forty constituencies for each party. For the Assembly it is just a little more complicated. I first work out the projected constituency results; I then apply UNS to the regional list vote for each party in each region, with the calculations allocating the list seats taking into account which parties are projected to have won the constituency seats in that region.

So that’s the method. (Try it some time at home; hours of fun for all the family). How good is it? Well, it is clearly not flawless. The most obvious and immediate flaw is that it occasionally projects impossible outcomes. The BBC/ICM poll showed the Liberal Democrats’ constituency vote on 5%. This compares with the 10.6% they won in 2011; UNS would therefore suggest applying a reduction of 5.6% to the Liberal Democrats vote share in all forty constituencies. OK – but what about somewhere like Llanelli, where the Liberal Democrats won only 2.1% in 2011?! Times are tough for the Lib-Dems at the moment, but I’m confident that their vote share hasn’t yet dipped below zero anywhere…

The other major limitation on UNS is that it does not allow for factors that are likely to produce local variations from national swings. We know that such variations exist, and indeed have generally been increasing in size: across the UK, the standard deviation from the national swing has risen. These deviations can be regional, such as we saw in the last Assembly election, where the swing to Labour was notably bigger in the three south Wales regions that in either Mid & West Wales or in North Wales. But deviations can also be particular to a single constituency, due to some specific local issue, to splits in a local party, or simply due to an individual local candidate who is unusually effective (or unusually poor). A common source of at least modest constituency-specific deviations is incumbency: i.e. the sitting member normally does accrue some sort of personal vote. Where a party’s candidate is standing for re-election for the first time there is normally a modest incumbency bonus; conversely, where an incumbent representative stands down and a party is defending a seat with a new candidate, they will typically experience worse than average swings.

UNS doesn’t account for any of these potential sources of variation. Why, then, do people use it? First and most obviously, analysts need some form of simple and neutral formula for projecting from polling numbers to an election outcome. We know that UNS is not perfect, but it is less flawed than any alternatives (for example, see the discussion here of ‘proportionate swing’).

Second, in the aggregate, UNS is normally pretty good in terms of projecting election results from the vote shares won by each party. Thus, in the 2011 National Assembly election there were seven constituency seats where the result differed from that which would have been predicted by UNS changes from 2007-11. Seven out of forty is quite a high proportion. But these local idiosyncracies largely cancelled each other out. Overall, the net differences between the final result and that predicted by UNS were small: the Conservatives won two more constituency seats than UNS would have projected and Labour one; Plaid lost two more than suggested by UNS and the LibDems one.

In my view, UNS provides us with a broad guide – a baseline gauge against which both the overall performance of the parties, and the results of individual seats, can be assessed. But it doesn’t provide us with anything more than that. And projections, using UNS, of polls conducted now are most definitely not any sort of infallible prediction of exactly what will happen at some point in the future. UNS is a perfectly reasonable tool, provided that we understand the limits of its usefulness.

While I Was Away…

 

As you may have noticed, I have been away from Elections in Wales duty for a bit. While I was off re-charging my psephological batteries, Lord Ashcroft released another set of polls in key Labour-Conservative marginal seats. (The full results of all the polling are here.) As with his previous round of such polling (which was conducted in April and published in May), this round (which was conducted in June, and published last week) included one Welsh seat, Cardiff North.

Cardiff North is a very important seat at the next general election. As well as enjoying the singular honour of being my own constituency, it is one of the most marginal seats in the whole of the UK – the Tories having captured it by a mere 194 votes in 2010. If they were to have any serious hopes of advancing from their current position in the House of Commons towards an overall majority, the Conservatives really need to hold Cardiff North. On the other hand, if Labour is to stand any chance of winning an overall majority, then they certainly need to gain the seat.

The prospects for the parties, however, are somewhat complicated by the factor of incumbency. We know from copious research that popular sitting MPs can outperform the typical swings experienced by their parties. That was probably one reason why Cardiff North was so close in 2010. On the average swings seen across Britain, and Wales, the Conservatives should have gained the seat fairly comfortably. However, Labour’s popular incumbent MP, Julie Morgan, kept the swing from Labour to the Conservatives down to a mere 1.5%. With Julie Morgan not standing next year – she is now the AM for the constituency, having won it decisively in 2011 – that ought to hand a significant advantage to the Conservatives. However, the Tories’ own position has potentially been weakened by the fact that the victor in 2010, Jonathan Evans, has already announced his decision to stand down at the next general election. So while Labour will have lost any incumbency advantage they had in 2010, the Conservatives will not gain from incumbency as they might have expected.

So how are things shaping up for the parties? As with his previous polls, Lord Ashcroft asked two main voting intention questions. The first was the standard “If there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?” The results for this question (with changes on April’s poll in brackets) were:

Labour: 38% (-3)

Conservatives: 31% (-3)

UKIP: 14% (+6)

Plaid Cymru: 5% (-2)

Liberal Democrats: 5% (-3)

Thus, the modest Labour lead has remained exactly where it was on this question, even as both leading parties have lost some ground to UKIP.

However, Lord Ashcroft also asked a second, following up question on voting intention: “Thinking specifically about your own PARLIAMENTARY constituency at the next General Election and the candidates who are likely to stand FOR ELECTION TO WESTMINSTER there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency?”. (Emphasis in original. Note that although the question refers to the ‘candidates who are likely to stand’, it did not actually name them, as there was not a full list of candidates available for all parties in all the seats that were polled). Results for this question (with changes from April again in brackets) were:

Labour: 41% (+1)

Conservatives: 30% (-3)

UKIP: 12% (+4)

Plaid Cymru: 7% (no change)

Liberal Democrats: 6% (-4)

The results here are clearly somewhat more encouraging for Labour: they have actually slightly increased their lead over the Conservatives since April.

The poll contained a couple of other interesting questions. One asked respondents whether they recalled having been contacted by the parties ‘over the last few weeks’. Here, the Conservatives were slightly ahead of Labour in Cardiff North (with 31% of respondents recalling having been contacted by them, compared to 27% for Labour); however, this represents a halving of the Tory advantage on this measure from the previous poll.

A second interesting question asked people if there were any parties that they would definitely not vote for at the general election. Here, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP tied in first (or rather last) place, with 65% of respondents each naming them; Plaid Cymru scored 58%, the Conservatives 48%, while Labour did best with only 39% choosing them. Particularly damning for the Lib-Dems is that more than half of the Cardiff North sample who indicated that they voted Lib-Dem in 2010 now said that they definitely would not vote for them in 2015.

As I mentioned in my discussion of the previous Cardiff North poll, we should exercise some caution in interpreting these polls. Individual constituency polls have a distinctly mixed record; moreover, they can only gauge voting intentions now, and can’t tell us what might change over the next nine months. But at the moment Labour are in the lead in Cardiff North. Although their advantage is nowhere near sufficient for a Labour victory here to be a certainty, Mari Williams must now be the clear favourite to gain the seat.

Who do we Trust?

 

Some time ago, I began a short series of Blog posts (see here and here) under the general theme of ‘hitherto neglected aspects of public attitudes to devolution’. These drew on detailed survey evidence gathered by the Wales Governance Centre here at Cardiff University, particularly the 2011 Welsh Referendum Study and 2011 Welsh Election Study. Although these studies are now slightly dated, they provided by far the most detailed information yet gathered in any surveys about various aspects of public attitudes towards many aspects of devolution and government here in Wales.

I had intended there to be three posts in the original series. I published two of them, and in the latter briefly previewed the third, but then got side-tracked by the fever pitch of political excitement that was the European Parliament election. Apologies for that. Anyway, making a somewhat belated appearance here is the third piece in the series. It concerns Trust. To what extent do the people of Wales have trust and confidence in their elected representatives, and those who govern over them?

The 2011 studies covered these issues in two main, slightly different ways. First, one question, which was included in the post-referendum wave of the Referendum Study asked the following:

‘How much do you trust the following to work in Wales’ best interests?’.

The table below summarises the (%) responses obtained for two levels of government – the UK and the Welsh governments – and also for two categories of representatives – MPs at Westminster and AMs at Cardiff Bay.

 

UK Government

Welsh Government

MPs

AMs

Just about always

5

21

3

18

Most of the time

22

45

18

45

AT LEAST MOST OF TIME

27

66

21

63

Only some of the time

44

21

51

23

Almost never

22

6

21

6

Don’t Know

7

7

8

7

What is immediately striking about the table is the disparity in trust of government and political representatives in London and in Cardiff. Those in London are trusted at least most of the time by roughly one-quarter of all respondents, whereas around two-thirds are willing to give that level of trust to those in Cardiff. This is a very large difference.

The initial inclination of social scientists looking at apparently interesting survey findings like this is nearly always to find ways in which we can ‘explain away’ the differences. There are several potential such reasons here. First, and perhaps most obviously, is our old friend question wording. It may well be that the wording of the question (‘to work in Wales’ best interests’) tends to lead people to offer responses more favourable to those within manifestly Welsh institutions. In addition we should consider partisan politics: at the time this survey was implemented, the UK government and the majority of members in the UK parliament represented political parties with only minority support here in Wales. Third, we might also bear in mind that in March 2011, when this survey question was asked, many memories lingered of the 2009 Westminster expenses scandal, which would hardly have helped elevate reported trust in UK-level politicians. Nonetheless, even with all these caveats entered, the difference in reported trust between UK and Welsh political institutions and those within them is stark.

Partly to compensate for any potential problems related to one particular question format and wording, elsewhere in the Referendum and Election studies another types of question was asked about trust. Here, respondents were asked to rate different institutions and those within them on a 0-10 scale, “where 0 means no trust, and 10 means a great deal of trust”. Four separate questions were asked, concerning levels of trust in people within those institutions to ‘Tell the truth’, to ‘Do what is right’, to ‘Be concerned with the problems of people like you’, and ‘to conduct their work with honesty and integrity’.

 Taken together with the question above about ‘Wales’ best interests’, these different questions potentially tap into several different dimensions of political trust: a concern with Wales, a connection between representatives and represented, and personal probity. We should not, therefore, necessarily expect that answers will be wholly consistent across the different questions: one could quite imagine people believing some politicians to be personally honest yet utterly out of touch, for instance.

To help place answers about politicians and governments into some sort of broader context, some of these questions were also asked about other institutions like The Courts and The Police. The table below shows the mean average ratings (out of a maximum of 10) obtained for the four questions:

 

 

Tell Truth#

Do Right#

Concerned Problems*

Honesty/

Integrity*

UK Government

3.74

3.88

3.94

3.76

Welsh Government

5.19

5.31

5.50

5.44

Westminster MPs

3.53

3.72

3.93

3.70

Assembly Members

5.04

5.20

5.53

5.41

Your local council

4.31

4.38

The European Union

3.40

3.28

The Courts

6.49

5.94

The Police

5.42

5.60

# Source: 2011 Welsh Referendum Study (post-referendum wave); * Source: 2011 Welsh Election Study (post-election wave).

 

It will surprise no-one, I suspect, that politicians and political institutions generally scored lower in terms of trust than those involved in the justice system. Indeed, if anything I might have expected the gaps to have been even greater. It will also surprise no-one that the European Union attracts low levels of trust.

What again stands out perhaps most from the findings on these questions, however, is the disparity in responses regarding MPs and the UK government on the one hand, and AMs and the Welsh government on the other. Although the differences on this types of question format perhaps look a little less stark than in the ‘Wales best interests’ question discussed above, they remain substantial. However the question is asked, it seems, those at the devolved level attract much greater trust than those at the UK level.

Why might this be? There is some general tendency for people to prefer political representatives who are closer to them; hence, surveys across Britain generally find greater levels of trust in local councils and councillors than the national government and MPs. Yet here we find greater trust in the devolved level even than in local councils. It may be that the proximity of the surveys to the 2011 Assembly election helped raise the reported standing of the devolved institution and its members somewhat; even so, the differences between levels of trust in the devolved level and the UK level is both so consistent and so substantial that it is very difficult to believe that conducting the survey at another time would have made very much difference to anything.

Greatest Hits, etc

 

It will soon be exactly one year since Elections in Wales was launched on an unsuspecting and defenceless world.

Since then I have been pleasantly surprised, even amazed, at the level of interest that the blog has attracted. We’ve set monthly records for readership and page views in eight of the last eleven months, and have passed 30,000 total page views.

Diolch o galon, i chi i gyd, am eich cefnogaeth a ddiddordeb. Thanks very much to all of you for your continuing interest and support. It might be, to misquote one of my favourite films, that the electoral politics of one little nation don’t amount to a hill of beans. But, as Leslie Nielson went on to say, this is our hill, and these are our beans…

I will actually be away for a few days when we celebrate our first birthday. (Though I expect to receive reports of the nation united in rejoicing, large and emotional crowds throughout Wales etc etc). However, I thought it might be of interest to some of you – and particularly those of you who have joined us over the last year – to share with you some of the most popular posts over the last twelve months. So, in no particular order…

Slightly to my amazement, one of the most popular posts I did in the first year concerned a survey question wording experiment. Trying to Get it Right reported findings of a mini-study that I ran with YouGov, where we were seeking to puzzle out why some recent YouGov polls in Wales had been showing surprising results for the regional list vote in National Assembly elections. The results we got back amazed us, and many of you clearly also found it interesting.

A second very popular post involved me playing my regular role of Mr Spoil Sport. (This is a role I started fulfilling rather early in life. I still remember when, as a young boy, I found out that Father Christmas wasn’t real. I eagerly shared this news with all my friends at school that day, who I thought would want to know this – only to make some of them cry, receive a bollocking from our teacher, and find that I ended the day with rather fewer friends than at the start). In this particular instance, I suggested that question-wording effects meant that the apparently striking findings of a constitutional preference question in the annual BBC/ICM poll were, in reality, maybe less interesting than they initially seemed.

Three other very popular posts (Part One is here; Part Two here; and Part Three here) looked at the history of one-party dominance in Wales. Sustained period of dominance by a single party have been a consistent feature of political life in Wales throughout the democratic era – and, I have argued at various times, a persistent pathology in Welsh political life. These pieces outlined the story from the 19th century until more-or-less the present day.

Another rather popular post was one analysing the electoral system used to choose the majority of Welsh councillors. This system – a multi-member version of First Past the Post – is, to my mind, a strong contender for the title of The worst electoral system in the world, managing to retain all of the weaknesses of First Past the Post without any of its redeeming features. Sadly, there currently seems little eagerness to get rid of it within the ranks of Wales’ still-dominant political party.

Finally, I as a taster before the night of the European election results, I ran a short piece seeking to explain the mathematical formula under which the seats in Wales – and the rest of Britain – would be allocated. The Fabulous Mr D’Hondt was a 19th century Belgian mathematician, and evidently one with a sense of humour…

 Happy reading. I’ll be back soon, with my psephological batteries fully restored, I hope.

Public Attitudes to the Political Parties

 

Elections in Wales has now been running for very nearly a year. During that time its been very pleasing to see the audience for the blog growing considerably. The many readers who haven’t been with us right from the beginning may not, therefore, be familiar with one survey question that was run on the YouGov poll conducted in July 2013 to mark the launch of the blog.

This is a question that was originally developed in the context of multi-party continental European political systems, and seeks to measure public attitudes to the parties in a rather different – and arguably more subtle – way from questions on current voting intention, or that long-standing political science favourite, party identification. The question follows this format:

“We have a number of parties in Wales, each of which would like to get your vote. Using a scale that runs from 0 to 10, where 0 means very unlikely and 10 means very likely, how likely is it that you would ever vote for…”.

This question can then be applied to all potentially relevant parties.

The question recognises that many voters do not have a simple and absolute attachment to one party and aversion to all the others, but varying degrees of attraction towards the options before them. It is thus particularly useful in multi-party systems, such as we have had for some time in Wales. And because the question has now been asked in several polls, we can compare attitudes over time.

This question was included in the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, and was asked not only about the four parties represented in the National Assembly, but also about three others: UKIP, the Greens, and the BNP. So how did the parties do?

A first interesting thing to look at, I think, is the percentage of respondents who score a party 0 out of 10: in short, they really dislike this party, and cannot see themselves ever voting for them. The table below reports two sets of statistics for each party: the percentage scoring that party 0 out of 10; and the change in that percentage since July 2012, when this question was previously asked. (A positive score in the final column represents a bad result for a party: it indicates a rise in the percentage of people indicating they score their likelihood of ever voting for that party at 0 out of 10).

 

Party

% 0 / 10

Change since July 20123

Labour

29

+6

Conservative

45

-1

Liberal Democrats

48

+10

Plaid Cymru

31

+2

UKIP

52

+7

Greens

38

+7

BNP

79

+7

 

A few things stand out from this table. A first one is the BNP figure, which many may find reassuringly high. A second is the fact that attitudes seem to have become somewhat more negative for nearly all the parties; or perhaps we just got a rather grumpy sample! Other noteworthy things include:

  • It is striking that attitudes to UKIP seem to have become more clearly defined: their electoral support has risen in the last year, but more people also now seem to regard them as electorally beyond-the-pale.
  • As well as their electoral support levels falling, antagonism towards Labour seems to have increased. They are still the least disliked party, but their advantage over the others in that respect seems to have diminished.
  • It’s also notable that, in what was not an outstandingly good poll for them in terms of voting intentions, Plaid Cymru come close to matching Labour as the least disliked party. Relatively few people dislike Plaid; the party’s problem continues to be a failure to convince sufficient number of the rest of the electorate to positively support it.
  • While the Conservatives remain much more strongly disliked than either Labour or Plaid, they are the one party to have actually marginally improved in this respect over the last year.
  • The poll piles on yet more bad news for the Liberal Democrats. They attract much more hostility than they used to: when this question was asked immediately after the 2010 general election, only 17% gave 0 out of 10 for them. Now the figure is almost half of all the sample, and actually slightly higher than that for the Conservatives.

That’s the picture for hostility; what about the positive end of the spectrum? Those rating parties above the mid-point on the scale, in the 6-10 range, might be said to be broadly positive towards a party. So what percentages of our sample rated each of the parties in this range? The next table shows these figures, and again also gives the changes since the July 2013 poll. (For this table, a positive number in the change column is therefore a good thing for a party, indicating a rise in the proportion of people scoring them highly on likelihood to vote for that party).

Party

% 6-10 / 10

Change since July 20123

Labour

42

-8

Conservative

27

+3

Liberal Democrats

14

-5

Plaid Cymru

31

-4

UKIP

23

-

Greens

20

+1

BNP

4

-2

 

Labour is some way ahead of the field: as well as attracting less hostility than the other parties, it also attracts notably more positive support. That’s not a bad position to be in! What may be a bit concerning for Labour, however, is that their position has declined so much since last year. As with voting intention, Labour are still in the strongest position, but they are no longer completely out of sight of the other parties.

Plaid Cymru are in a clear second place on this measure. Yet they will surely be disappointed that they have not improved on this measure over the last twelve months and have actually moved backwards slightly. Although in third place on this measure, the Conservatives may take more heart here. It is also noticeable, looking at the details of the figures, that much of the Tory support is very strong: 11 out of the 27% of respondents scoring them at 6-10 actually choose the 10 out of 10 option; for Plaid Cymru the equivalent figure is only 7 out of 31%.

The news continues to be unremittingly bleak for the Liberal Democrats. Not only has hostility towards them risen, but their potential pool of voters seems to be shrinking. The contrast with May 2010 is again striking: then, fully 42% scored them in the 6-10 range. On this measure, the Lib-Dems are now well behind not only the other parties currently represented in the Assembly, but also UKIP and even the Greens. For UKIP, what is notable is that their pool of potential support has not expanded; what has happened over the past year is that UKIP has started to convert much more of that potential support into votes.

Overall, these figures provide us, I think, with a useful supplement to those from polling questions on voting intention. Though in most cases they tell us a similar story, these questions add some interesting nuance – notably, in the case of this poll, for both UKIP and Plaid Cymru. So I hope we’ll be able to repeat this question in some future Welsh Political Barometer polls.

July Welsh Political Barometer figures published!

 

This week sees publication of the fourth poll conducted by the Welsh Political Barometer – a unique collaboration between ITV Cymru Wales, the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, and the leading polling agency YouGov.

The poll provides us with a valuable opportunity to assess the state of the parties, now that the dust has settled after the European elections, and as we head towards the Westminster and National Assembly summer recess. When they depart for the seaside with their buckets and spades, which of our politicians will do so in the best heart?

The poll asked our usual questions about voting intentions for next May’s general election, as well for both votes in the National Assembly election. Before we look at them in detail, however, an important technical note. After the European Parliament election, and as discussed on the Blog last week, YouGov have up-dated their weighting scheme for their Welsh polls. The small changes they have made will tend to push the Labour and Liberal Democrat figures down a bit, and those for the Conservatives and UKIP up slightly, compared with previous YouGov polls in Wales. We should take this into account when interpreting the figures, in particular when comparing them with May’s Barometer poll.

So, what were the findings for Westminster? We got the following results for general election vote intention (with changes from the May Barometer poll in brackets):

  • Labour 41% (-2)
  • Conservative 25% (+3)
  • Plaid Cymru 11% (no change)
  • UKIP 14% (+1)
  • Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)
  • Others 5% (+1)

Although Labour is still well in the lead, this poll continues the trend that has persisted for the last year or so of its support level slowly declining. Changes since the May Barometer poll can be largely accounted for by YouGov’s altered weightings. Nonetheless, the 41% rating is Labour’s lowest score in any published Welsh poll since the 2010 general election.

Although the Conservatives’ improvement since May is also partly attributable to methodological changes, they will surely be encouraged by this poll. Their 25% rating is the Tories’ highest in Wales since early 2012, and only just short of their performance in the 2010 general election. The contrast with their coalition partners gets ever starker: although again partly accounted for by methodological changes, the Lib-Dems 5% rating is their lowest for two years, and more than 15 points below their vote share in 2010. Plaid Cymru continue to hold steady, at a support level pretty much identical with how they did in 2010. UKIP, too, continue to be resilient at the much higher support levels they have attracted in recent months.

If the changes since the 2010 general election implied by these figures were repeated uniformly across Wales, this would produce the following outcome in terms of seats (with changes from the 2010 election outcome indicated in brackets):

  • Labour: 28 seats (+2)
  • Conservatives: 8 seats (no change)
  • Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (no change)
  • Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (-2)

Only three seats are projected by this poll to change hands: Labour would capture Cardiff Central from the Liberal Democrats and Cardiff North from the Conservatives, while the Conservatives would take Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats.

What about the National Assembly? For the constituency vote, the results of our new poll were (with changes from May’s Barometer poll in brackets):

  • Labour 37% (-2)
  • Conservative 21% (+1)
  • Plaid Cymru 20% (+1)
  • Liberal Democrats 5% (-3)
  • UKIP 13% (+3)
  • Others 4% (+1)

Again, we must take into account the slightly changes in YouGov’s methodology in interpreting these figures. Nonetheless, once again we see Labour’s support edging downwards: 37% is their lowest support level with YouGov for the Assembly constituency vote again since May 2010. Labour are still clearly the party in the strongest position, but that position has slipped noticeably. The Conservatives and Plaid Cymru are holding steady, while UKIP continue to advance and the Liberal Democrats are again doing poorly.

Applying the changes since the 2011 Assembly election implied by these figures uniformly across Wales, only one constituency seat projected to change hands from 2011 on the figures from this poll: that is Llanelli, being won by Plaid Cymru from Labour.

For the regional list vote, we saw the following results (with changes from the May Barometer poll again indicated):

  • Labour 34% (-1)
  • Conservative 21% (+2)
  • Plaid Cymru 18% (+1)
  • UKIP 16% (+2)
  • Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)
  • Others 7% (-1)

Again, on both votes here the main change overall is Labour losing ground while UKIP advances.

Taking into account both the constituency and list results, this produces the following projected seat outcome for a National Assembly election (with aggregate changes from 2011 indicated in brackets):

  • Labour: 29 (-1); 27 constituency AMs, 2 list AMs
  • Conservative: 12 (-2); 6 constituency AMs, 6 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 10 (-1); 6 constituency AMs, 4 list AMs
  • UKIP 8 (+8); all 8 would be list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 1 (-4); 1 constituency AM

These projections indicate the possibility, on the results implied by the current poll, of UKIP becoming a significant force within the National Assembly, and largely doing so at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. As with the last Barometer poll in May, our new poll projects Kirsty Williams in Brecon & Radnor to be the only remaining Lib Dem AM.

Overall, this is a good poll for the Conservatives and UKIP, a solid one for Plaid Cymru, and yet more bad news for the Liberal Democrats. As for Wales’ long-dominant party: this poll confirms that Labour’s position in Wales has declined significantly over the last year, but that they still remain well in the lead. While Labour look more vulnerable than they did throughout 2011-13, the other parties must still look very enviously at their ratings.

I’ll be back later this week with further analysis of the poll. But that’s probably enough for you all to chew on for now!

Trends in Income Tax and EU Referendum Polling

 

Wales Online are today running some findings from a new poll they have conducted with YouGov. The main feature of their story is attitudes to immigration, where – consistent with other evidence – they show considerable hostility to immigration in Wales, with such attitudes particularly strong among more working class respondents. This may, as some have commented on here amongst other places, help explain why UKIP found such a ready reception in the European election campaign.

The poll also asked two referendum questions: about how people might vote in a referendum on income tax powers for the National Assembly, and how they might vote in a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. In neither case do the findings seem greatly out of line with previous recent polls on the subject. However, to help contextualise the results and the discussion in the news story, I thought the following might be useful: tables with the results of previous recent surveys on both matters (with details on the exact question wording and other matters below the tables).

 

Wales, Tax Referendum Polls

Poll

% Yes

% No

% DK/ NR

% ‘No’ Lead

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013a

39

34

27

-5

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2013b

35

38

26

3

Western Mail/Beaufort, December 2013c

32

30

38

-2

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014d

31

42

28

11

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014e

33

39

28

6

Walesonline/YouGov, June 2014f

34

41

25

7

 

a.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1007. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

b.      Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1001. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

c.       Face-to-face poll conducted by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail. Number of respondents = 1022. Question asked: “The UK Government says it will pass a law to enable a referendum to be held on whether the Welsh Government should be able to vary rates of income tax up or down in Wales. If such a referendum were held tomorrow, how would you vote?”

d.      Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1250. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

e.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1092. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

f.        Internet poll conducted by YouGov for MediaWales. Number of respondents = 2270. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”


Wales, EU Referendum Polls

 

Poll

% Remain

% Leave

% DK/ NV

% ‘remain’ Lead

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013a

42

35

22

7

Western Mail/Beaufort, June 2013b

29

37

35

-8

WGC/YouGov, July 2013c

39

40

21

-1

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2013d

38

40

22

-2

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014e

44

33

23

11

Walesonline/YouGov, June 2014f

41

38

22

3

 

a.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1007. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

b.      Face-to-face poll conducted by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail. Number of respondents = 988; Questions asked: “If there was a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

c.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.. Number of respondents = 1012. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

d.      Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1001. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

e.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1250. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

f.        Internet poll conducted by YouGov for Walesonline. Number of respondents = 2270. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

Public Opinion About the Party Leaders: New Evidence

UP-DATED 20/06/14: DETAILED DATA FOR THE DISCUSSION BELOW NOW AVAILABLE HERE.

In my previous post I, along with Laurence Janta-Lipinski of YouGov, described the test poll that they ran recently. While the purpose of that poll was mainly to explore any refinements to their weighting scheme that might be necessary for future polls in Wales, we were able to place on it one very interesting set of questions. This concerned public attitudes to the party leaders.

What the public think about party leaders does matter. While it is certainly true that what many people think about a leader will be shaped heavily by what they think about their party, to at least some extent the reverse can also be the case. Party leaders can be influential in several ways. For major parties, what the public thinks about their leader as a potential Prime Minister or First Minister can be very important. More generally – though perhaps particularly salient for minor parties – the leader can be important as the chief spokeperson for that party’s message to the electorate. Finally, many people seem to view the leader as something of a proxy for the party as a whole: the sort of person they elect as leader is taken to say something about the party as a whole. For all these reasons, the general consensus among scholars of parties and elections is that leaders do matter, and often matter rather a lot.

In their latest poll, YouGov repeated a standard question about the party leaders that they have asked in several previous Welsh polls, most recently in July last year, as well as in surveys elsewhere. This tried-and-tested question asks respondents the following:

“Using a scale that runs from 0 to 10, where 0 means strongly dislike and 10 means strongly like, how do you feel about…”.

The question was then asked about the leaders of the four main UK-wide parties, plus the four party leaders in the National Assembly.

There are several interesting findings in the results that were produced. The first concerns the proportion of people who chose the ‘Don’t Know’ response rather than any point on the 0-10 scale. As I mentioned here last year, when reporting the findings of the July 2013 poll that ran this question, while some people do choose the Don’t Know option because they are genuinely undecided about a particular politician, in the aggregate the proportion of people choosing this is a good indication of the public visibility of a party leader.

The table below shows the percentage who answered Don’t Know about each leader, along with an indication of changes since this question was previously asked. (In this context, a minus score in the change column is a ‘good’ result – it shows fewer people being unable to offer a definite view about that leader).

 

Leader

% Don’t Know

% change since July 2013

David Cameron

6

-3

Ed Miliband

8

-2

Nick Clegg

8

-2

Nigel Farage

9

-12

Carwyn Jones

22

-1

Andrew RT Davies

45

+1

Kirsty Williams

40

+3

Leanne Wood

39

-1

Looking at the main UK party leaders, we see small declines from last year in the proportion offering Don’t Know responses for Cameron, Miliband and Clegg – something that quite possibly reflects merely the fact that this year’s poll was conducted shortly after the European elections. The big – though wholly unsurprising – change since last year is the increased profile of Nigel Farage, who now appears to be about as well known among our respondents as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

There is then a substantial gap between the levels of Don’t Knows for all the UK party leaders and that for Carwyn Jones. Despite having been First Minister for four and a half years, Carwyn seems to be significantly more anonymous with the people of Wales. But Carwyn, in turn, is far more well-known to the Welsh public than the three opposition leaders in the Assembly, none of whom have seen their public profile increase significantly over the last 11 months. As with the recent evidence from the BBC/ICM poll, these findings indicate the limited public awareness of devolved politics in Wales.

But what of those who did have opinions? What did they think of the leaders? The following table presents two pieces of information: the mean average score for each leader (out of a maximum possible 10, among those offering a view), and the change in this average rating since the July 2013 poll.

Leader

Mean Average /10

change since July 2013

David Cameron

3.4

+0.4

Ed Miliband

3.7

-0.7

Nick Clegg

2.7

-0.2

Nigel Farage

3.5

+0.4

Carwyn Jones

4.6

-0.5

Andrew RT Davies

3.2

+0.2

Kirsty Williams

3.9

+0.4

Leanne Wood

4.0

+0.5

A first thing that one can immediately notice from these numbers is that none of them are very high: not one of the eight leaders averages even 5 out of 10.  ‘POLITICIANS IN UNPOPULARITY SHOCK’ – remember, you heard it here first. But perhaps of more importance are two things: the relative rankings of the leaders, and the changes since last year.

Among the UK party leaders, Nigel Farage and David Cameron have seen the largest improvement in their rankings since last year. By contrast, Ed Miliband’s rating has fallen further than any other leader over the past eleven months. That the average evaluation of the Labour leader is now little better than those for the leaders of the Conservative party and UKIP, in a part of Britain that is still one of Labour’s strongest bastions, is a pretty damning indictment of Miliband’s failure over recent months to portray himself to the public as a credible alternative Prime Minister. Only 11% of Labour supporters, indeed, manage to give their party leader a 10/10 score. For Cameron and Farage what is striking about the detail of the poll is how they divide opinion: lots of people strongly dislike them, but their own party supporters are much more enthusiastic about them than Labour supporters are about Miliband. For Nick Clegg, the news is yet more gloom: he manages to attract both plenty of hostility and little fervent support.

Carwyn Jones remains by some way the most popular party leader in Wales. Yet his rating, like that of his party, has slipped notably in the last year. The official Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Andrew RT Davies, has made modest ground in his rating. But more substantial progress has been made by the leaders of the smaller opposition parties. Kirsty Williams’ ratings are far more positive than those for her UK leader Nick Clegg; her personal ratings continue to be the one vaguely positive aspect of public attitudes towards her party in Wales. Indeed, for her to be scoring so relatively well, given the generally awful political context facing her party, is little short of astonishing. Close to astonishing, too, is the progress made in public esteem over the last eleven months by Leanne Wood. Her rating has improved more than that of any other leader since last year, and on the evidence of this poll she is now the second most popular of all the party leaders in Wales. This is particularly notable for having come in a YouGov poll, rather than an ICM one: as I have noted before, YouGov appear to give systematically lower support levels to Plaid than do ICM. One imagines that Leanne’s ratings might be even stronger in an ICM poll running a similar question.

What lessons can we draw from these findings? For the 2015 UK general election, I think the Conservatives and UKIP can probably draw the most positive implications. Although David Cameron and Nigel Farage attract plenty of hostility, they are clearly popular with people who are attracted to their respective parties. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, by contrast, seem to generate relatively little enthusiasm amongst those inclined to support their parties. For the 2016 National Assembly election, the contest between the party leaders is starting to look much more even than it was in 2011, when Carwyn Jones had a big advantage over all the other party leaders in public esteem. Although Carwyn remains relatively popular, he has become a slightly tarnished asset for Labour. Kirsty Williams remains her party’s one ray of light in the current political gloom; and Leanne Wood is starting to look like a potential electoral asset for Plaid Cymru.