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So How Was it For You? Elections in Wales, 2013

As we begin 2014 I thought it would be appropriate to start this year’s blogging about Elections in Wales with some reflections on the year that has just passed.

2013 was actually a rather busier electoral year in Wales than might have been expected. Much of the action was centred on Ynys Môn, where the Council’s election had been postponed from 2012 due to some ‘local difficulties’. When it occurred, one year late in May 2013, the election produced a rather mixed result. As with a number of (mainly rural) local authorities in Wales, the Independent tradition remains strong on Môn, and after the election Independent councillors – of a variety of flavours – remained the strongest collective entity on the local authority. Of the political parties, by far the strongest performance was put up by Plaid Cymru, who managed to gain both votes and seats. Further details of the result can be seen here.

Three months later, the attention of Welsh election watchers was firmly back on Ynys Môn. The decision of Ieuan Wyn Jones to stand down as an AM triggered a by-election – only the third ever to be held for the National Assembly (and the first in non-tragic circumstances). Given that Ieuan Wyn Jones had been the only Plaid candidate ever to win an election for Ynys Môn, the by-election looked potentially hazardous for his party. However, the selection of a well-known and effective candidate with a strong personal connection to Môn, the BBC journalist Rhun ap Iorwerth, combined with a strong local campaign by Plaid that built upon strong foundations laid in the council election, helped the party record a truly striking victory.

There were also thirteen by-elections during 2013 for seats across the 22 Welsh local authorities. My friend Harry Hayfield has very kindly prepared a full list of the results. The overall patterns are summarised in the following table:

Party

Total Votes (%)

N of candidates

Seats Won

Net Gain/Loss

Average Swing#

Labour

5,514 (41%)

13

10

-11.4%

Conservative

1,028 (8%)

12

0

-1

-2.7%

Lib-Dems

1,062 (8%)

6

0

-1.0%

Plaid Cymru

2,320 (18%)

9

1

-0.2%

Others

1,127 (9%)

9

0

Independents

1,745 (14%)

10

2

+1

# Mean average swing from the previous election, for all by-elections where a party stood candidates in both the by-election and the previous election. This measure therefore does not include cases where a party failed to stand a candidate either in a by-election or the previous election. It has only been calculated for the four main parties.

 

Labour have clearly been the most successful party in winning seats. They have also been the only party to stand candidates in all by-elections. Interestingly, though, while Labour has remained well ahead of all other parties in votes and seats, its candidates experienced the largest average swings against them of any party. This largely reflects the fact that these by-elections results are being compared with the 2012 local elections, where Labour did extremely well. Labour has also been less selective than other parties in terms of where it has fielded candidates. Nonetheless, these swings do suggest that Labour’s position in Wales is not wholly impregnable.

The Conservatives’ record in Welsh local elections has been notably poor for some time – standing in a peculiar contrast to their relatively robust opinion poll performance (see below). This trend continued throughout 2013: despite fielding candidates in three more by-elections than Plaid Cymru, the Tories won fewer than half as many votes. The Liberal Democrats have retrenched in terms of where they choose to fight locally; yet even with this greater selectivity their vote fell slightly, and that in comparison with 2012 local election results in Wales that were distinctly poor for them. Plaid Cymru’s local election presence remains somewhat patchy; so also does their performance where they stand. Plaid had one undoubted highpoint with their Penyrheol win in Caerphilly on the same night as Rhun ap Iorwerth’s triumph. Yet they finished the year by gaining merely 13 votes in a by-election in Torfaen.

There were three national opinion polls published in 2013: the results for general and National Assembly election voting intentions are summarised below (although please note, as previously discussed on the blog, that the question wording for the Assembly list vote was changed prior to the December poll):

UK General Election Voting Intention

Labour

Cons.

Lib-Dems

Plaid

UKIP

Others

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013

51

22

9

10

7

2

WGC/YouGov, July 2013

48

23

8

9

8

4

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Dec 2013

46

21

8

12

10

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NAW Constituency Voting Intention

 

 

 

 

 

 

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013

46

21

10

17

5

1

WGC/YouGov, July 2013

46

19

8

17

6

3

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Dec 2013

43

19

9

20

7

3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NAW Regional List Voting Intention

 

 

 

 

 

 

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013

26

14

11

26

13

11

WGC/YouGov, July 2013

25

12

9

23

16

14

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Dec 2013

40

19

9

15

10

7

Thanks to the new Welsh Political Barometer, we should receive more regular polling from now on. (The partnership behind the Barometer, ITV Cymru Wales, the Wales Governance Centre, and YouGov, intends to run the polls at least quarterly from now on). When examining these polls through 2014, there will a number of major things to look out for:

·         Whether the apparent slippage seen during 2013 in Labour’s poll ratings for Westminster and the Assembly constituency vote continues;

·         Whether the Conservatives can continue to hold their ground in Wales;

·         Whether the Liberal Democrats can start to turn around the dire poll ratings they have experienced in Wales almost since the ink dried on the UK coalition agreement;

·         Whether Plaid Cymru can build on the apparent slight lift in their poll ratings seen at the end of 2013; and

·         Whether UKIP can continue to establish themselves as a significant force in Welsh electoral politics.

2014 will see the parties tested in the late-May European elections. We will doubtless also have various local by-elections across Wales. And there will be the Scottish independence referendum in September – about which the only prediction I’ll make is that it will have some significant implications for Wales and Welsh politics, whatever the result.

So there’s a lot to look forward to. Let’s enjoy the electoral year ahead.

Comments

  • Jack Powell

    What can you tell of the recent by elections in Cardiff?

    Three labour councillors have now resigned, the two by-elections revealed their strength, and they still should be able to hold on to canton. How to council by elections translate to a national assembly picture?

  • Roger Scully

    Thanks for the interest, Jack.

    I have no particular insight as to why these three Labour councillors have resigned. Others may know more about this.

    There has been some work – notably by Rallings and Thrasher at Plymouth University – on what local by-elections might suggest for UK general elections. I don’t think anyone has tried investigating in detail the links with devolved elections. Might be an interesting project for someone to pursue?!

  • Jack Powell

    Hi Tony

    Thanks for the reply. Also, how do You Gov represent Welsh older people and poorer people without access to a computer, to make it truly representative?

    I will have a look at Rallings and Thrasher, However, the commission next week will be interesting, do you see a major reduction in councillors if the Local Authorities are say reduced to 8?

  • Roger Scully

    Tony??

    YouGov would doubtless be better places than I to give you a detailed run-down on their methodology. They aim to achieve a percentage of older respondents in their samples which approximately matches that in the relevant population (with any unrepresentativeness in the final sample obtained compensated for by weighting). There are plenty of older people on-line, even if the percentage of the elderly on-line is lower than among younger age-groups.

    Obviously, those not on-line at all won’t be participating in their surveys. But then those without landlines tend to get ignored by phone polls, those in many rural areas are ignored by face-to-face studies etc. None of the available methods is perfect.

    On local authorities: we have too many councillors in Wales. We elect more or less the same number in Wales as in Scotland, which is a significantly large country. Reductions in the number of LAs will – or certainly should – mean a cull of councillor numbers.

  • J Jones

    Happy new year Tony;

    I don’t know if you saw this: http://www1.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2014/01/03/how-strong-political-views-can-impact-on-our-ability-to-analyse-data/

    I found it very interesting because I see further proof of my theory that it is very, very easy to inadvertently (or otherwise) trigger a particular response in respondents to polls. You only have to put in one or more of the triggers that a group is passionate about and the total poll becomes distorted.

    As I have said before; neutral questions to establish the nature of the group of respondents and very few opinion questions gets more reliable results.

    Best wishes.
    JJ

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