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Referendum, Referendum

Prior to the Christmas break I posted a few pieces looking at the findings of the inaugural Welsh Political Barometer poll on voting intentions for Westminster and the National Assembly.

I didn’t spend any time analysing the other two questions included in the poll. These concerned voting intentions in the two potential referendums facing Wales in the next few years: over British membership of the EU, and over the transfer of partial income tax powers to the National Assembly. So what do these questions tell us?

For both topics, the December poll was not the first one to ask about such matters. However, in neither instance do we have a great deal of previous evidence to go on. Regarding a potential EU referendum, the table below summarises the findings of the four published polls conducted thus far of which I am aware. (Beneath the table is an outline of how each poll was conducted.)

 

EU Referendum Polls, Wales

Poll

% Remain

% Leave

% DK/ NR

% ‘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, Dec 2013d

38

40

22

-2

 

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?”

The overall pattern suggested by these results is that opinion on an EU referendum is currently very evenly split in Wales. This places Wales in a somewhat different position both from England, where the balance of opinion in most polls conducted in recent times has been for withdrawal; and also from Scotland, where opinion tends to lean in favour of continued membership. It is important that the extent of these national differences be understood: as discussed in a previous post, we are talking about relatively modest gradations of difference across the three nations, not wholly distinct landscapes of attitudes. But the overall patterns seem fairly consistent: the English are a little more hostile to the EU than the Welsh, the Scots a little less so.

What about on income tax? Once again, the Barometer did not quite produce the first poll on the subject. And very shortly after the publication of the Barometer poll, the Western Mail published findings of a similar question, included in the Beaufort November Omnibus survey. The table below again summarises the results of those questions that have asked directly about voting intentions in an income tax referendum (with, once again, details of the question wording and sampling methods given below the table.)

 

Income Tax Referendum Polls

Poll

% Yes

% No

% DK/ NR

% ‘Yes’ 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

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. 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?”

The results here suggest that, as with an EU membership referendum, any income tax referendum in Wales might well be close. Although public opinion can often shift substantially during the course of a referendum campaign, at present the evidence does not indicate that a referendum to transfer income tax powers would easily be won. It may be worth recalling that several of the early opinion polls in the period leading up to the March 2011 referendum on legislative powers were also rather close; that referendum, of course, ended up as a comfortable win for the Yes campaign. But none of the polls on legislative powers ever showed the No camp in the lead – unlike with the December Barometer poll on taxation.

A final point on a potential income tax referendum. I’ve been investigating the matter for some time, and have yet to find an example, anywhere in the world, of an equivalent referendum to that which is proposed for Wales in the draft Wales Bill. Nowhere have I found an example of a referendum on transferring partial competence over an existing major tax from the state-wide level to an existing sub-state level of government. There was, of course, the second question (about ‘tax varying powers’) in the 1997 Scottish referendum, but that was for an institution yet to be established. There have also, of course, been numerous referendums, in many parts of the world, about specific tax propositions. But nothing equivalent to what is proposed for Wales. (If anyone knows of any pertinent examples, I would be very grateful to hear of them!) As with other aspects of our devolution journey – such as with LCOs – Wales is following a path that might most charitably be described as unique. It is not self-evident that the rest of the world has erred in failing to follow this path.

Comments

  • J Jones

    Not a close relationship between these 2013 results and the 2012 ICM poll for Silk:

    “When presented with a simple yes or no option to the Welsh Government being granted income tax setting powers, it appears that support is wide-ranging and prevalent. Overall, two in three (64%) people in Wales do think that income tax levels should be determined in Wales – a finding consistent with previous research that has been conducted on this by ICM and other polling organisations.”

    It was of course Silk’s deviant poll that was taken to represent the opinion of adults in Wales. (No I’m not leaving it alone)

    One thing that is consistent in the polls that you quote above is the much larger percentage of “Don’t knows” or undecided respondents in Beaufort face to face surveys. I think it tells us something about online polls; the respondents are more likely to be informed and have a decided opinion. I suspect that (like me) they are self confident enough (deluded enough) to believe that their opinion is valuable and, also like me, committed voters. They are a self selecting group to a degree whereas Beaufort are taking pot luck and are asking questions obout matters that have to be decided on instantly and under some pressure (not keeping the pollster waiting).

    If there was a vote tomorrow I can confidently predict the outcome in Wales….remain in the EU, No to income tax raising powers. Not scientific but people just opt for the status quo when there is not much in it.

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