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Who Represents Us? AMs and MPs Compared

 

This is the second post in a short series examining some aspects of public attitudes to devolution and the National Assembly that have not thus far been much considered or explored. (For the previous such post, see here).

One of the obvious implications of devolution, but one thus far little researched, is that it has increased the number of elected representatives that people have. As well as local councillors, MPs and MEPs, we in Wales now also have AMs. Moreover, we are all represented in the National Assembly not only by our individual constituency AM (with, in contrast to the situation in Scotland, devolved and Westminster representatives coming from the same geographical constituencies; although, of course, the two don’t necessarily come from the same political party) but also by four regional list members.

So what do the public make of all of this? How do they regard these different representatives? The truth is that we don’t know. Little systematic evidence has been gathered; moreover, even the evidence that has been gathered (notably a number of questions in the 2011 Welsh Referendum Study and the 2011 Welsh Election Study) has not been subject to detailed analysis. To begin the process of putting that right, in this post I’ll present and briefly discuss findings from the 2011 studies.

The pre-election wave of the 2011 Election Study tried to gauge public attitudes to individual local representatives. Survey respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement of disagreement with both of the following statements:

“My member of parliament tries hard to look after the interests of people who live in my constituency”

“My member of the National Assembly tries hard to look after the interests of people who live in my constituency”

Responses (in %) are indicated in the table below. The figures show that the balance of opinion towards both types of representative tends towards being positive. In line with findings elsewhere around the world (such as in the USA, where research has typically shown that even when Congress as a whole is very unpopular, many people respect their own representatives), most people think that their own representatives do a fairly good job. This applies more-or-less equally to both MPs and AMs: aggregate differences in attitudes to the two levels of representative are trivial (although they are slightly more favourable for AMs).

 

Response

MP

AM

Strongly Agree

7

8

Agree

22

24

Neither agree nor disagree

29

28

Disagree

16

15

Strongly disagree

12

10

Don’t Know

14

16

Source: 2011 Welsh Election Study, pre-election wave; number of respondents = 2359

 

Another way of looking at representation is to ask people about their actual interactions with representatives. The pre-election survey therefore also asked the following question:

“During the last 3 or 4 years, did you or someone you know well seek personal assistance from any of the following? (Tick all that apply)

– Your local member of parliament

– Your local member of the National Assembly

– Any other member of parliament

– Any other member of the National Assembly

– A local councillor

– No, neither I nor anyone I know well has sought personal assistance from any politician

– Don’t Know”

 

For each representative who had been contacted, a follow-up question then asked

 

“Was the assistance provided by X…

– Very satisfactory

– Satisfactory

– Neither satisfactory nor unsatisfactory

– Unsatisfactory

– Very unsatisfactory

– Don’t Know”

 

What responses were obtained here? First, figures on the proportions of people who contacted each type of representative:

 

Local MP        15.1%

Local AM        12.3%

Other MP        3.2%

Other AM        3.8%

Councillor      17.9%

 

This suggests that the public have become quite used to contacting AMs to address problems; they were contacted almost as often, overall, as MPs, and not much less than councillors.

But how effective were each type of representative? The table below shows the (%) levels of reported satisfaction with their assistance in addressing problems. Some caution should be exercised in reading these results: the columns for ‘Other MP’ and ‘Other AM’, in particular, represent the responses of fewer than 100 survey respondents, while all of the others draw on fewer than 500. Nonetheless, it is striking that AMs seem to score particularly well in terms of public reactions to how they have responded to public requests for assistance, even in comparison with local MPs and councillors.

 

 

Local MP

Local AM

Other MP

Other AM

Councillor

Very Satisfactory/Satisfactory

55

66

37

60

60

Neither /Don’t Know

21

12

24

25

18

Very unsatisfactory/Unsatisfactory

24

22

39

15

22

Source: 2011 Welsh Election Study, pre-election wave.

 

Would members of the public know which was the most appropriate representative to approach for assistance on particular issues? None of the Welsh devolution ‘settlements’ have exactly been models of clarity, and there is plenty of scope for the public to be confused about who is the most appropriate representative to help them with particular issues. To explore this, the post-election survey asked the following:

Everyone in Wales now has an MP who represents them in the UK House of Commons and AMs who represent them in the Welsh National Assembly. Say that you or a relative had a serious problem about the payment of a government benefit, such as child benefit or the old age pension, and you had decided to go to a politician to get help to sort it out. Who do you think would be better able to help you?”

 

The answer options given were:

– An MP

– An AM

– Both would be equally able to help

– Don’t Know

 

A follow-up question then asked:

 

And say that you or a relative had a serious problem about getting treatment on the National Health Service, and you had decided to go to a politician to get help to sort it out. Who do you think would be better able to help you?”

The same answer options as for the previous question were then given. Together, the questions therefore covered a policy area that is clearly non-devolved (benefits) and one that is substantially devolved (the NHS). The table below shows the (%) responses given. These are moderately encouraging, in that they show more respondents choosing MPs as the appropriate source of help for a benefits problem, and AMs for an NHS problem. Nonetheless, a substantial number of people remain rather confused as to where to turn if they needed help from their representatives.

 

Response

Child Benefit

NHS

MP

37

20

AM

13

33

Both Equally/Don’t Know

51

47

Source 2011 Welsh Election Study (post-election wave); number of respondents = 2217

Overall, there is little that is startling within these results. But they do show a Welsh public that seems to have adjusted to the idea of having extra representatives at the devolved level, and are willing to ask them for help. It also shows a public who seem to rate their AMs at least as highly in this area as they do their MPs. In my next post, I’ll explore the extent to which the public trust these different types of representatives.

Comments

  • Not plaid cymru

    We don’t need both we should loose the welsh assembley as wales has a population of 3.1 million and 1.2 million are either retired or under 16 the money could be invested in wales.

    I get that the idea that local representatives but we have those already and the assembley doesn’t have full powers

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