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Recent Trends in Party Support in Wales, 2

 

In my previous blog post I examined trends over the last two-and-a-half years in general elections voting intentions in Wales. In this post, I’m going to do the same for National Assembly elections, looking at the constituency vote. (I explained last time that changes in wording to the regional list vote question make it impossible to chart consistent trends back before December 2013 for that vote.) As with my previous post, I’ve included a table at the end of the post with all the relevant figures – so you can check that I’ve got my sums correct, and perhaps come up with some alternative interpretations yourself.

We have slightly fewer polls available over the period since January 2012 for National Assembly vote intention than we did for examining trends in general election voting intention. The BBC/ICM poll earlier this year only asked about general election vote intention; while the figures published by Lord Ashcroft fairly recently were from Britain-wide sampling, which included questions about the UK general election but, understandably, didn’t look at devolved voting intentions in Scotland or Wales. This also means that all the polls available for the period under review were conducted by YouGov. This is, at best, a mixed blessing: it would certainly be interesting to have other sources of information. But at least the consistency of polling agency makes comparisons over time more straightforward and simple: we are comparing like with like.

There are some obvious contrasts between the polling numbers for a UK general election and those for a National Assembly election. Most clearly, and wholly in line with all previous experience, we see significantly higher levels of support for Plaid Cymru in the context of a devolved election. The broad rule-of-thumb I have long worked to is that you should expect Plaid’s support level for the Assembly constituency vote to be slightly less than double its support for a general election, and that is exactly what we see here. But what trends, if any, do we see over the last two and a half years?

Labour have been clearly in the lead in all polls conducted throughout the period under review. However, just as with general election vote intentions (and, indeed, to a slightly greater extent), we see Labour’s position slipping significantly in the more recent polls. Labour’s support level averaged 49% in the first three polls in this series, and 48.5% across the four polls conducted in 2012. That support level edged downwards to 45% in the three polls conducted in 2013, and has further declined to 40.7% in the three polls conducted thus far this year. It is perhaps worth adding, moreover, that Labour’s position might look even worse if there had been voting intention figures for a devolved election reported by other pollsters: recall from my previous post that YouGov this year have shown slightly higher levels of Labour general election support than have ICM and Lord Ashcroft. It would be very interesting to see if Labour’s weaker performance with ICM than with YouGov, for instance, applied not only to Westminster elections but also to devolved ones.

Two main implications follow, I think, from these figures. The first is to confirm that the slippage in Labour’s support levels in Wales over recent months is a general phenomenon; it is not specific either to Westminster (and wholly the fault of Ed Miliband) or to the devolved context (and therefore solely down to failings of the Welsh Government). The second implication is that the political context for the next Assembly election is starting to look rather different from that which prevailed only a few months – and a few polls – ago. Instead of Labour looking to strengthen its hegemony in Welsh politics even further, and threatening to finally win its hitherto-elusive absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly, we now face at least the possibility of Labour being on the defensive in 2016. Labour’s 39% constituency vote support in May’s Welsh Political Barometer poll would constitute a fall of more than 3% on Labour’s performance in 2011. OK, on uniform national swings, Labour would only lose one constituency seat (Llanelli) on these figures (with Cardiff Central being more-or-less a dead heat). But we should perhaps also bear in mind that Labour in Wales has historically tended to slightly under-perform its polling figures in Assembly elections; this, combined with effective local campaigning from its opponents, could start to bring one or two other Labour seats into play as potential targets even on current levels of Labour support.

What of the other parties? The Conservatives continue to perform very consistently in devolved vote intention polls, scoring in the 19-21% range in every single poll under consideration. Given that the Welsh Tories have tended to somewhat out-perform their poll ratings in previous Assembly elections, these figures are quite encouraging for them, and suggest that the ‘little local difficulties’ recently experienced by their National Assembly group have not yet had any significant impact on public perceptions of the party. Meanwhile, the bulk of any opprobrium related to the UK coalition government continues to be directed at their junior partners. The Liberal Democrats’ poll ratings are also admirably consistent, ranging between 7-10% in all polls. But there is no more than the very faintest sign of any revival in Welsh Lib-Dem fortunes evident in these figures.

The picture is a little better than this for Plaid Cymru. In the first six polls in this series, Plaid scored either 17% or 18%, averaging 17.2%. In the four ones from December last year, Plaid have scored either 19% or 20%, averaging 19.5%. As with the modest up-tick notable in Plaid’s recent Westminster figures, this improvement is hardly something to get very excited about. But even a modest step forward is, I suppose, better than a modest step backwards.

The other clear trend in Wales at present is the rise in UKIP support. In terms of Assembly constituency support, UKIP’s rise is actually relatively modest (with the exception of the very final poll in the series, which may well have been influenced by the context of the forthcoming European election). It may also be entirely academic: it remains to be seen whether UKIP in 2016 will, unlike in the last National Assembly election, actually stand candidates for the constituencies as well as for the regional lists.

Of course, there is still a long way to go until the Assembly election – almost two full years. The political context for that election will also undoubtedly be shaped to a great extent by the outcome of the next UK general election. Research that I conducted on the 2011 devolved elections showed that voters in Wales were significantly more affected by UK-level politics in their decisions than were voters in Scotland. At the moment, though, we can say that the next National Assembly election is beginning to look rather more competitive than appeared plausible only a few months ago. The best news for Labour is perhaps that while their own poll ratings has undoubtedly slipped, that slippage has not all been harvested by any one of their opponents. There remains, as yet, no credible challenger to Labour’ dominance in the National Assembly.

National Assembly Constituency Vote Intention (%), 2012-Present

POLL

Lab

Con

LibDems

Plaid

UKIP

Others*

ITV-Wales/YouGov, end-Jan – Feb 2012

49

20

7

17

 

7

Cardiff Uni/YouGov, mid-April 2012

48

19

7

18

 

8

ITV-Wales/YouGov, July 2012

50

19

7

17

 

8

ITV-Wales/YouGov, August 2012

47

19

7

17

 

10

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

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014

42

21

9

19

5

3

FoES/YouGov, April 2014

41

21

8

20

7

2

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014

39

20

8

19

10

3

*Including UKIP until 2013; UKIP results not identified separately previously.

Comments

  • J.Jones

    Poor old Welsh Labour may not be the Teflon (or Morcambe and Wise) party after all Roger. The unrelenting Tory and English press assault on Welsh Labour over Education and the NHS has taken its toll I think.

    It is very difficult to see past a GE though; will the English press be bothered in the run up to the Assembly elections? UKIP could take 5 seats in the list and this won’t hurt Labour but will hurt the other parties…having said that, the Nationalists in Wales are launching an attack on UKIP’s Nathan Gill which might undermine the “Brand” if it is shown to have substance.

  • Roger Scully

    Yes, it looks as though Ernie Wise’s relevance to Welsh politics may be fading… I suppose it reinforces the old saying that what can’t go on for ever, generally doesn’t.

    As to UKIP – on their current poll ratings they would clearly expect to win list seats in the Assembly. But May 2016 is quite a long way away, as you suggest, and UKIP did rather under-perform expectations in both 2007 and 2011. A lot will depend, I suspect, on how robust they prove to be in the face of the closer scrutiny they are now bound to face.

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