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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.

Comments

  • Welshguy

    While it’s certainly interesting, I’m not sure how useful this data is for actually identifying swing voters.

    Voter A could be ranking, for example,

    Lab 7- LibD-7 PC-10

    while Voter B might rank

    Lab-6 LibD-6 PC-6

    Just on the figures, it would appear that Labour and the Lib Dems should be targeting Voter A because they’re ranking them pretty well, but actually it’s clear that Voter A is a fervent PC supporter and Voter B is the genuine “swing voter”. Surely what matters is the *relative* ranking of the candidates, rather than the absolute ranking of the candidates. I’m a Plaid Cymru member (10/10) with a lot of respect for the Greens (8 or 9/10) but it’s realistically not likely I’ll ever actually vote for the Greens (under FPTP at least), because I will always choose the Plaid Cymru candidate first. When canvassing for PC I’ve met hundreds of people who hold us in reasonably high regard, but pretty much say that they’ve always voted Labour and always will. Measuring absolute respect for parties isn’t necessarily going to be a good indicator for support (see how high the Greens and ranked absolutely, relative to their actual support.

    • Roger Scully

      I think this question is useful is as a supplement to voting intention questions. It gives us, I think, additional information about broad attitudes to the parties, and also about potential support.

      For Plaid – there are many people who feel quite positive about them, but still don’t vote for them. Yet if by 2016 the UK had a Labour government that was doing some unpopular things, it’s quite possible to see some of those who currently indicate they would vote Labour considering turning to Plaid – as many, in fact, did in 1999.

  • J.Jones

    Roger, have you got the data sets for the Beaufort research June Omnibus survey ?

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