As I’ve had call to discuss on the Blog previously, what the public think about the party leaders matters. Sure, attitudes to a leader are shaped heavily by what people think about a party. But to at least some extent the reverse can also be the case: views about the party can be influenced by how appealing its leader is.
Party leaders can matter in several ways. For major parties, what the public thinks about a leader as a potential Prime Minister or First Minister can be very important. Second – although this is perhaps particularly important for minor parties – the leader acts as chief spokeperson for that party. Third, there’s good evidence that many people view a leader as a good proxy for the party as a whole: ‘what sort of party would elect a leader like this?’
In our latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, YouGov repeated a standard question about the about the leaders of the four main UK-wide parties, plus the four party leaders in the National Assembly, used in several previous Welsh polls, most recently in June. This question asks respondents the following:
“Using a scale that runs from 0 to 10, where 0 means strongly dislike and 10 means strongly like, how do you feel about…”.
There are several interesting elements to the results produced. The first concerns how many people choose ‘Don’t Know’, rather than any point on the 0-10 scale. As I mentioned here last year, while some choose the Don’t Know option because they are genuinely undecided, overall the proportion of people selecting this option is a good indication of a leader’s public visibility. So how many did choose this option for each leader? The table below gives the percentage, and the change since this question was asked in June.
|Leader||% Don’t Know||% change since June 2014|
|Ed Miliband||8||no change|
|Nick Clegg||8||no change|
|Nigel Farage||9||no change|
|Andrew RT Davies||43||-2|
The obvious thing about this table is that it shows the big difference in public awareness of the main UK party leaders – among whom we must now definitely include Nigel Farage – and the Welsh leaders. Even Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales for five years, is more anonymous with the people of Wales than any of the UK-level leaders. The three opposition leaders in turn are even less well-known – although they do all seem to have improved slightly in this respect since our last poll.
But what about the views of those who did have opinions? Our next table presents two pieces of information: the mean average score for each leader (out of a maximum possible 10, among those offering a view), and the change in this average rating since June:
|Leader||Mean Average /10||change since June 2014|
|Andrew RT Davies||3.6||+0.4|
The first thing to notice is that no leader averages even 5 out of 10. But it is hardly a shock to note that politicians are not very popular. Perhaps more significant is how unpopular all the UK-level leaders are: the lowest-rated Assembly leader, Andrew RT Davies, ranks equally with the most popular UK leader, Ed Miliband.
Looking at the details of the poll, Nigel Farage’s ratings are very interesting. Among the UK-level leaders he score the highest level of 10/10 ratings. But these scores come almost exclusively from those who currently support UKIP. He also scores – by some way – the highest level of 0/10 ratings. There are plenty of people, indeed an increasing number of them, who really dislike Mr Farage.
Carwyn Jones remains by some way the most popular party leader in Wales – quite an impressive achievement given his now lengthy tenure in office. He remains fully half a point ahead of any other leader. Coming a clear second is Leanne Wood, who also seems to be emerging as a potential electoral asset for her party. Kirsty Williams also continues to score quite well; her personal ratings are just about the one vaguely positive aspect of public attitudes towards her party in Wales.
Overall, these figures do not show a Wales that is exactly in love with its political leaders. Indeed, it is striking that, in general, the leaders that we know the best seem to be the ones that we like the least! There may be a lesson in that, though I’m not quite sure what it is.