As we begin 2015 I thought it would be appropriate to start this year’s blogging in the same way that I began 2014: with some reflections on the electoral year in Wales that has just passed.
By far the most important single electoral event to occur in Wales during 2014 was the European Parliament election in late May. In the months leading up to the election, the Welsh Political Barometer conducted several polls on voting intention; these were supplemented in April by publication of the findings from an academic study:
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Dec 2013||41||20||9||13||13||5|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2013||39||17||7||12||18||7|
|FoES/YouGov, April 2014||39||18||7||11||20||6|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014
(Certain to Vote)
As the table shows, the first poll conducted in the lead up to the election – that in December 2013 – put Labour in a very strong position. Had the election produced this outcome, Labour would have won three of the four Welsh seats in the European Parliament. Even in April, and as UKIP’s ratings were steadily rising, Labour still looked in a very strong position to win two of the four Welsh seats. Meanwhile, every poll except for the final one suggested that Plaid Cymru were odds-on to lose their representation in Europe.
As with previous European elections, the final turnout was poor – albeit marginally less abysmal than in 2009. This was pretty much as expected. Far less expected was the result produced by those who did vote. The table below gives the full European election result in Wales:
|Party||Votes||Share (change from 2009)||MEPs|
|Plaid Cymru||111,864||15.26 (-3.25)||1|
|Liberal Democrats||28,930||3.95 (-6.73)||0|
|Britain First||6,633||0.90 (n/a)||0|
|Socialist Labour||4,459||0.61 (-1.20)||0|
|Socialist Party of GB||1,384||0.19 (n/a)||0|
|Turnout = 32.1% (+ 1.7% on 2009)|
Two things were particularly surprising about this result. The first was the allocation of the four seats. The gap between the party coming first and that coming fourth was sufficiently small that, on the d’Hondt formula used to allocate the seats, the seats were split four ways. Given the prior expectations generated by the polls, this was a major relief for Plaid Cymru, in particular, and a serious disappointment for Labour.
Possibly an even bigger surprise, however, was the strength of the performance by UKIP. Prior to 2014, Wales had always been UKIP’s second or third weakest ‘region’ in European elections in Britain since the regional list system was introduced in 1999. Now, UKIP made once of its largest advances anywhere right here in Wales, and came within 0.6 percentage points of topping the poll. This was a remarkable, and unexpected, performance from them.
The European election was not, however, the only electoral contest in Wales during 2014. There was a steady stream of local government by-elections for seats across the 22 Welsh local authorities. My friend Harry Hayfield has very kindly prepared for us a detailed list of the results. The overall patterns are summarised in the following table:
|Party||Total Votes||N of candidates||Seats Won||Net Gain/Loss||Average Swing#|
(#Mean average swing from the previous election, for all by-elections where a party stood candidates in both the by-election and the previous election. This measure therefore does not include cases where a party failed to stand a candidate either in a by-election or the previous election. It has only been possible to calculate this measure for the four main parties.)
Observing detailed patterns in these local results is hampered by the fact that parties tend to be somewhat selective in where they stand. No party stood candidates for every by-election; and in the Bowydd and Rhiw ward in Gwynedd, there was no by-election because Plaid Cymru nominated the only candidate for a vacancy! However, the results for Labour, who stood in most of the seats, do seem in line with those of the opinion polls during 2014, in showing declining Labour support. The Welsh Conservatives continued their strange under-performance in local elections – strange in the context of a robust opinion poll showing. Less strange was the continued weak showing from the Liberal Democrats, who saw their vote share slide even in the relatively few places where they chose to stand. UKIP performed creditably where they stood. But the only party making significant ground during local by-elections in 2014 was Plaid Cymru.
In the second part of my review of the year, I’ll turn from actual elections to the opinion polls in Wales, and consider what they suggest about the parties’ prospects for forthcoming elections.