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So How Was it for You? Elections in Wales, 2014, Part 1

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:

Poll Lab Con Lib-Dem Plaid UKIP Others
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)

33

32

16

16

7

7

15

17

23

22

7

5

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
Labour 206,332 28.15 (+7.86) 1
UKIP 201,983 27.55 (+14.76) 1
Conservatives 127,742 17.43 (-3.79) 1
Plaid Cymru 111,864 15.26 (-3.25) 1
Greens 32,275 4.52 (-1.04) 0
Liberal Democrats 28,930 3.95 (-6.73) 0
BNP 7,655 1.04 (-4.38) 0
Britain First 6,633 0.90 (n/a) 0
Socialist Labour 4,459 0.61 (-1.20) 0
No2EU 2,803 0.38 (-0.87) 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#
Labour 4,566 9 7 -15.1%
Conservative 1,017 10 0 -2.4%
Lib-Dems 587 5 0 -8.0%
Plaid Cymru 2,448 6 2 +1 +12.0%
UKIP 684 4 0 -1
Greens 327 2 0
Others 155 3 0 -1
Independents 3,169 10 3 +1

(#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.

Comments

  • Kevin Bates

    very interesting as usual. However im still to talk to anyone who intend on voting ukip. I think we will be surprised come may by how little support they have in wales compared to the polls.

    I also cant seem to get my head around the lack of support for plaid cymru. Considering the welsh are very patriotic people with strong national identity, you would think plaid cymru would be the natural choice.
    I do recall as a child asking my mother why she doesn’t vote for plaid and her answer was “they are only for wales and wont ever get in” but for the council elections she voted plaid and still does. In fact they do very well in the Caerphilly council elections.

    People still hold on to this myth that plaid are some kind of mad welsh language activists who want to force the whole nation to speak welsh.
    This is untrue. They forget the fact their leader didn’t speak welsh when she won the right to lead their party.

    Another thing i would like to add.
    The question of independence pops up from time to time. some polls show 17% in favor and the bbc (always misleading) shows 3-5% . People use the words “there’s no appetite in wales” That is because the question has never been put to the welsh people.They don’t really think about it. Welsh people are probably as politically detached as you can get.
    Once the question is put to them though and the heart strings are pulled. Things will change dramatically.

    • Andy

      Living on Ynys Mon and being a bit active, I have found UKIPs vote tends to be centred around older English incomers (aged 50 and upwards).

      One of the difficulty Plaid historically had was it was always stereotyped as a party from the remote corners of north west Wales concerned purely with the welsh language. Leanne Wood has largely smashed that myth and in the full council elections and assembly by-election both in 2013, not only did many longterm Labour voters in the Amlwch/Holyhead Labour heartland switch to Plaid, but a lot of young English voters did as well (she is a very dynamic personality and spent a lot of time personally on the hustings).

      I think Plaid will end up with 5 or even 6 seats in Westminster come 2015.

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