For this second part of my review of the electoral year in Wales, I turn to the state of the parties as revealed by the opinion polls. With the establishment late in 2013 of the Welsh Political Barometer, we now have more regular opinion polls conducted in Wales than has typically been the case in the past. Along with a few other polls reported during 2014, they have given us a fairly detailed picture on the state of the parties.
The three tables below summarise the results of those polls during 2014. They give, respectively, voting intentions for the UK general election, the Assembly constituency vote, and the Assembly list vote:
UK General Election Vote Intention
|Lord Aschroft, Jan 2014 (published March)||40||24||6||15||13||3|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014||47||22||7||11||9||4|
|BBC Wales/ICM, Feb 2014||42||24||9||14||7||4|
|FoES/YouGov, April 2014||45||24||7||11||10||3|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014||43||22||7||11||13||5|
|WGC/YouGov, June 2014||39||24||5||12||15||6|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June-July 2014||41||25||5||11||14||5|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 2014||38||23||6||11||17||6|
|BBC-Wales/ICM, September 2014||38||23||7||13||14||4|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2014||36||23||5||11||18||7|
NAW Constituency Vote
|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|
|BBC-Wales/ICM, May 2014||36||19||5||24||13||4|
|WGC/YouGov, June 2014||36||22||5||19||12||4|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June-July 2014||37||21||5||20||13||4|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 2014||36||21||6||19||12||6|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2014||35||22||6||19||12||6|
NAW Regional List Vote
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014||39||19||9||17||10||6|
|FoES/YouGov, April 2014||37||21||7||19||10||6|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014||35||19||7||17||14||8|
|BBC-Wales/ICM, May 2014||38||21||4||22||10||4|
|WGC/YouGov, June 2014||32||20||5||17||17||9|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June-July 2014||34||21||5||18||16||7|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 2014||31||21||5||16||17||10|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2014||31||20||6||19||15||9|
Perhaps the best way to review these poll findings is to consider them in relation to a series of questions for each of the parties that I posed at the end of my review of 2013:
- Would the apparent slippage seen during 2013 in Labour’s poll ratings for Westminster and the Assembly constituency vote continue?
Yes – this clearly has happened to some degree. Over the last two years there have been no huge falls in Labour support from one poll to the next (certainly when one looks at polls by YouGov, the only company to have reported figures regularly). But perhaps because of this, many people seem to have failed to notice quite the scale of Labour’s cumulative polling decline in Wales. The small number of Welsh polls conducted in 2012 all had Labour above 50% for the general election, and at or very close to that level for the Assembly constituency ballot. (The regional list vote is more complex, for reasons discussed here). By the end of 2014, Labour was polling in the mid-30s for Westminster, and even lower for the Assembly list ballot. This is a quite startling decline, and goes far further than the party’s fall in support in England over the same period. Of course in one sense this simply emphasises just how strong Labour’s position was in 2012. Even now any of the other parties would love to have Labour’s poll ratings. But, relative both to its recent and its longer-term history, Labour in Wales no longer appears like the all-conquering hegemon of the past.
- Would the Conservatives continue to hold their ground in Wales?
Yes – despite the rise of UKIP, the Conservatives’ poll ratings in Wales have remained impressively robust. The Tories are showing no signs of making any significant advance in the polls. But their support has remained steady at what is, by historic standards, quite a decent level for the party in Wales. That the Conservatives have been able to achieve this despite having been in government at the UK level for nearly five years, and despite also the rise of UKIP as a competitor on the right, is rather impressive. They now look in a strong position to defend most of the seats they won in 2010, and maybe even to challenge for one or two seat gains.
- Would the Liberal Democrats start to turn around the dire poll ratings they have experienced in Wales almost since the ink dried on the UK coalition agreement?
No – there has been no sign at all of the Liberal Democrats’ support levels recovering. Indeed, the opposite has been the case. Things have continued to get even worse for the party. Unless they are able to turn the polls around soon, or are able to hold onto support much more strongly in the seats they currently hold than across the nation as a whole, all three Liberal Democrat MPs in Wales must regard their seats as being vulnerable. It would still be something of a surprise to see them completely wiped out in the general election. But it is no longer at all inconceivable.
- Would Plaid Cymru build on the apparent slight lift in their poll ratings seen at the end of 2013?
Yes – just about. Plaid did not advance substantially in the polls during 2014, but it maintained the modest progress made in 2013. Slightly more positively for Plaid, Leanne Wood’s personal ratings appeared to make some significant progress. Plaid ended 2014 a very long way short of the position of their sister party in Scotland. But they are now favourites to hold on to all three of their current parliamentary seats, and would appear to have at least some chance of making one or possibly two gains in the general election.
- Would UKIP continue to establish themselves as a significant force in Welsh electoral politics?
Yes. Perhaps the most significant change in 2014 in Welsh politics – even more important than the fall in Labour support – was the rise of UKIP, who ended the year as unquestionably a significant part of the electoral scene. UKIP is currently on course to gain a substantial share of the Welsh vote at the general election. At present it still seems unlikely that UKIP will actually win a parliamentary seat in Wales. But it is no longer completely mad to suggest such a thing. And even if UKIP does not itself win anywhere its support level is sufficient that it could, in some marginal seats, make the difference as to which party does win. Moreover, the semi-proportional system used for devolved elections makes the prospect of UKIP members of the National Assembly in 2016 currently appear not merely possible but probable.
Because of the changes discussed here, we now face a very different general election in Wales than seemed plausible merely twelve months ago. Then, the main question appeared to be the scale of the gains that Labour would make in Wales on the 26 seats they won in 2010: whether their opponents might limit Labour only to modest gains (1 or 2 seats) or whether, as then seemed much more likely, Labour would make more substantial ground (possibly even ending up with something like the 34 seats won in 1997 and 2001). Now, with the most recent poll actually putting Labour’s support level no higher than the level they won in 2010, we face a rather different and more complex environment. But that’s for the future, and something I’ll explore in much more depth in blog posts over the next few weeks and months.