Avid readers of the blog – which, I am sure, is all of you – will be aware of a question that has been run regularly on all Welsh Political Barometer polls since they began some two years ago. This is a question about voting intentions in the referendum on partial Income Tax devolution – a referendum that was proposed in the first Silk Commission report and then legislated for in the 2014 Wales Act.
The specific question that we have asked was:
“If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”
Here is the full list of findings in all the Barometer polls in which this question was run:
|Poll||% Yes||% No||% DK/ NR||% ‘No’ Lead|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2013||35||38||26||3|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014||31||42||28||11|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014||33||39||28||6|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June-July 2014||32||42||26||10|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 2014||38||39||24||1|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2014||37||38||25||1|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, January 2015||37||39||24||2|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, early-March 2015k||37||36||27||-1|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, late-March 2015||37||40||22||3|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2015||31||43||26||12|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June 2015||34||42||25||8|
|ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 2015||34||41||26||7|
As can be seen, the polls generally showed a small lead for those opposed to the idea of partial income tax devolution. These results probably help explain why few political leaders in the National Assembly showed much enthusiasm for actually having this referendum – it would likely have proved a difficult one to win.
However, our regular polling on this issue has now been rather overtaken by events. George Osborne’s recent Comprehensive Spending Review statement to the House of Commons stated that partial income tax devolution to Wales would be happening without a referendum. There is doubtless much room for political disputes before this ever happens. We await final details on how exactly it is proposed that income tax be devolved. It must also be at least a possibility that, if they were not happy with the details of what the Chancellor is proposing, members of the National Assembly might seek to block the devolution of this power.
Nonetheless, with the likelihood of the income tax referendum receding ever further, we have decided to drop our regular referendum tracker question from the Barometer polls. In its place, our latest poll asked two separate questions about the issue of income tax devolution. The first related directly to the Chancellor’s announcement. This is what we asked:
“George Osborne has announced that the UK government will give the Welsh government powers to raise or lower the levels of income tax in Wales. From what you have seen and heard, do you support or oppose this decision?”
We found people in Wales split very evenly on the matter. Some 36% of Barometer respondents said that they supported this decision, while some 36% indicted that they were opposed. The remaining 28% chose the Don’t Know option. This is hardly a ringing public endorsement of Mr Osborne’s announcement; at the same time, it hardly suggests die-hard opposition to income tax devolution from the Welsh people either.
Probably more interesting, however, are how responses to this question break down by party. In the following table I show responses to this question broken down by how our survey respondents voted in the 2015 general election. (I should probably add that we see almost identical patterns for the parties if we analyse responses by current vote intention, either for Westminster or the National Assembly):
|Vote 2015||Support Inc. Tax Devo||Oppose Inc. Tax Devo||Net Support – Oppose|
(Percentages in the table do not add to 100 because I have left out Don’t Knows)
It is worth remembering, when looking at the figures in this table, that people’s responses to whether or not they approve of a policy can often be very heavily conditioned by any knowledge of who is proposing or supporting the policy. Our question specifically mentioned George Osborne and the UK government. And yet we still find that opposition to the idea of partial income tax devolution is strongest amongst supporters of the Conservative party! Even when they are, in effect, told that income tax devolution is a Conservative policy, most Welsh Conservative voters still do not like the idea. UKIP supporters also tend towards opposing tax devolution, although less firmly, while opinions among Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters are almost evenly balanced.
Perhaps surprisingly, endorsement of the Chancellor’s recent announcement is by far the strongest among supporters of Plaid Cymru, who overwhelmingly back him on this issue. I rather doubt that this is because George Osborne has developed some sort of cult following among Welsh nationalists! Rather, this seems to be at least one instance where attitudes towards the substance of a policy trump immediate party political considerations. Plaid Cymru supporters overwhelmingly support greater devolution to Wales, including of taxation; notwithstanding the adoption of a more positive approach to devolution by their party leadership in the National Assembly over the last decade or so, many Welsh Conservative voters still retain a caution, if not outright hostility, towards the devolution project.
The second question we asked about tax in our recent Barometer poll was about how, if at all, people would like taxation and spending levels to change. There have been clear indications from the Welsh Conservatives that they would use the prospect of income tax devolution as an electoral weapon: that they would campaign as a ‘low tax’ party. How receptive are the Welsh people likely to be towards such a pitch. We asked respondents to our poll the following:
“Generally speaking, would you prefer taxes and spending on public services in Wales to go up, go down, or stay about the same?”
Overall, 23% of our respondents chose ‘Go up’, while only 16% chose ‘Go down’; the largest proportion, some 45% chose ‘stay about the same’, with the remaining 16% selecting the Don’t Know option. This does not suggest seem to suggest great potential for a tax cutting election campaign pitch by the Conservatives.
We also find that, on this question, the differences between supporters of the different parties are rather lower. The following table again shows responses classified by how people voted in the 2015 general election. Although there are some differences, and broadly in the expected directions, ‘Stay the Same’ was the most popular response among supporters of all parties.
|Vote 2015||Go Up||Go Down||Stay Same||Don’t Know|