Labour remains well in the lead for this May’s National Assembly election, while the UKIP bandwagon appears to have suffered a setback. Those are key findings for the forthcoming devolved election in the latest measure of voter preferences in Wales.
The new evidence comes from the Pre-Election Wave of the 2016 Welsh Election Study – a major study of this year’s Assembly elected, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK and directed by Prof Roger Scully of Cardiff University (i.e. me!). As part of this study, a representative sample of more than 3,000 people in Wales were interviewed in early March.
As the start of the campaign for this year’s National Assembly election approaches, the Welsh Election Study sought to measure the current standing of the parties. The survey therefore asked respondents how they intended to vote on both the constituency and regional ballots for the National Assembly election. Here are the figures for the constituency vote (with changes from the most recent Welsh poll, the February Welsh Political Barometer poll, in brackets):
Labour: 34% (no change)
Conservatives: 22% (no change)
Plaid Cymru: 21% (+2)
UKIP: 15% (-3)
Liberal Democrats: 6% (+1)
Others: 3% (+1)
Applying uniformly across Wales the changes since the 2011 National Assembly election indicated by this poll, the figures project three constituency seats to change hands: Plaid Cymru to take Llanelli, the Conservatives to gain Cardiff North, and the Liberal Democrats to capture Cardiff Central. All of these gains would be at the expense of Labour.
The figures for the regional vote were (with changes from the previous Welsh poll in February again indicated):
Labour: 31% (no change)
Conservatives: 22% (no change)
Plaid Cymru: 22% (+3)
UKIP: 14% (-4)
Liberal Democrats: 5% (+1)
Greens: 4% (+1)
Others: 3% (no change)
Once again assuming uniform swings across Wales since the 2011 election, and after taking into account the projected outcome of the constituency seats, this gives us the following projected distribution of the regional seats:
North Wales: 2 UKIP, 1 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru
Mid & West Wales: 2 Labour, 2 UKIP
South Wales West: 2 Plaid Cymru, 1 Conservative, 1 UKIP
South Wales Central: 2 Plaid Cymru, 1 Conservative, 1UKIP
South Wales East: 2 Plaid Cymru, 1 Conservative, 1 UKIP
Combining the two sets of figures therefore produces the following overall projected outcome for the National Assembly:
Labour: 27 seats (25 constituency seats + 2 list seats)
Plaid Cymru: 13 seats (6 constituency seats + 7 list seats)
Conservatives: 11 seats (7 constituency seats + 4 list seats)
UKIP: 7 seats (7 list seats)
Liberal Democrats: 2 seats (2 constituency seats)
So Labour remain some way ahead on both votes. And although this new evidence does not show Labour’s position improving at all from February, the party will surely be encouraged by the fact that our new survey shows Labour stemming the decline in their support that had been seen in both the last two Welsh polls; moreover, with the Conservatives’ making no ground Labour’s lead on both the constituency and regional votes has also held steady.
At the same time, Labour’s position in 2016 is looking significantly less robust than it was five years ago. One way of putting these results into context is to compare them with the same point in the electoral cycle before the last National Assembly election. In a poll conducted for ITV-Wales in early March 2011, YouGov had on 48% for the constituency vote and 45% for the regional vote. So Labour are currently running fourteen percentage points below where they were five years ago on both votes. Given that Labour in Wales have also tended regularly to do worse in actual elections than in opinion polls (see link below), the evidence at the moment suggests that Labour are likely to be in electoral retreat in 2016: the main questions would appear to be the scale of their loss in support and how many seats any such decline would see them lose.
The Conservatives’ support level is unchanged in this new survey. This new survey was completed before the resignation was announced of Iain Duncan Smith. But the evidence from Britain-wide polls in the last week has already been that the party’s internal divisions over the EU referendum were having some negative impact of Conservative support; events over the last few days are unlikely to have improved matters. In that context, perhaps the Welsh Tories should be pleased to have held their ground. Last weekend’s Welsh Conservative conference saw plenty of confident talk from the party of electoral gains in May; if the bad publicity continues, making such gains may not be a foregone conclusion for the Tories.
Plaid Cymru will clearly be pleased to see their support moving upwards on both votes in this survey. It is possible that the party was helped by the fact that the first few days of sampling occurred immediately after the party’s – apparently successful – spring conference. Nonetheless, it is always better to be moving forward than backwards. Plaid will also, one imagines, be pleased to see the threat from UKIP apparently receding. But this poll still indicates that they will need a very strong Assembly campaign in order to come close to realising their electoral ambitions in May.
The largest changes that we see in this new poll concern UKIP, whose support falls significantly on both votes from the February Barometer poll. However, it is perhaps worth remembering that that poll had shown a three point rise in UKIP support for the constituency ballot and a two point rise on the regional vote; it may have been simply one of the occasional ‘outliers’ that polling produces. But it is also plausible that these new figures reflect some of the negative publicity that UKIP has attracted in recent weeks in Wales, over internal divisions regarding candidate selection and the somewhat interesting profiles of some of its Welsh Assembly candidates. Yet we must not overstate things: the evidence continues to suggest that UKIP is still firmly on course to win seats in May – indeed, to enter the Assembly in quite significant numbers. It would now be a major shock if they were to fail to do so.
Meanwhile, our new poll contains only the very smallest glimmers of hope for the current fourth party in the National Assembly, the Liberal Democrats. This new evidence has them making only the very smallest of gains in public support. Although on a strict Uniform National Swing projection they do win two constituency seats, in practice both of those seats – Brecon & Radnor and Cardiff Central – will likely be hard fights. At least as relevant for the party must be that this poll projects them to lose all four of their regional list seats. The very survival of the party in the National Assembly after May’s election remains seriously in question.
The Pre-Election Wave of the 2016 Welsh Election Study was carried out by YouGov, for Cardiff University. A representative sample of 3,272 adults in Wales were interviewed, via the internet, between 7-18 March 2016. The Welsh Election Study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom (Grant ES/M011127/1), and directed by Prof Roger Scully of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre. Further details about the study, and the survey findings, will be published here in subsequent posts.
As has become the custom, for the benefit of the cognoscenti who read this blog I have also computed Ratio Swing projections from our new poll. (So don’t say I never think of you).
For the National Assembly, Ratio Swing projects three constituency seats to change hands. One of them is still Llanelli – as with uniform swing, ratio swing projects this to be gained by Plaid Cymru from Labour. The other two seats are different, however: Brecon and Radnor is now projected to be gained by the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats, while Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire is now projected as a Plaid Cymru gain from the Conservatives.
For the regional list seats, Ratio Swing produces the following projections:
North Wales: 2 Plaid Cymru, 1 Conservative, 1 UKIP
Mid & West Wales: 2 Labour, 1 Conservative, 1 UKIP
South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru, 1 UKIP
South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru, 1 UKIP
South Wales East: 2 UKIP, 1 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru
Overall, a Ratio Swing projection of this poll therefore generates the following outcome for the Assembly election:
Labour: 29 seats (27 constituency seats + 2 list seats)
Conservatives: 13 seats (6 constituency seats + 7 list seats)
Plaid Cymru: 12 seats (7 constituency seats + 5 list seats)
UKIP: 6 seats (6 list seats)