As well as asking about support for the parties, the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll included our standard question asking respondents to rate the party leaders on a 0-10 scale (where 0 means ‘strongly dislike’ and 10 means ‘strongly like). Respondents to our poll were asked to rate all the main UK and Welsh party leaders – including, for the first time, Neil Hamilton of UKIP.
(An explanatory note. We decided to ask about Neil Hamilton this time although technically he is currently only leader of UKIP in the Welsh Assembly, and not of UKIP across Wales as a whole. We therefore also asked about Kirsty Williams, rather than Mark Williams, in relation to the Welsh Liberal Democrats.)
So what did we find? First, as I have done in the past, I’d like to display the percentage of our sample who simply chose ‘Don’t Know’ for each leader. As I have mentioned before, while some people may do this because they are genuinely undecided about a leader, overall the percentage of Don’t Knows functions pretty well as a measure of the public visibility of a leader. Of course, a poll conducted soon after an Assembly election should see visibility of the leaders who took part in that election near its height.
So here are the percentage of our sample who chose Don’t Know for each leader:
David Cameron: 11%
Jeremy Corbyn: 15%
Tim Farron: 49%
Nigel Farage: 14%
Natalie Bennett: 45%
Carwyn Jones: 25%
Andrew RT Davies: 47%
Kirsty Williams: 44%
Leanne Wood: 30%
Alice Hooker-Stroud: 67%
Neil Hamilton: 35%
As we can see, the vast majority of people have views about the Prime Minster, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage. The most well-known Welsh politicians, First Minister Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood, lag some way behind these major UK-level politicians in public visibility, even in the immediate aftermath of a Welsh Assembly election. Other politicians lag much further behind – not only long-term Welsh leaders Andrew RT Davies and Kirsty Williams, but also Tim Farron and Natalie Bennett. For the future of the Liberal Democrats, the failure of their UK leader to achieve much recognition with the public must be a concern. Indeed, it is striking that Neil Hamilton appears to have greater public visibility than Davies, Williams, Farron or Bennett, and far greater recognition levels than were ever managed by Nathan Gill.
Of course recognition is only generally a good thing if it is accompanied by a fair level of popularity. Here is the full list of the average scores out of ten given to each leader from those respondents who had a view about each one (and, in brackets, the change since our last Barometer poll, conducted immediately prior to the Assembly election.)
David Cameron: 3.1 (+0.2)
Jeremy Corbyn: 4.1 (-0.1)
Tim Farron: 3.7 (-0.1)
Nigel Farage: 3.4 (+0.2)
Natalie Bennett: 3.9 (-0.1)
Carwyn Jones: 4.7 (unchanged)
Andrew RT Davies: 3.6 (+0.2)
Kirsty Williams: 4.4 (+0.1)
Leanne Wood: 4.8 (+0.2)
Alice Hooker-Stroud: 3.4 (+0.1)
Neil Hamilton: 2.1
For all of the leaders asked about in our previous poll we see only small changes since last time. None has moved up or down by more than 0.2 points on the 0-10 scale. The relative positions therefore remain barely altered, with Prime Minister Cameron continuing to be the most unpopular UK-level leader. Meanwhile, although the gap between her and Carwyn Jones is very small (and well within any statistical margin of error), it is interesting that this is the second poll done since the Assembly election – the other one being the Welsh Election Study post-election survey – to have ranked Leanne Wood as marginally the most popular political leader in Wales.
The most interesting results here, though, are surely those concerning Neil Hamilton. Put simply, his rating are quite extraordinarily poor. I’ve looked back through the full run of past YouGov polls in Wales that have asked this form of question (and also asked my colleagues at YouGov to double-check), and cannot find any other leader ever scoring as low as an average of 2.1 out of 10. Indeed, no-one has ever scored nearly as badly as Mr Hamilton. Nor have I yet been able to find any other example anywhere in the world where, on this form of question, a political leader has been so poorly rated.
Of course, 2.1 out of 10 is his average rating across everyone in our sample who offered a view on Mr Hamilton. Some people have suggested that what matters for parties like UKIP what matters is less the views of the whole public as those of the 20-25% or so of people who might consider voting for their party. This is rather true of Nigel Farage – loathed by many, but pretty popular among current and some potential UKIP supporters. (Nigel Farage averages 7.8 out of 10 amongst current UKIP supporters on the Assembly constituency vote, for instance). But for Mr Hamilton, even when you narrow things down the picture scarcely gets much better. Among current UKIP supporters on the Assembly constituency vote, Mr Hamilton averages only 3.4 out of 10 with them, and literally 0% of them score him as a 9 or 10 out of 10.
It is difficult to place a positive interpretation on these findings. Probably the worst combination a political leader can manage it to be both visible and disliked. This, however, is what Neil Hamilton appears to have managed. The best thing I can say is that at least he hasn’t peaked too early in public popularity.