Difficult though it can be for some of us to believe at times, there are things going on in addition to the general election. Among the matters of interest to me has been the recent publication of some new evidence by Yes Cymru on levels of support for, and opposition towards, Welsh independence.
A few words of background to start with. As I have said previously on the blog, there is no self-evidently correct way to ask about attitudes for independence. In the context of a referendum on the matter, referendum voting intention (with a question based around the wording on the referendum ballot paper) would presumably be the main question that most polls would look to ask. But we are not in that context in Wales at present. A number of different questions have therefore been asked, at various times:
- Various versions of multiple-options ‘constitutional preference’ questions. Here respondents are given a number of different options for how Wales should be governed, normally ranging from independence to no devolution, with a few intermediate possibilities. The proportion of people choosing the independence option could then be taken as indicating the level of support for independence.
- A small number of surveys have asked a slightly different question: giving people some sort of scale, anchored by end points of No Devolution and Independence, and asking them to indicate their own preference on this scale. Those choosing a point very close to the Independence end of the scale could be taken as indicating the level of support for Welsh independence.
- Several surveys have asked some form of direct Yes/No/Don’t Know question about Welsh independence.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those survey questions that give people several different options, or allow people to choose multiple points along a scale, show lower levels of support for independence than do questions which provide a simple Yes/No choice. But even those surveys which have offered a binary choice have generally shown opposition to independence to be much greater than support.
The evidence from Yes Cymru comes from a poll that they ran with YouGov in early May. Details are available here. They asked a scale-type question, but of a different form to those used in previous surveys
“On a scale of 0-10 where 10 is very strongly in favour and 0 is very strongly against, how do you feel about Welsh Independence?”
There was then a follow-up question asked:
“And please now assume that the Conservatives win an increased majority in the UK general election. In this instance, on a scale of 0-10 where 10 is very strongly in favour and 0 is very strongly against, how do you feel about Welsh Independence?”
The first of these questions strikes me as a perfectly reasonable general question to ask. The second one make some sense in the current political context, and particularly if there is an interest in whether supporters of the Labour party, for instance, might become more favourable to the idea of independence as a means of avoiding continued Conservative government.
The results of the poll are, on the whole, I think fairly unsurprising. We find support for independence highest amongst 2015 Plaid Cymru voters, and lowest among Conservatives and UKIP voters. (Colour me shocked). Across the whole sample, we also find opposition to independence notably greater than support. Exactly how many people we say are ‘opposed’ and how many ‘support’ independence depends on how we divide the responses of those towards the middle of the scale. If, for instance, we were to count those choosing some point between 0-3 on the scale as opponents of independence, those in the 7-10 range as supporters, and those who answered 4, 5, 6, or Don’t Know as unsure, then we get the following percentages in the three groups:
Opposed to independence: 43%
Support independence: 22%
If we count those at 4 and 6 on the scale as, respectively, opponents and supporters, then, we simply add another four percentage points to the two groups. The overall balance of opinion, at roughly two-to-one against independence, is rather similar to that found in last July’s Welsh Political Barometer poll.
Another notable feature of the results is that the follow up question does not change the balance of opinion drastically. The prospect of further Conservative government does increase support for independence further among 2015 Plaid Cymru voters, and even more so among Labour supporters. But even now the balance of opinion remains against independence.
Yes Cymru’s poll is a useful addition to the evidence base on public attitudes towards Welsh independence. It is always valuable to see an issue explored using alternative question forms. The substantive findings they have generated are broadly consistent with previous evidence: there is some pro-independence sentiment in Wales, but support for the idea remains some way below the levels found in Scotland. Perhaps the greater difference between the two nations, however, is the salience of the issue. Independence has come, in recent times, to be the dominant political issue in Scottish politics. It is not yet anywhere close to being that important a concern for most voters in Wales.