The voting intention figures produced by the first ever Sky Data Welsh opinion poll have caused quite a stir. The projection from the poll for the Abolish the Assembly (ATA) party to win two regional list seats was the first time ever that the party had been projected to win representation in the institution that it is dedicated to getting rid of.
Amongst the online discussion provoked by this finding has been much speculation that the advance in support for ATA indicates a broader surge in support for getting rid of devolution in Wales. Some were drawing broader conclusions about attitudes to the Assembly being part of the broader ‘populist wave’ that has also been associated with the Brexit vote, the success of Donald Trump, and advances for other populist political forces.
I think much of this discussion has been misplaced. Some people have been making quite dramatic inferential leaps – drawing sweeping conclusions from a very small fragment of evidence. We have seen ATA make some advances in public support as UKIP have faded; the demographics of the support of the two parties are very similar, with their voters disproportionately being older men who have not attended university. We also know from years of detailed evidence that there has remained a constituency of support for abolition of the National Assembly. But a rise in support for ATA does not necessarily indicate that support for their main cause has also risen.
Fortunately, the new Sky poll also included some questions directly relevant to this issue. First, the poll repeated a question that has been used in many previous studies, which asks respondents “Which of these statements comes closest to your view?” and then presents them with a series of options about how Wales might be governed. Below is the pattern of responses that Sky found:
There should be no devolved government in Wales: 18%
The National Assembly for Wales should have fewer powers: 4%
We should leave things as they are now: 23%
The National Assembly for Wales should have more powers: 40%
Wales should become independent, separate from the UK: 8%
Don’t Know: 7%
As can be seen, there is some support in these figures for the National Assembly being abolished. But it is very far from a majority position. Actually, these findings are typical of studies conducted by various survey agencies throughout the last decade and a half which, on various such questions, have tended to find between ten and twenty percent of people choosing the ‘abolition’ option in any given survey. Sky’s findings are also typical in showing support for independence on such questions in the five to ten percent support range. The clear majority position, as it has been in every such poll of which I am aware of for more than a decade and a half, is for some form of devolution within the UK.
The one thing that is somewhat unusual about Sky’s findings in this new poll is the balance of opinion among those favouring devolution; this is tipped rather further towards the ‘more powers’ end of the spectrum than has been typical in recent years. Such a finding is not obviously consistent with a surge in anti-devolutionist sentiments.
However, as well as this question, the Sky Data poll also asked the following question:
“If there were a referendum tomorrow on the issue of the abolition of the National Assembly for Wales, how would you vote?”
Such questions have been asked only quite rarely, and perhaps provide a more direct test of support for ATA’s core policy objective. This is the pattern of responses that Sky obtained:
I would vote in favour of the National Assembly for Wales being abolished: 22%
I would vote against the National Assembly for Wales being abolished: 58%
I would not vote: 6%
Don’t Know: 14%
Unsurprisingly, when respondents are given a simple choice, support for abolition is rather higher than in the multi-choice question we looked at previously – slightly more than one-fifth of this sample of people in Wales. Far more people currently reject abolition of the Assembly. But the result does reinforce the point that there is a constituency of support for ATA to tap into. And, of course, most polls were showing leaving the EU to be a distinctly minority position for many years prior to the June 2016 referendum.
The Sky poll included one other question that is also relevant to the current topic. As well as a hypothetical referendum on abolishing the Assembly, we asked about the polar opposite proposition: independence for Wales. Specifically, respondents were presented with the following question: “If there were a referendum tomorrow on the issue of Wales becoming an independent country, how would you vote?”
Responses to this question were as follows:
I would vote in favour of Wales becoming an independent country: 17%
I would vote against Wales becoming an independent country: 67%
I would not vote: 4%
Don’t Know: 13%
This reinforces the findings from the first question above. Independence, just as with abolition of the Assembly, remains the position of a distinct minority in Wales. These are not insignificant minorities; their opinions are just as entitled to be respected as those of others; and of course the balance of opinion can change over time. But at present, as has been the case for well over a decade, the clear majority position in Wales, however we ask people and whichever company is asking the questions, is to support devolution for Wales within the United Kingdom. There is no clear evidence of significant change in those attitudes. The Abolish the Assembly party may be advancing in support, but support for their core policy position does not seem to be similarly moving forwards.
Sky Data interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,014 Sky customers in Wales online 7-14 December 2018. Data are weighted to the profile of the population. Sky Data is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Tables for these results can be found here.