The first opinion poll in Wales of the general election campaign has arrived. Its results suggest that, at this early stage of the campaign, Wales is currently on course for a fundamental transformation in its political landscape.
Our new poll asked people across Wales, between Thursday last week and today, how they would vote in a general election for the House of Commons. The fieldwork for the poll was thus entirely conducted after the general election had been confirmed. Here are the voting intention figures that the poll produced (with changes on our last Barometer poll, conducted in early-mid October, in brackets):
Labour: 29 (+4)
Conservatives: 28 (-1)
Brexit Party: 15 (+1)
Liberal Democrats: 12 (-4)
Plaid Cymru: 12 (no change)
Greens: 3 (-1)
Others: 1 (no change)
For the last century (since Lloyd George’s victory in December 1918) Labour have been the dominant electoral force in Welsh politics: winning the most votes and seats at every one of the last 26 general elections! At present, it looks very much in the balance whether or not that run will continue, at least with regards to votes, with the Conservatives’ estimated support level for the general election currently running well within the ‘margin of error’ of that we estimate for the Labour party.
The other very clear thing to say about this poll is that there continue to be five significant parties. Despite their standing having slipped in some of the recent Britain-wide polls, here the Brexit Party’s support appears impressively robust, and they are actually in third place in Wales. The Labour party have apparently improved their position a little over the last few weeks in Wales, while the Liberal Democrats have seen their support edging downwards.
What might be the implications of such support levels for the forty Welsh parliamentary constituencies: who could we see returning after the election as their MPs? A multi-party contest in the current, highly uncertain political context makes the projection of vote share numbers onto seats particularly hazardous. But using the standard method of projecting uniform national swings since the last general election gives us the following outcome in terms of seats (with projected changes from the 2017 result in brackets):
Labour: 18 (-10)
Conservatives: 17 (+9)
Plaid Cymru: 4
Liberal Democrats: 1 (+1)
The seats to change hands would be as follows:
Conservative Gains from Labour: Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Cardiff North, Clwyd South, Delyn, Gower, Newport West, Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham
Conservative Gain from Liberal Democrats: Brecon and Radnor (recapturing the seat the party won in 2017, but lost in the August by-election; the projection here is assuming uniform swings since June 2017)
Liberal Democrat Gain from Plaid Cymru: Ceredigion
Plaid Cymru Gain from Labour: Ynys Môn.
As can be seen, at present the Conservatives are on course to challenge Labour very closely not only in terms of vote-share but also in parliamentary seats. Any such result in Wales would represent an electoral earthquake: it would be the first time post-war that Labour had not won an absolute majority of Welsh seats in a general election. It would also see Wales making a major contribution to delivering a parliamentary majority for Boris Johnson.
One of the main reasons why the Conservatives are challenging Labour so strongly in Wales is likely to be the current standing of their respective leaders. On our standard question where we ask respondents to rate each of the leaders on a 0-10 scale, Boris Johnson averages some way ahead of Jeremy Corbyn. And when we ask people directly which one of the two would make the best Prime Minister, Johnson is the choice of 41 percent of our sample, compared to only 26 percent for the Leader of the Opposition (with the remaining 32 percent either being unsure or refusing to answer).
Another factor that may be helping the Conservatives is that not too many people currently seem to blame the Prime Minister and his government for the UK not yet having left the European Union. When we asked our sample who they held most responsible for this, by far the largest portion – some 46 percent – blamed “MPs on all sides”, compared with only 20 percent who blamed “Boris Johnson and the Conservative Government”, which was almost as many as the 14 percent who mainly blamed “Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party”. Of particular interest is that very few of those currently intending to vote for the Brexit Party (only four percent) put the main blame on the Prime Minister and his government for Brexit not yet having occurred.
We should exercise some caution. First because there is still a long way to go in the election campaign. Many may recall the sensational first Welsh poll of the 2017 general election, which gave the Conservatives a full ten-point lead over Labour. In the end, things did not turn out like that at all. A party does not win 26 general elections in a row without having some staying power, and Welsh Labour will not be easily pushed aside.
A second reason to be cautious is that we have still to see quite how the Wales-wide and even Britain-wide picture will play out in particular constituencies. We are not likely to get similar patterns of electoral fight everywhere; indeed, not all parties will be standing everywhere. More even than usual, this general election could turn out to be one comprised of large numbers of very different constituency battles. Quite what that means in particular localities is something we have still fully to understand.
A final reason to be very cautious is that many of the seat projected to change hands by this poll do so by very small margins. Just a slight change in vote shares (the Labour advantage over the Conservatives increasing by a few percentage points) could actually generate very different projected outcomes in many seats. At this stage early in the 2019 general election, it is definitely still a case of ‘all to play for’.
The poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, had a sample of 1,136 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov from 31 October to 4 November 2019.