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More catching up…

In my previous blog post (http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2020/05/12/catching-up/) I talked about findings from the most recent Welsh Political Barometer, in April, about the general standing of the party leaders in Wales, and about public evaluations of the handling of the Covid-19 crisis by leading political figures.

At the end of April YouGov did some further work on public reactions to the handling of the current crisis. Among this work was a more than 1000-person sample in Wales, and they have been kind enough to share these Welsh results.

Among the questions deployed were a parallel pair that asked how well respondents believed that both the UK and the governments had been handling the coronavirus outbreak. The following table summarises the overall results obtained:

ResponseUK GovernmentWelsh Government
Well53%56%
Badly40%33%
Don’t Know7%11%

As can be seen, there is a positive balance of sentiment in relation to both governments, but it is clearly slightly more positive overall for the Welsh Government – both slightly higher positive evaluations and rather lower proportions of people evaluating them negatively. The net balance in this poll is +13 for the UK government and +23 for their Welsh counterparts.

There is one fascinating thing about the details of the findings. Regarding evaluations of the UK government’s handling of Covid-19, there are clear partisan differences and in the expected direction. Conservatives are much more likely to evaluate the UK government’s record positively; supporters of opposition parties are much more likely to say that the UK government is handling the situation badly. None of this is surprising.

But there is no such pattern when we look at the results for the Welsh Government: approval of their handling of Covid-19 is at statistically indistinguishable levels when we compare supporters of Conservatives, Labour, Plaid and Liberal Democrats. In fact, Conservatives are actually slightly more likely to rate the Welsh Government’s handling as being ‘very good’. This is a puzzling finding, and unusual in the devolved context: even though many voters’ understanding of devolved politics is far from perfect, nonetheless enough of them generally know enough that we find clear party differences in the evaluations of the Welsh Government, its policies and its leaders. This is something to keep an eye on, if this question can be repeated in future surveys.

There is also strong, cross-party consensus on the handling of the coronavirus crisis by the Welsh NHS. A substantial majority of respondents to the survey, including very similar-sized majorities among supporters of all the main political parties, evaluate the Welsh NHS as having done well. Across the entire sample, some 82 percent say that the Welsh NHS has done well in the crisis, with only 9 percent indicating that they think it has performed badly, and another 9 percent choosing Don’t Know.

The YouGov survey also included a question about leading political and governmental figures. This question was a little different from the one in the last Barometer poll, which asked about how well various individuals were handling the crisis. The question in this more recent survey asked about ‘how much confidence’ people had in various individuals ‘to make the right decisions’ regarding the coronavirus crisis.This is a slightly different question, but it is likely to get at similar public sentiments – people’s overall confidence in political leaders and those in charge of leading the government response.

This question was asked about a number of UK government figures: the Prime Minister; the Foreign Secretary (and de factor Deputy PM) Dominic Raab; Chancellor Rishi Sunak; UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock; and the Chief Medical Office for England, Chris Whitty. All these figures have, of course, been prominent in the UK government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Three Welsh-level figures were also asked about: First Minister Mark Drakeford, Health Minister Vaughan Gething, and Frank Atherton (the Chief Medical Officer for Wales). Results are summarised in the table below:

IndividualA lot / a fair amountNot very much / no confidenceDon’t Know
Johnson52%40%8%
Raab36%38%26%
Sunak45%25%31%
Hancock34%39%27%
Whitty43%17%40%
Drakeford28%31%40%
Gething22%33%45%
Atherton10%13%77%

There are again some striking differences in the results. Evaluations of the UK-level individuals differ. As always, Boris Johnson rather divides opinion, with Conservatives being strongly supportive and supporters of opposition parties tending strongly towards hostile reactions. The balance of opinion towards Rishi Sunak is generally positive, and he generates much less hostility among political opponents than does the Prime Minister. However, the public appear to have been significantly less impressed by Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock. But the non-partisan figure of Chris Whitty is generally evaluated positively across the political spectrum.

When we look at the results for the Welsh-level figures, as always we find many more respondents unwilling or unable to offer a view. But we also find the balance of opinions among those with a view to be negative: marginally so for the First Minister, and more clearly so for the Health Minister. This is a little surprising, particularly given the results for the performance of the respective governments noted above. However, it may well reflect two things: first, that Mark Drakeford’s personal ratings with the Welsh public have been consistently mediocre since polling started asking about him during the Welsh Labour leadership contest in 2018; and second, that sampling for this survey took place very shortly after Vaughan Gething was unintentionally caught on mic saying uncomplimentary things about one of his colleagues in the Welsh Parliament.

The evidence discussed here dates from late April; much has happened since then and attitudes may have changed. In particular, the ‘rally around the flag’ effect that seems to have politically benefitted the Conservatives could easily unravel if public evaluations of their handling of the crisis start to move in a more negative direction. There are already some suggestions from very recent Britain-wide polling that this may be starting to happen. Of course, amidst mounting death tolls, economic collapse and a host of other problems, the immediate electoral-political consequences might reasonably be regarded as utterly inconsequential by comparison. But, one day, we will re-emerge from lockdown and be able to vote in significant elections. And then, how political leaders are judged by the public to have conducted themselves during the greatest public health crisis for generations will assuredly matter.

YouGov interviewed 1,065 adults in Wales via the internet between 24-27 April 2020; data have been weighted for representativeness of the population. The tables can be found below:

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