Author Archives: Roger Scully

Roger Scully

About Roger Scully

Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. Jazz fan and horse-racing follower. Dog-walker.

New Constituency Poll: Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire

As regular blog readers will be well aware, I’ve had cause on several occasions to discuss the marginal-constituency polling that Lord Ashcroft is conducting. For the first time ever in the UK, we are getting substantial numbers of full-sample polls in marginal seats. Several of those conducted hitherto have been in Wales: in Cardiff North, Cardiff Central, and Brecon & Radnor. Now, as part of the latest batch of such work, comes a new poll in Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire.

This new batch of marginals examined by Lord Ashcroft mainly comprises seats that are a little less obviously marginal than many of those examined before. But they are still seats that Labour probably needs to win if it is to gain an overall majority. Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire is a good example of this: Labour won it in their comfortable 2005 general election victory, but lost it to the Conservatives in 2010.

To remind you, the result in the seat in 2010 was:

Conservatives: 41.1%
Labour: 32.7%
Lib-Dems: 12.1%
Plaid Cymru: 10.4%
UKIP: 2.8%
Independent: 0.9%

As before, Lord Ashcroft has asked two main voting intention questions in these polls. The first is the ‘standard’ question: “If there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?” The results obtained for this question are:

Conservatives: 32%
Labour: 30%
UKIP: 16%
Plaid Cymru: 13%
LibDems: 4%
Greens: 3%
Others: 2%

These figures would suggest a significant net swing (roughly 3%) to Labour since 2010, making the seat look very marginal indeed. Also notable is a strong UKIP showing: indicating, as we may see in a number of Welsh seats in May, that while UKIP are not likely to be polling strongly enough to be threatening to win many seats they may well be taking enough votes to have some influence on who does win,

However, as with previous such polls a second voting intention question was asked, where respondents were specifically prompted to think about the situation in their own parliamentary constituency. In several of Lord Ashcroft’s previous polls this latter question has prompted significantly different responses to the ‘standard’ one. And, to at least some extent, that is what we see once again in Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire.

Conservatives: 33%
Labour: 29%
Plaid Cymru: 16%
UKIP: 14%
LibDems: 4%
Greens: 3%
Others: 1%

These figures point to a slightly smaller Conservative to Labour net swing since 2010 (roughly 2%). They also – for reasons I am unsure about, although possibly reflecting the party’s strong recent performance in Carmarthenshire – look somewhat better for Plaid Cymru, although without suggesting that Plaid have any serious chance of actually winning the seat in May.

Among the other details in the poll are responses to a question asking about whether people have been contacted by any of the parties ‘over the last few weeks’ (with contact defined as any one or more of leaflets, newspapers, letters, email, telephone calls or doorstep canvassing). It’s very interesting here to see the patterns of contact reported:

Conservatives: 26%
Labour: 11%
Plaid Cymru: 6%
UKIP: 5%
LibDems: 3%

Labour would seem to be behind the game in this seat in their on-the-ground campaigning. This may help explain the slightly bigger gap in constituency-specific voting intentions. Of course, the more positive interpretation for Labour is that they already seem to be within striking distance of the Tories even while they have been lagging well behind in local campaigning effort; if they can match their opponents on the ground over the next four-and-a-bit months, they may well be in with a real chance of victory.

Thus far, the main pattern in Lord Ashcroft’s polls of Conservative-Labour marginals has been one of Labour performing more strongly in the marginal constituencies than in the national polls. That doesn’t quite seem to be the case in Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire. Here, recent Welsh polls have pointed to the Conservatives being projected to narrowly hold the seat on uniform national swings. This new marginal poll in the seat is very much in line with those projections. But perhaps the main message is that this is a seat that is very much up for grabs: the Tories currently seem to have a slight advantage, but it would be a brave person who would put their mortgage on which way this seat will go in May.

A Good Day for Wales

Despite what the weather might have suggested, I think yesterday was a rather good day for Wales. The Royal Assent to the Wales Act does not put in place a perfect piece of legislation, or a flawless devolution settlement, by any means. I think there are some aspects of the act that are positive; there are others, such as the provision for a referendum before the devolution of some income tax powers, with which I have little sympathy.

But there is one aspect of the Act which I think is very definitely a good thing. As I have mentioned before on the blog, the ‘dual candidacy’ ban introduced by the 2006 Government of Wales Act was, at best, highly unfortunate. It was wrong substantively, and it was introduced in a manner that brought little credit to Welsh politics. The new Act removes that ban. I think democracy in Wales just got ever-so-slightly better because of that removal.

Happy Birthday to Us

Our latest Welsh Political Barometer poll arrived pretty much exactly one year after the inaugural one, in December 2013. As you all sing ‘Happy Birthday Welsh Political Barometer’ to yourselves while reading this, I thought it might be of some interest to look at how the patterns of party support in Wales have changed from that poll to this one. One year on, what have been the changes in the Welsh political landscape?

We’ve followed both general election and National Assembly voting intentions through the last year. First, for Westminster: the following table shows support levels for each of the main parties in December 2013, and twelve months later:

December 2013December 2014
Labour4636
Conservative2123
Liberal Democrats85
Plaid Cymru1211
UKIP1018
Greens25
Others22

There are two major changes evident in the figures here. The first is the 10-point decline in Labour vote share. Our inaugural Barometer poll already showed Labour some eight points down from their high-point of 54% in a July 2012 YouGov poll. But over the last twelve months Labour have lost very nearly one-quarter of their remaining general election support in Wales. Last December’s poll would – on uniform national swings – have projected Labour to win 33 of the 40 parliamentary seats in Wales, a net gain of seven on the 2010 general election. Wales was thus on-track for making a fairly significant contribution towards Labour winning an overall majority in the House of Commons. In our latest poll, Labour’s support level is actually no higher than it was in May 2010, and Labour is projected to make only very modest seat gains.

The other major change is clearly the rise of UKIP. Twelve months ago they still seemed like a relatively minor factor in Welsh politics. That is no longer so. Their support levels began to pick up in Wales in the latter part of 2013, and the party has maintained momentum throughout 2014. Recent polls have placed UKIP in a clear third place in terms of general election vote share. However, on uniform swings, at least, UKIP are not projected to actually win any seats next May. The challenge for them in May 2015 will be to try to concentrate support effectively in particular seats; otherwise they may well win the electoral support of a fair proportion of the Welsh electorate but have nothing to show for it in terms of parliamentary representation.

The Conservatives have held very steady throughout the last year. And with Labour support falling, this places them in a much stronger position to hold their ground in the general election. Twelve months ago the Tories were projected to win only three parliamentary seats in the next general election, a net loss of five from 2010. In our new poll they are now projected to make no net losses at all, with the potential loss of Cardiff North being offset by a projected gain from the Liberal Democrats in Brecon and Radnor.

Plaid Cymru have held similarly steady over the last year, although I suspect that would accord them somewhat less comfort than it would the Conservatives. On our new poll they are projected to hold onto their three current seats – which is again an improvement on last year, when they were projected to lose Arfon. However, this change reflects Labour’s declining support rather than any significant advance for Plaid.

The Liberal Democrats continue to languish. A year ago they were doing dismally in the polls, having lost well over half the support they won in 2010. Now they are doing even worse. On uniform swings, they are currently projected to lose both Cardiff Central and Brecon and Radnor, and only to hang onto Ceredigion. This represents a decline on last year, when our inaugural Barometer poll projected them to hold Brecon and Radnor.

We see very similar patterns when looking at the two ballots for the National Assembly. First, here are last year’s and this year’s figures for the constituency vote:

December 2013December 2014
Labour4335
Conservative1922
Liberal Democrats96
Plaid Cymru2019
UKIP712
Greens25
Others11

And here are the numbers for the regional list ballot:

December 2013December 2014
Labour4031
Conservative1920
Liberal Democrats96
Plaid Cymru1519
UKIP1015
Greens47
Others32

Here again we see Labour declining; UKIP advancing; only small changes in the performance of the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru; and the Liberal Democrats falling even further behind. There has also been some significant progress by the Greens, who are actually one point ahead of the Lib-Dems for the regional list vote in our latest poll.

Interestingly, although their decline in vote share for the Assembly over the least year has been nearly as stark as for Westminster, the implications for Labour in terms of seat projections for the Assembly are rather less so. Here are the uniform national swing projections from both last year and now:

December 20103:

  • Labour: 30; 29 constituency AMs, 1 list AM
  • Conservative: 11; 5 constituency AMs, 6 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 9; 5 constituency AMs, 4 list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 5; 1 constituency AM, 4 list AMs
  • UKIP 5; all list AMs

December 2014:

  • Labour: 28; 26 constituency AMs, 2 list AMs
  • Conservative: 12; 6 constituency AMs, 6 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 10; 6 constituency AMs, 4 list AMs
  • UKIP: 7; all list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 2; 2 constituency AMs
  • Greens 1; a list AM (in Mid and West Wales)

Overall, the last twelve months have certainly seen a weakening in Labour’s dominance over Welsh electoral politics. But as the seat projections above indicate, that dominance is still some way from being overturned. Labour may be looking distinctly less formidable than it once did. But we are still, it appears, some way from witnessing another party present it with a serious challenge.

 

The Party Leaders: New Evidence on Public Attitudes

As I’ve had call to discuss on the Blog previously, what the public think about the party leaders matters. Sure, attitudes to a leader are shaped heavily by what people think about a party. But to at least some extent the reverse can also be the case: views about the party can be influenced by how appealing its leader is.

Party leaders can matter in several ways. For major parties, what the public thinks about a leader as a potential Prime Minister or First Minister can be very important. Second – although this is perhaps particularly important for minor parties – the leader acts as chief spokeperson for that party. Third, there’s good evidence that many people view a leader as a good proxy for the party as a whole: ‘what sort of party would elect a leader like this?’

In our latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, YouGov repeated a standard question about the about the leaders of the four main UK-wide parties, plus the four party leaders in the National Assembly, used in several previous Welsh polls, most recently in June. This question asks respondents the following:

“Using a scale that runs from 0 to 10, where 0 means strongly dislike and 10 means strongly like, how do you feel about…”.

There are several interesting elements to the results produced. The first concerns how many people choose ‘Don’t Know’, rather than any point on the 0-10 scale. As I mentioned here last year, while some choose the Don’t Know option because they are genuinely undecided, overall the proportion of people selecting this option is a good indication of a leader’s public visibility. So how many did choose this option for each leader? The table below gives the percentage, and the change since this question was asked in June.

Leader% Don’t Know% change since June 2014
David Cameron7+1
Ed Miliband8no change
Nick Clegg8no change
Nigel Farage9no change
Carwyn Jones21-1
Andrew RT Davies43-2
Kirsty Williams37-3
Leanne Wood36-3

The obvious thing about this table is that it shows the big difference in public awareness of the main UK party leaders – among whom we must now definitely include Nigel Farage – and the Welsh leaders. Even Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales for five years, is more anonymous with the people of Wales than any of the UK-level leaders. The three opposition leaders in turn are even less well-known – although they do all seem to have improved slightly in this respect since our last poll.

But what about the views of those who did have opinions? Our next table presents two pieces of information: the mean average score for each leader (out of a maximum possible 10, among those offering a view), and the change in this average rating since June:

LeaderMean Average /10change since June 2014
David Cameron3.5+0.1
Ed Miliband3.6-0.1
Nick Clegg3.0+0.3
Nigel Farage3.2-0.3
Carwyn Jones4.8+0.2
Andrew RT Davies3.6+0.4
Kirsty Williams4.1+0.2
Leanne Wood4.3+0.3

The first thing to notice is that no leader averages even 5 out of 10. But it is hardly a shock to note that politicians are not very popular. Perhaps more significant is how unpopular all the UK-level leaders are: the lowest-rated Assembly leader, Andrew RT Davies, ranks equally with the most popular UK leader, Ed Miliband.

Looking at the details of the poll, Nigel Farage’s ratings are very interesting. Among the UK-level leaders he score the highest level of 10/10 ratings. But these scores come almost exclusively from those who currently support UKIP. He also scores – by some way – the highest level of 0/10 ratings. There are plenty of people, indeed an increasing number of them, who really dislike Mr Farage.

Carwyn Jones remains by some way the most popular party leader in Wales – quite an impressive achievement given his now lengthy tenure in office. He remains fully half a point ahead of any other leader. Coming a clear second is Leanne Wood, who also seems to be emerging as a potential electoral asset for her party. Kirsty Williams also continues to score quite well; her personal ratings are just about the one vaguely positive aspect of public attitudes towards her party in Wales.

Overall, these figures do not show a Wales that is exactly in love with its political leaders. Indeed, it is striking that, in general, the leaders that we know the best seem to be the ones that we like the least! There may be a lesson in that, though I’m not quite sure what it is.

Wales and EVEL

I mentioned in my previous post that I had somehow omitted – i.e. forgotten – to discuss on the Blog many of the questions included in September’s BBC/ICM poll. This omission was particularly cloth-headed of me given that the BBC had actually consulted with me on the wording of some of the questions asked in their poll! Anyway, in that post and this one I am attempting to right this wrong by drawing your attention to some of the interesting findings in that poll.

As well as several questions on the basic devolution settlement and what powers should be devolved to Wales (which I discussed in my previous post), September’s BBC/ICM poll also included some interesting questions about political representation both at Westminster and in the Assembly.

For Westminster, respondents were asked for their extent of agreement or disagreement with two statements about how the House of Commons might function in the future:

‘Scottish MPs at Westminster should be prevented from voting on laws that only apply to England and Wales’

‘Welsh MPs should be prevented from voting on laws that only apply to England’

These questions were obviously responding to suggestions about the possibility of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL) being introduced. They prompted the following answers from the BBC/ICM sample:

ResponseScottish MPsWelsh MPs
Strongly Agree22%20%
Agree26%24%
Neither agree nor disagree12%10%
Disagree22%27%
Strongly disagree12%14%
Don’t Know6%5%

Thus, we see that the balance of opinions was similar on the two questions, though not identical. For both, the samples leaned slightly towards supporting the suggested exclusions. At the same time, in both cases the proportions supporting the idea fell short of an overall majority. And there was a slightly greater reluctance with regard to the idea of limiting the role of Welsh MPs.

For neither question were there enormous differences by party. However, for both, support for the propositions was lowest among supporters of the Labour party – something that is in line with the position on EVEL that has generally been put forward by that party. Supporters of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru tended to support the first proposition – relating to Scottish MPs; Tories and Plaid Cymru supporters also leaned in favour of the second.

Overall, however, the findings of this poll suggested that there was not a clear public position on EVEL; opinion was neither strongly in favour nor heavily against.

A later question in the same poll asked about members of the National Assembly – and, specifically, whether we should have more of them. This is, of course, an issue that has been rumbling along for years. Arguments have consistently been put by some that having a mere 60 members means that the Assembly is far too small to be able to do its job properly. Personally I am sympathetic to these arguments. But I’m also, of course, aware that arguing for more politicians is not an easy sell to the public at any time, and particularly not so during a period of austerity when important public services being cut.

The BBC/ICM poll made, I think, a decent effort to tap into this issue without asking an obviously slanted question:

‘If the Assembly is given more powers, some people think that there should be more Assembly Members so that those powers could be scrutinised more effectively while others think there are enough Assembly Members already. If the Assembly was granted extra powers do you think…’

The balance of responses obtained was as follows:

There should be more Assembly Members23%
The number of Assembly Members should stay the same51%
There should be fewer Assembly Members18%
Don’t Know8%

In short, the balance of opinion was well over two to one against increasing the size of the Assembly – although those wishing for more Assembly Members did at least slightly outnumber those wishing to reduce the Assembly in size. It is perhaps worth adding that here too there were not huge party differences in these attitudes. Even Plaid Cymru supporters failed to support the idea of increasing the size of the Assembly! It may be true that the size of the Assembly matters, but the evidence form this poll suggests that the public are not yet convinced of the case for

And Here’s One I Forgot Earlier…

I mentioned in a post last week that sometimes important things pass by without comment. However, I am at least normally aware that this has happened.

I was rather aghast to realise later last week that, while I had reported at the time on the voting intention numbers from the BBC/ICM poll conducted in September, and had also made full details of the poll available for everyone to look at in the Opinion Polls section of the Blog, I had not discussed the many other interesting findings of this survey. I thought that I had done so. I can only apologise – and, in this and a following post, seek to rectify the situation.

The part of the poll that undoubtedly attracted the greatest comment in the media at the time was the set of responses to a constitutional preference question. The question posed was a slightly adapted version of a now-standard question; this asks people to indicate their most-preferred option for how Wales should be governed from among several options. The question used was very similar to that in a BBC/ICM poll earlier in this year and discussed here. The only difference was in the wording of the ‘No Devolution’ option: whereas in the previous BBC/ICM poll this option was worded in the following way:

‘Wales should remain part of the UK and the Assembly should be abolished’,

it now became:

‘The Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster’.

The change made was probably a good thing. The previous wording had been criticised, most notably for only explicitly mentioning remaining within the UK in this abolition of the Assembly option.

Anyway, the overall pattern of responses in the September poll were:

Wales should become independent, separate from the UK3%
The Welsh Assembly should have more powers than it currently has49%
The powers it currently has are sufficient and should remain as it is now26%
The Welsh Assembly should have fewer powers than it currently has2%
The Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster12%
None of these / Don’t Know6%

The figure that attracted a huge amount of media focus was the first one – the 3% support for independence. This was the lowest support level in a survey using such a question, or any other, that I am aware of having been recorded since 1997. And as many of you will know, I was quoted to that effect in the media at the time.

I must confess to having been surprised at the attention given to that 3% figure. Perhaps my surprise just shows why I’m not a journalist – and why I wouldn’t be any good if I was one. Still, at least some of the media coverage did strike me as strange, for several reasons.

First, it seemed odd to focus so much attention on what was a very small shift from the previous BBC/ICM poll to ask such a question, which had found 5% support for independence. The drop to 3% was therefore well within the ‘margin of error’.

Second, much of the coverage seemed odd to me because it ignored a rather obvious contextual explanation of why support for independence might be rather lower in this poll. The fieldwork had been carried out immediately after the Scottish referendum result was declared – where, of course, Scotland had rejected independence. It was hardly surprising that a poll taken at that precise moment would see a lower than normal level of support for Welsh independence – I would have been surprised to find anything else.

Third, I also think it was strange that much of the media discussion ignored other interesting aspects of the findings:

  • That the poll found much lower support for abolition than in the previous BBC/ICM survey. This change was probably due at least in part to the question wording changes. Nonetheless, a fall in support for abolition from 23% to 12% strikes me as at least as worthy of note as a fall in support for independence from 5% to 3%.
  • That support for ‘More Powers’ was, at 49%, at one of the highest levels ever seen in a poll asking such a question.

I daresay that news reporting, as well as the responses given by survey respondents, can be influenced by context: journalists and their editors had been ‘primed’ to be thinking about independence. So perhaps the focus adopted was understandable. But I think it was also unfortunate. It meant a neglect of the poll’s finding of very substantial support in Wales for more powers – particularly important in the new political context, rapidly emerging after the Scottish vote, of far-reaching debates about the possible further development of devolution.

There was also little discussion of the details within the poll – which showed, for instance, clear and substantial majorities in favour of ‘more powers’ not only among supporters of Plaid Cymru, but also among those intending to support Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the next general election.

Overall, I certainly don’t think there was anything wrong with using this question in the BBC/ICM poll. Nor was there anything obviously wrong with the way in which the poll was conducted. But the focus of much of the subsequent media reporting was, perhaps, rather more questionable.

Another part of the same poll that got rather little attention was a set of questions which asked about the potential devolution of three specific policy areas. Respondents were asked: “Would you support or oppose the idea of the Assembly becoming responsible in Wales for the following policy areas”, with the question then being asked in relation to:

‘Welfare benefits such as unemployment benefit, housing benefit and pensions’

‘Police and criminal justice’

‘Setting the rates of income tax’

The pattern of responses was as follows:

ResponseWelfarePolice/JusticeIncome Tax
Strongly support22%24%17%
Support34%36%29%
Neither support nor oppose11%8%11%
Oppose15%16%20%
Strongly oppose12%12%17%
Don’t Know6%5%7%

Striking about these findings was to see clear majorities supporting the devolution not only of policing and criminal justice – that is something that polls have been very consistent about for several years – but also of welfare benefits. We should note that, as outlined above, the question here was quite explicit in referring to some major elements of the welfare system. Yet supporters of devolution in this area still outnumbered opponents by more than two to one.

The breakdowns by party support on these issues are interesting. Plaid Cymru supporters were, unsurprisingly, the most in favour of devolving these areas. But there were also very clear majorities in favour of devolution of both policing and welfare among Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters. And on policing and criminal justice, we even see majority support from UKIP voters, and exactly half of Conservatives behind the idea as well. On income tax rates opinions are much more evenly split. But even here the balance leans narrowly towards devolution – and with a clear majority in favour among Labour party supporters.

In summary – I think there was a lot more to the September BBC/ICM poll’s findings on constitutional attitudes in Wales than was suggested by much of the media coverage at the time. But don’t take my word for it: I’d encourage you to look further into the details for yourself.

New Constituency Poll in Brecon and Radnor

Many readers of the Blog will be familiar with the marginal constituency polling that Lord Ashcroft has been conducting for some time. This is a thoroughly welcome initiative. Although Lord Ashcroft is hardly the first person ever to poll in marginal constituencies, previous efforts (as well as this week’s ComRes poll) have generally involved a standard-sized sample spread across 30-50 marginal seats. While this may tell you something about general patterns across marginal as a whole, the individual sample sizes within each seat are too small to indicate anything much about any particular constituency. Polls within individual seats have been both rare and normally had smaller sample sizes, making them less reliable. Lord Ashcroft has been innovative in conducting simultaneous polls, with proper sample sizes, in significant numbers of individual seats – thus giving us good-quality information about both individual seats and the broader picture across the marginals that will likely decide the outcome of the 2015 general election.

Much of Lord Ashcroft’s past efforts have focused on the key Labour-Conservative battleground, such as the seats narrowly won by the Conservatives in 2010. Most of the seats are in England, but as part of this work there has been a previous poll of Cardiff North. There was also a more recent one of Cardiff Central when his Lordship extended the scope of his polling to look at other types of seats. In line with the general pattern in Lord Ashcroft’s polls, these polls indicated Labour doing slightly better in the marginal than suggested by the national polls. If such patterns continued right through to polling day this would be an important advantage to the Labour party.

Yesterday, Lord Ashcroft published a new set of polls in marginal seats. Here he was mainly concentrating on Liberal Democrat-Conservative marginals, with a particular focus on sets currently held by the Lib-Dems but potentially under threat from the Tories in light of the former’s current dire ratings in the national polls. For the Liberal Democrats, constituency-level performance in the next general election is perhaps more important than for any other party. We know that, barring some miraculous recovery in the last few months of this parliament, the national vote share of the Lib-Dems is likely to be much lower than it was in 2010. The party are pinning their hopes on being much stronger in the seats that they currently hold, often on the basis of popular and active local representatives. If they can buck the national swings in 35-40 seats, the Lib-Dems may still emerge from the general election as a significant parliamentary force. That would give them something to build on as they look to recover their popularity. If the national swings hold true even across seats the party hold now, they face near wipeout in May.

Among the seats polled by Lord Ashcroft in this latest batch was one in Wales: Brecon and Radnor. This has been held by the Liberal Democrats since 1997. At the last general election, the result was:

Liberal Democrats: 46.2%
Conservatives: 36.5%
Labour: 10.5%
Plaid Cymru: 2.5%
UKIP: 2.3%
Others: 2.0%

A margin of lower than 10 percentage points looks vulnerable, given the Lib-Dems current poor poll ratings. On a uniform national swing, the most recent Welsh Political Barometer poll would project the Conservatives to gain Brecon and Radnor.

So what did Lord Ashcroft find? As with his previous polls, he reports several sets of findings. Two main voting intention questions are asked. The first is the standard:

“If there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?”

The second, which is an interesting innovation, is a question which tries to get respondents to focus on the particular dynamics of their constituency:

“Thinking specifically about your own parliamentary constituency at the next General Election and the candidates who are likely to stand for election to Westminster there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency?”

The polls also ask about likelihood to vote, and the main reported figures are weighted in relation to this.

In Cardiff North, the two different voting intention questions did not produce dramatic changes in the responses given; in Cardiff Central the constituency question improved the Lib-Dems’ position a little, but still left them some way behind Labour. Brecon and Radnor is rather more interesting. Here, first, are the responses to the ‘generic’ vote intention question:

Conservatives: 32%
UKIP: 21%
Liberal Democrats: 18%
Labour: 18%
Plaid Cymru: 7%
Greens: 4%

These figures look dreadful for the Lib-Dems. On this standard question they lie in only joint third place, some fourteen points behind the Conservatives. If Lord Ashcroft’s poll had only included this question, we would, I think, all be talking about the Lib-Dems being on course to lose the seat by some margin.

Look, though, at the figures produced when respondents were asked the follow-up, constituency-specific question:

Liberal Democrats: 31%
Conservatives: 27%
UKIP: 17%
Labour: 15%
Plaid Cymru: 8%
Greens: 2%

This is quite an astonishing turnaround. Now the Lib-Dems are actually in the lead – albeit by a closer-than-comfortable four points. The details of the poll show a significant proportion of Labour supporters on the ‘generic’ question, and several Greens, moving to the Lib-Dems when encouraged to think about the specific seat. Even a few Tories move in the Lib-Dems’ direction when prompted to think about the specific constituency. Such changes occur, we should be clear, without the specific names of the candidates, including the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP, actually being stated.

The evidence here is consistent with that in a significant number of the other seats polled by Lord Ashcroft. In many seats the Lib-Dems currently hold, and which they would lose on the sort of swings that the national polls are suggesting, prompting respondents to think seriously about their own constituency puts the Lib-Dems in a significantly healthier position.

Looking at the other parties, we see UKIP performing quite strongly in an area where they did very well in May’s European elections. However, at present they do not look likely to actually be threatening to win the seat. The oddity of the poll is to see Plaid Cymru’s support levels increasing on 2010 – in what can hardly be a target seat for them!

Overall, the evidence from Lord Ashcroft’s polling does not show that everything will be fine for the Liberal Democrats next year. Their activists and supporters will not need me to tell them that they still have a serious fight on their hands to remain a significant parliamentary force. But this evidence does at least indicate that in many of the constituencies the Liberal Democrats currently hold, including Brecon and Radnor, their prospects for success may be rather better than the national polling numbers would have you believe.

Sex and Lies

I get occasional suggestions regarding the content and tone of the Blog. One, which I suspect may not have been entirely serious, was that I should take the Blog ‘down-market’. More sex, more gossip etc. The person who made this suggestion might be, at least briefly, mislead by the title of this post into thinking that I have decided to follow that advice.

Sadly – for at least one of you – that is not so. The title is simply a reference to an excellent, recently-published book: Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box: 50 Things You Need to Know About British Elections. Edited by my friends Phil Cowley, of the University of Nottingham, and Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, the book is based around a very simple idea: getting fifty leading analysts of elections (and related matters like public opinion), and asking them each to write a short chapter based around one key idea or finding from their research.

When I first heard about the idea of the book from Phil I was a little bit sceptical about it. I’m very glad to say that my scepticism was completely ill-founded. There’s a wealth of interesting empirical nuggets, and fascinating ideas, in the book. It’s also written in a simple, readable style – for once there are no thickets of academic jargon to have to cut your way through. Personally, I have found the length of the chapters make them perfect for a little bed-time reading. (You can insert your own jokes about going to bed with a psephologist here – although insert is perhaps a word best avoided in this context).

Among the many subjects covered in the book are:

• How meaningful are the answers that people give to opinion poll questions
• Sex
• How ethnicity has replaced social class as the key social division linked to voting behaviour in Britain
• The effectiveness of different local campaigning methods
• How distinctive are female and male political preferences and voting patterns
• What sort of characteristics people prefer in their elected representatives
• And cats. (Well, obviously cats).

There’s even one chapter about elections in Wales, written by someone who should be at least vaguely familiar to the readers of this Blog. (I’m not quite sure how that character managed to sneak into the list of fifty leading psephologists, but there we are). You can see a PDF of the final version of the Welsh chapter here.

I’m confident that anyone who finds this blog interesting reading will also very much enjoy reading the book. So I’d encourage you to buy one.

- From the publishers
- Or from Amazon here.

And while you’re about it, how about buying a few more, as the perfect Christmas present for all your friends and family? You know they’ll be grateful.

YouGov Poll for YesCymru and Cymdeithas yr Iaith

Running this blog in my spare time, sometimes significant events pass by without my being able to comment on them. Apologies. One recent one was a YouGov poll conducted in Wales during late October. This featured some questions commissioned by Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society) and YesCymru.

Cymdeithas asked two questions about the Welsh language and education in Wales. The first was:

“In principle, do you think Schools in Wales should or should not aim to teach all pupils to communicate effectively in Welsh as well as English?”

Some 56% of all respondents answered that they should, while 33% said that they should not, with the remaining 11% undecided. Interestingly, not only did a sizeable majority (72%) of Welsh speakers opt for a ‘Should’ answer; so also did a majority (though much narrower, at 52%) of non-speakers of the language.

A second Cymdeithas question asked:

“Generally speaking, would you support or oppose English-language schools teaching some subjects in Welsh?”

Here the balance of opinion was tighter, and negative. Some 42% of all respondents were supportive of this idea, but 48% opposed, with the remaining 10% saying Don’t Know. On this second question there was a similar degree of difference between Welsh-speaking and non-speaking respondents as with the first question: some 60% of Welsh speakers supported the idea (with 33% opposed), while only 39% of non-speakers supported it (with 51% against).

Overall, these findings seem broadly in line with a few others I have seen on the Welsh language in various polls over the years. There is clear majority sympathy for the language, support for the principle that the language should be passed on to all young people in Wales, and most people endorse at least some measures to support it. But that support is neither universal nor unconditional.

The YesCymru question concerned devolution in Wales. However, it used a rather different format from the questions asked in most polls. Instead of asking people to indicate their broad ‘constitutional preference’ from several options, or asking their views about the devolution of specific policy areas, Yes Cymru posed the following question:

‘Q. Which of the following comes closest to your view?’

with the following simple list of answer options being given:

- The powers devolved to Wales should be the same powers as Scotland
- The powers devolved to Wales should not be the same powers as Scotland
- Don’t Know

YouGov found 51% of all respondents choosing the first option, and 30% the second, with the remaining 19% as Don’t Knows. If we leave out the latter group then it is a 63%-37% split.

I think it’s useful that YesCymru asked a rather different type of question to the standard ones. People have occasionally asked my views on the ‘correct’ way to enquire into what people in Wales think about how we should be governed; my usual answer is there isn’t an obviously correct way. We benefit from having the subject approached from a number of angles.

Nonetheless, while the question format differs, the findings from this particular question can, I think, be viewed as broadly in line with those from the BBC-ICM poll conducted straight after the referendum. Several questions in that poll had suggested significant support for further devolution to Wales.

Looking at the detailed breakdowns of the responses to the YesCymru question, we see only quite small differences among Welsh speakers and non-speakers, or between men and women. There are slightly greater differences among age groups, and in the expected direction: older respondents were least likely to support parity for Wales with Scotland, just as they are generally most sceptical about devolution.

Among the parties, Plaid Cymru supporters – quelle surprise – are most strongly in favour of parity for Wales with Scotland. It’s also unsurprising that Conservatives are the least favourable. More notable is that a clear majority of Labour supporters support parity with Scotland; that Liberal Democrats, contrary perhaps to the long tradition of Home Rule Liberalism, tend to oppose the idea; while UKIP supporters, again perhaps surprisingly, lean slightly in favour.

A final point on this poll. Voting intention, for both Westminster and the National Assembly, was asked by YouGov. I assume this was because YouGov’s clients wished to examine the breakdowns for their questions among supporters of the different parties: to see, for instance, what proportion of Labour supporters endorsed ‘English-language schools teaching some subjects in Welsh’. However, the figures published by YouGov from this poll do not include the final, weighted vote intention numbers for each party; nor do they list the level of support for ‘Other’ parties, such as the Greens. Unfortunately, these subtleties seemed to elude at least one blogger, who posted supposed percentage support levels for each party – figures which were almost certainly incorrect.

If you look at the most recent Welsh Political Barometer findings – see the Opinion Polls section of the blog for details – then you will see that the weighted numbers on vote intention in recent YouGov polls in Wales have generally been fairly close to the un-weighted numbers. (This is good – weighting is a ‘second best’ solution for making a sample representative of the population. You’d always rather get a representative sample in the first place than have to resort to heavy weighting of an unrepresentative one). So the un-weighted figures reported from this poll are probably in the correct ‘ballpark’, as our American friends might put it. But without the full, weighted numbers from YouGov being published (which I don’t believe is going to happen), we can’t know this for sure.

For the little that it is worth, the un-weighted numbers reported seem to suggest that Labour support in Wales is continuing to ebb slowly downwards; that Conservative support is holding fairly steady; that the Liberal Democrats are making little or no recovery; that Plaid’s figures may be moving slightly upwards (although much of the fieldwork was conducted during or immediately after the Plaid conference, which may have given them a short-term ‘bounce’); and that UKIP continue to be showing quite strongly in Wales. But I wouldn’t want to put it any more strongly than that.

For the next full Welsh poll with published figures on voting intentions, we will probably have to wait until next month’s Welsh Political Barometer.