Author Archives: 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.

Greatest Hits, etc

 

It will soon be exactly one year since Elections in Wales was launched on an unsuspecting and defenceless world.

Since then I have been pleasantly surprised, even amazed, at the level of interest that the blog has attracted. We’ve set monthly records for readership and page views in eight of the last eleven months, and have passed 30,000 total page views.

Diolch o galon, i chi i gyd, am eich cefnogaeth a ddiddordeb. Thanks very much to all of you for your continuing interest and support. It might be, to misquote one of my favourite films, that the electoral politics of one little nation don’t amount to a hill of beans. But, as Leslie Nielson went on to say, this is our hill, and these are our beans…

I will actually be away for a few days when we celebrate our first birthday. (Though I expect to receive reports of the nation united in rejoicing, large and emotional crowds throughout Wales etc etc). However, I thought it might be of interest to some of you – and particularly those of you who have joined us over the last year – to share with you some of the most popular posts over the last twelve months. So, in no particular order…

Slightly to my amazement, one of the most popular posts I did in the first year concerned a survey question wording experiment. Trying to Get it Right reported findings of a mini-study that I ran with YouGov, where we were seeking to puzzle out why some recent YouGov polls in Wales had been showing surprising results for the regional list vote in National Assembly elections. The results we got back amazed us, and many of you clearly also found it interesting.

A second very popular post involved me playing my regular role of Mr Spoil Sport. (This is a role I started fulfilling rather early in life. I still remember when, as a young boy, I found out that Father Christmas wasn’t real. I eagerly shared this news with all my friends at school that day, who I thought would want to know this – only to make some of them cry, receive a bollocking from our teacher, and find that I ended the day with rather fewer friends than at the start). In this particular instance, I suggested that question-wording effects meant that the apparently striking findings of a constitutional preference question in the annual BBC/ICM poll were, in reality, maybe less interesting than they initially seemed.

Three other very popular posts (Part One is here; Part Two here; and Part Three here) looked at the history of one-party dominance in Wales. Sustained period of dominance by a single party have been a consistent feature of political life in Wales throughout the democratic era – and, I have argued at various times, a persistent pathology in Welsh political life. These pieces outlined the story from the 19th century until more-or-less the present day.

Another rather popular post was one analysing the electoral system used to choose the majority of Welsh councillors. This system – a multi-member version of First Past the Post – is, to my mind, a strong contender for the title of The worst electoral system in the world, managing to retain all of the weaknesses of First Past the Post without any of its redeeming features. Sadly, there currently seems little eagerness to get rid of it within the ranks of Wales’ still-dominant political party.

Finally, I as a taster before the night of the European election results, I ran a short piece seeking to explain the mathematical formula under which the seats in Wales – and the rest of Britain – would be allocated. The Fabulous Mr D’Hondt was a 19th century Belgian mathematician, and evidently one with a sense of humour…

 Happy reading. I’ll be back soon, with my psephological batteries fully restored, I hope.

Public Attitudes to the Political Parties

 

Elections in Wales has now been running for very nearly a year. During that time its been very pleasing to see the audience for the blog growing considerably. The many readers who haven’t been with us right from the beginning may not, therefore, be familiar with one survey question that was run on the YouGov poll conducted in July 2013 to mark the launch of the blog.

This is a question that was originally developed in the context of multi-party continental European political systems, and seeks to measure public attitudes to the parties in a rather different – and arguably more subtle – way from questions on current voting intention, or that long-standing political science favourite, party identification. The question follows this format:

“We have a number of parties in Wales, each of which would like to get your vote. Using a scale that runs from 0 to 10, where 0 means very unlikely and 10 means very likely, how likely is it that you would ever vote for…”.

This question can then be applied to all potentially relevant parties.

The question recognises that many voters do not have a simple and absolute attachment to one party and aversion to all the others, but varying degrees of attraction towards the options before them. It is thus particularly useful in multi-party systems, such as we have had for some time in Wales. And because the question has now been asked in several polls, we can compare attitudes over time.

This question was included in the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, and was asked not only about the four parties represented in the National Assembly, but also about three others: UKIP, the Greens, and the BNP. So how did the parties do?

A first interesting thing to look at, I think, is the percentage of respondents who score a party 0 out of 10: in short, they really dislike this party, and cannot see themselves ever voting for them. The table below reports two sets of statistics for each party: the percentage scoring that party 0 out of 10; and the change in that percentage since July 2012, when this question was previously asked. (A positive score in the final column represents a bad result for a party: it indicates a rise in the percentage of people indicating they score their likelihood of ever voting for that party at 0 out of 10).

 

Party

% 0 / 10

Change since July 20123

Labour

29

+6

Conservative

45

-1

Liberal Democrats

48

+10

Plaid Cymru

31

+2

UKIP

52

+7

Greens

38

+7

BNP

79

+7

 

A few things stand out from this table. A first one is the BNP figure, which many may find reassuringly high. A second is the fact that attitudes seem to have become somewhat more negative for nearly all the parties; or perhaps we just got a rather grumpy sample! Other noteworthy things include:

  • It is striking that attitudes to UKIP seem to have become more clearly defined: their electoral support has risen in the last year, but more people also now seem to regard them as electorally beyond-the-pale.
  • As well as their electoral support levels falling, antagonism towards Labour seems to have increased. They are still the least disliked party, but their advantage over the others in that respect seems to have diminished.
  • It’s also notable that, in what was not an outstandingly good poll for them in terms of voting intentions, Plaid Cymru come close to matching Labour as the least disliked party. Relatively few people dislike Plaid; the party’s problem continues to be a failure to convince sufficient number of the rest of the electorate to positively support it.
  • While the Conservatives remain much more strongly disliked than either Labour or Plaid, they are the one party to have actually marginally improved in this respect over the last year.
  • The poll piles on yet more bad news for the Liberal Democrats. They attract much more hostility than they used to: when this question was asked immediately after the 2010 general election, only 17% gave 0 out of 10 for them. Now the figure is almost half of all the sample, and actually slightly higher than that for the Conservatives.

That’s the picture for hostility; what about the positive end of the spectrum? Those rating parties above the mid-point on the scale, in the 6-10 range, might be said to be broadly positive towards a party. So what percentages of our sample rated each of the parties in this range? The next table shows these figures, and again also gives the changes since the July 2013 poll. (For this table, a positive number in the change column is therefore a good thing for a party, indicating a rise in the proportion of people scoring them highly on likelihood to vote for that party).

Party

% 6-10 / 10

Change since July 20123

Labour

42

-8

Conservative

27

+3

Liberal Democrats

14

-5

Plaid Cymru

31

-4

UKIP

23

-

Greens

20

+1

BNP

4

-2

 

Labour is some way ahead of the field: as well as attracting less hostility than the other parties, it also attracts notably more positive support. That’s not a bad position to be in! What may be a bit concerning for Labour, however, is that their position has declined so much since last year. As with voting intention, Labour are still in the strongest position, but they are no longer completely out of sight of the other parties.

Plaid Cymru are in a clear second place on this measure. Yet they will surely be disappointed that they have not improved on this measure over the last twelve months and have actually moved backwards slightly. Although in third place on this measure, the Conservatives may take more heart here. It is also noticeable, looking at the details of the figures, that much of the Tory support is very strong: 11 out of the 27% of respondents scoring them at 6-10 actually choose the 10 out of 10 option; for Plaid Cymru the equivalent figure is only 7 out of 31%.

The news continues to be unremittingly bleak for the Liberal Democrats. Not only has hostility towards them risen, but their potential pool of voters seems to be shrinking. The contrast with May 2010 is again striking: then, fully 42% scored them in the 6-10 range. On this measure, the Lib-Dems are now well behind not only the other parties currently represented in the Assembly, but also UKIP and even the Greens. For UKIP, what is notable is that their pool of potential support has not expanded; what has happened over the past year is that UKIP has started to convert much more of that potential support into votes.

Overall, these figures provide us, I think, with a useful supplement to those from polling questions on voting intention. Though in most cases they tell us a similar story, these questions add some interesting nuance – notably, in the case of this poll, for both UKIP and Plaid Cymru. So I hope we’ll be able to repeat this question in some future Welsh Political Barometer polls.

July Welsh Political Barometer figures published!

 

This week sees publication of the fourth poll conducted by the Welsh Political Barometer – a unique collaboration between ITV Cymru Wales, the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, and the leading polling agency YouGov.

The poll provides us with a valuable opportunity to assess the state of the parties, now that the dust has settled after the European elections, and as we head towards the Westminster and National Assembly summer recess. When they depart for the seaside with their buckets and spades, which of our politicians will do so in the best heart?

The poll asked our usual questions about voting intentions for next May’s general election, as well for both votes in the National Assembly election. Before we look at them in detail, however, an important technical note. After the European Parliament election, and as discussed on the Blog last week, YouGov have up-dated their weighting scheme for their Welsh polls. The small changes they have made will tend to push the Labour and Liberal Democrat figures down a bit, and those for the Conservatives and UKIP up slightly, compared with previous YouGov polls in Wales. We should take this into account when interpreting the figures, in particular when comparing them with May’s Barometer poll.

So, what were the findings for Westminster? We got the following results for general election vote intention (with changes from the May Barometer poll in brackets):

  • Labour 41% (-2)
  • Conservative 25% (+3)
  • Plaid Cymru 11% (no change)
  • UKIP 14% (+1)
  • Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)
  • Others 5% (+1)

Although Labour is still well in the lead, this poll continues the trend that has persisted for the last year or so of its support level slowly declining. Changes since the May Barometer poll can be largely accounted for by YouGov’s altered weightings. Nonetheless, the 41% rating is Labour’s lowest score in any published Welsh poll since the 2010 general election.

Although the Conservatives’ improvement since May is also partly attributable to methodological changes, they will surely be encouraged by this poll. Their 25% rating is the Tories’ highest in Wales since early 2012, and only just short of their performance in the 2010 general election. The contrast with their coalition partners gets ever starker: although again partly accounted for by methodological changes, the Lib-Dems 5% rating is their lowest for two years, and more than 15 points below their vote share in 2010. Plaid Cymru continue to hold steady, at a support level pretty much identical with how they did in 2010. UKIP, too, continue to be resilient at the much higher support levels they have attracted in recent months.

If the changes since the 2010 general election implied by these figures were repeated uniformly across Wales, this would produce the following outcome in terms of seats (with changes from the 2010 election outcome indicated in brackets):

  • Labour: 28 seats (+2)
  • Conservatives: 8 seats (no change)
  • Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (no change)
  • Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (-2)

Only three seats are projected by this poll to change hands: Labour would capture Cardiff Central from the Liberal Democrats and Cardiff North from the Conservatives, while the Conservatives would take Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats.

What about the National Assembly? For the constituency vote, the results of our new poll were (with changes from May’s Barometer poll in brackets):

  • Labour 37% (-2)
  • Conservative 21% (+1)
  • Plaid Cymru 20% (+1)
  • Liberal Democrats 5% (-3)
  • UKIP 13% (+3)
  • Others 4% (+1)

Again, we must take into account the slightly changes in YouGov’s methodology in interpreting these figures. Nonetheless, once again we see Labour’s support edging downwards: 37% is their lowest support level with YouGov for the Assembly constituency vote again since May 2010. Labour are still clearly the party in the strongest position, but that position has slipped noticeably. The Conservatives and Plaid Cymru are holding steady, while UKIP continue to advance and the Liberal Democrats are again doing poorly.

Applying the changes since the 2011 Assembly election implied by these figures uniformly across Wales, only one constituency seat projected to change hands from 2011 on the figures from this poll: that is Llanelli, being won by Plaid Cymru from Labour.

For the regional list vote, we saw the following results (with changes from the May Barometer poll again indicated):

  • Labour 34% (-1)
  • Conservative 21% (+2)
  • Plaid Cymru 18% (+1)
  • UKIP 16% (+2)
  • Liberal Democrats 5% (-2)
  • Others 7% (-1)

Again, on both votes here the main change overall is Labour losing ground while UKIP advances.

Taking into account both the constituency and list results, this produces the following projected seat outcome for a National Assembly election (with aggregate changes from 2011 indicated in brackets):

  • Labour: 29 (-1); 27 constituency AMs, 2 list AMs
  • Conservative: 12 (-2); 6 constituency AMs, 6 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 10 (-1); 6 constituency AMs, 4 list AMs
  • UKIP 8 (+8); all 8 would be list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 1 (-4); 1 constituency AM

These projections indicate the possibility, on the results implied by the current poll, of UKIP becoming a significant force within the National Assembly, and largely doing so at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. As with the last Barometer poll in May, our new poll projects Kirsty Williams in Brecon & Radnor to be the only remaining Lib Dem AM.

Overall, this is a good poll for the Conservatives and UKIP, a solid one for Plaid Cymru, and yet more bad news for the Liberal Democrats. As for Wales’ long-dominant party: this poll confirms that Labour’s position in Wales has declined significantly over the last year, but that they still remain well in the lead. While Labour look more vulnerable than they did throughout 2011-13, the other parties must still look very enviously at their ratings.

I’ll be back later this week with further analysis of the poll. But that’s probably enough for you all to chew on for now!

Trends in Income Tax and EU Referendum Polling

 

Wales Online are today running some findings from a new poll they have conducted with YouGov. The main feature of their story is attitudes to immigration, where – consistent with other evidence – they show considerable hostility to immigration in Wales, with such attitudes particularly strong among more working class respondents. This may, as some have commented on here amongst other places, help explain why UKIP found such a ready reception in the European election campaign.

The poll also asked two referendum questions: about how people might vote in a referendum on income tax powers for the National Assembly, and how they might vote in a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. In neither case do the findings seem greatly out of line with previous recent polls on the subject. However, to help contextualise the results and the discussion in the news story, I thought the following might be useful: tables with the results of previous recent surveys on both matters (with details on the exact question wording and other matters below the tables).

 

Wales, Tax Referendum Polls

Poll

% Yes

% No

% DK/ NR

% ‘No’ Lead

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013a

39

34

27

-5

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2013b

35

38

26

3

Western Mail/Beaufort, December 2013c

32

30

38

-2

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014d

31

42

28

11

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014e

33

39

28

6

Walesonline/YouGov, June 2014f

34

41

25

7

 

a.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1007. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

b.      Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1001. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

c.       Face-to-face poll conducted by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail. Number of respondents = 1022. Question asked: “The UK Government says it will pass a law to enable a referendum to be held on whether the Welsh Government should be able to vary rates of income tax up or down in Wales. If such a referendum were held tomorrow, how would you vote?”

d.      Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1250. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

e.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1092. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

f.        Internet poll conducted by YouGov for MediaWales. Number of respondents = 2270. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”


Wales, EU Referendum Polls

 

Poll

% Remain

% Leave

% DK/ NV

% ‘remain’ Lead

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013a

42

35

22

7

Western Mail/Beaufort, June 2013b

29

37

35

-8

WGC/YouGov, July 2013c

39

40

21

-1

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 2013d

38

40

22

-2

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014e

44

33

23

11

Walesonline/YouGov, June 2014f

41

38

22

3

 

a.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1007. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

b.      Face-to-face poll conducted by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail. Number of respondents = 988; Questions asked: “If there was a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

c.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.. Number of respondents = 1012. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

d.      Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1001. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

e.       Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1250. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

f.        Internet poll conducted by YouGov for Walesonline. Number of respondents = 2270. Question asked: “If there was a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales powers to raise or to lower the levels of income tax in Wales, how would you vote?”

Public Opinion About the Party Leaders: New Evidence

UP-DATED 20/06/14: DETAILED DATA FOR THE DISCUSSION BELOW NOW AVAILABLE HERE.

In my previous post I, along with Laurence Janta-Lipinski of YouGov, described the test poll that they ran recently. While the purpose of that poll was mainly to explore any refinements to their weighting scheme that might be necessary for future polls in Wales, we were able to place on it one very interesting set of questions. This concerned public attitudes to the party leaders.

What the public think about party leaders does matter. While it is certainly true that what many people think about a leader will be shaped heavily by what they think about their party, to at least some extent the reverse can also be the case. Party leaders can be influential in several ways. For major parties, what the public thinks about their leader as a potential Prime Minister or First Minister can be very important. More generally – though perhaps particularly salient for minor parties – the leader can be important as the chief spokeperson for that party’s message to the electorate. Finally, many people seem to view the leader as something of a proxy for the party as a whole: the sort of person they elect as leader is taken to say something about the party as a whole. For all these reasons, the general consensus among scholars of parties and elections is that leaders do matter, and often matter rather a lot.

In their latest poll, YouGov repeated a standard question about the party leaders that they have asked in several previous Welsh polls, most recently in July last year, as well as in surveys elsewhere. This tried-and-tested 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…”.

The question was then asked about the leaders of the four main UK-wide parties, plus the four party leaders in the National Assembly.

There are several interesting findings in the results that were produced. The first concerns the proportion of people who chose the ‘Don’t Know’ response rather than any point on the 0-10 scale. As I mentioned here last year, when reporting the findings of the July 2013 poll that ran this question, while some people do choose the Don’t Know option because they are genuinely undecided about a particular politician, in the aggregate the proportion of people choosing this is a good indication of the public visibility of a party leader.

The table below shows the percentage who answered Don’t Know about each leader, along with an indication of changes since this question was previously asked. (In this context, a minus score in the change column is a ‘good’ result – it shows fewer people being unable to offer a definite view about that leader).

 

Leader

% Don’t Know

% change since July 2013

David Cameron

6

-3

Ed Miliband

8

-2

Nick Clegg

8

-2

Nigel Farage

9

-12

Carwyn Jones

22

-1

Andrew RT Davies

45

+1

Kirsty Williams

40

+3

Leanne Wood

39

-1

Looking at the main UK party leaders, we see small declines from last year in the proportion offering Don’t Know responses for Cameron, Miliband and Clegg – something that quite possibly reflects merely the fact that this year’s poll was conducted shortly after the European elections. The big – though wholly unsurprising – change since last year is the increased profile of Nigel Farage, who now appears to be about as well known among our respondents as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

There is then a substantial gap between the levels of Don’t Knows for all the UK party leaders and that for Carwyn Jones. Despite having been First Minister for four and a half years, Carwyn seems to be significantly more anonymous with the people of Wales. But Carwyn, in turn, is far more well-known to the Welsh public than the three opposition leaders in the Assembly, none of whom have seen their public profile increase significantly over the last 11 months. As with the recent evidence from the BBC/ICM poll, these findings indicate the limited public awareness of devolved politics in Wales.

But what of those who did have opinions? What did they think of the leaders? The following 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 the July 2013 poll.

Leader

Mean Average /10

change since July 2013

David Cameron

3.4

+0.4

Ed Miliband

3.7

-0.7

Nick Clegg

2.7

-0.2

Nigel Farage

3.5

+0.4

Carwyn Jones

4.6

-0.5

Andrew RT Davies

3.2

+0.2

Kirsty Williams

3.9

+0.4

Leanne Wood

4.0

+0.5

A first thing that one can immediately notice from these numbers is that none of them are very high: not one of the eight leaders averages even 5 out of 10.  ‘POLITICIANS IN UNPOPULARITY SHOCK’ – remember, you heard it here first. But perhaps of more importance are two things: the relative rankings of the leaders, and the changes since last year.

Among the UK party leaders, Nigel Farage and David Cameron have seen the largest improvement in their rankings since last year. By contrast, Ed Miliband’s rating has fallen further than any other leader over the past eleven months. That the average evaluation of the Labour leader is now little better than those for the leaders of the Conservative party and UKIP, in a part of Britain that is still one of Labour’s strongest bastions, is a pretty damning indictment of Miliband’s failure over recent months to portray himself to the public as a credible alternative Prime Minister. Only 11% of Labour supporters, indeed, manage to give their party leader a 10/10 score. For Cameron and Farage what is striking about the detail of the poll is how they divide opinion: lots of people strongly dislike them, but their own party supporters are much more enthusiastic about them than Labour supporters are about Miliband. For Nick Clegg, the news is yet more gloom: he manages to attract both plenty of hostility and little fervent support.

Carwyn Jones remains by some way the most popular party leader in Wales. Yet his rating, like that of his party, has slipped notably in the last year. The official Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Andrew RT Davies, has made modest ground in his rating. But more substantial progress has been made by the leaders of the smaller opposition parties. Kirsty Williams’ ratings are far more positive than those for her UK leader Nick Clegg; her personal ratings continue to be the one vaguely positive aspect of public attitudes towards her party in Wales. Indeed, for her to be scoring so relatively well, given the generally awful political context facing her party, is little short of astonishing. Close to astonishing, too, is the progress made in public esteem over the last eleven months by Leanne Wood. Her rating has improved more than that of any other leader since last year, and on the evidence of this poll she is now the second most popular of all the party leaders in Wales. This is particularly notable for having come in a YouGov poll, rather than an ICM one: as I have noted before, YouGov appear to give systematically lower support levels to Plaid than do ICM. One imagines that Leanne’s ratings might be even stronger in an ICM poll running a similar question.

What lessons can we draw from these findings? For the 2015 UK general election, I think the Conservatives and UKIP can probably draw the most positive implications. Although David Cameron and Nigel Farage attract plenty of hostility, they are clearly popular with people who are attracted to their respective parties. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, by contrast, seem to generate relatively little enthusiasm amongst those inclined to support their parties. For the 2016 National Assembly election, the contest between the party leaders is starting to look much more even than it was in 2011, when Carwyn Jones had a big advantage over all the other party leaders in public esteem. Although Carwyn remains relatively popular, he has become a slightly tarnished asset for Labour. Kirsty Williams remains her party’s one ray of light in the current political gloom; and Leanne Wood is starting to look like a potential electoral asset for Plaid Cymru.

Trying to Get it Right, 2

 

As I’ve had cause to mention previously, working with YouGov on the Welsh Political Barometer polls, and other projects, has been a consistently positive experience. A major reason for that has been YouGov’s consistent determination to try to get things right, and their openness to suggestions about ways in which the accuracy of their polling might be improved.

Over the five years they’ve been running Wales-specific polls, YouGov have established a strong record for accuracy. But the never-ending forces of social and political change always threaten the accuracy of established methods. Elections provide an opportunity to re-calibrate the polls’ techniques against the hard data of actual votes cast.

As I discussed previously, YouGov had the best record of any GB-wide pollster in predicting the European election result from its final poll. The performance of the final Welsh poll was also generally good, even though fieldwork was conducted 8-10 days before voting. But one can always look to improve. YouGov have sought to use the European election to re-assess their polling methods in Wales. Here, Laurence Janta-Lipinski of YouGov explains further.

“As with all good polling organisations, we at YouGov are constantly looking to update our methods when we believe changes need to be made. Having evaluated our performance in Wales for the European Elections, it became evident that minor adjustments were needed to continue our hard-won record for accuracy. To evaluate any changes, a survey of our Welsh panel was undertaken and original analysis conducted amongst over 4,000 Welsh respondents. Our initial analysis, and subsequent analysis of a smaller, more targeted sample, resulted in us making two minor changes to our sampling targets. The two changes are as follows:

  • Reducing the Party Identity figures for Labour and Liberal Democrats and assigning these predominantly to others and those with no Party Identity.
  • Updating newspaper readership figures to take into account changes since their original formation in 2010.

The result of these changes is that we will tend to see somewhat lower vote shares (both in Westminster and Assembly) for Labour and the Liberal Democrats in YouGov polls in Wales, while the Conservatives and UKIP are likely to benefit.”

 

We can illustrate these changes with figures from the ‘test’ poll that YouGov ran:

Westminster Vote Intention

New Weightings

Old Weightings

Labour

39

42

Conservative

24

23

LibDem

5

6

Plaid

12

12

UKIP

15

13

Others

6

5

 

NAW Constit. Vote Intention

New Weightings

Old Weightings

Labour

36

38

Conservative

22

21

LibDem

5

6

Plaid

19

20

UKIP

12

10

Others

4

4

 

NAW List. Vote Intention

New Weightings

Old Weightings

Labour

32

34

Conservative

20

23

LibDem

5

5

Plaid

17

18

UKIP

17

15

Others

3

3

 

YouGov’s up-dated stratification and weighting scheme will be applied to the next Welsh Political Barometer poll. But in the meantime, YouGov’s test poll included a few questions that I’m sure will be of interest to you all, on ratings of the main party leaders in Wales. Results for these questions will be released on the blog later this week. They will be worth waiting for…

Detailed EP Election Results

A couple of real gems for you to get your teeth into here.

First, the House of Commons Library has now published a briefing paper detailing the results of the 2014 European election. This includes not only summaries of the results in each member-state, but also detailed results by counting area within the UK. In addition to the link here, I’ve also added in a permanent link to this paper in the Election Results section of the blog. (Scroll down to the sub-section on European Elections). For new readers to the blog, please take the time to explore the resources in the Elections Results section. I’ve tried to link to user-friendly sources on all recent elections.

Second, I was contacted this morning by Kevin Larkin, who sent me this link: it is to an interactive map of European elections in Wales since 1999. The map, which shows which party came first in each counting area – which were constituencies in 1999 and 2009, but local authority areas in 2004 and 2014 – has now been updated to include the results for 2014. It’s interesting to look at, even if not all the changes over time will be to everyone’s taste.

Enjoy!

 

New BBC/ICM Poll – Voting Intentions for the National Assembly

 

As mentioned in my previous post, BBC Cymru-Wales have this week published findings from a new poll, conducted by ICM soon after the European elections. The poll covered a number of areas, including attitudes to the policy achievements of devolution, and awareness of devolution, which I looked at earlier this week. Now let’s focus on the poll’s findings on voting intentions for the National Assembly.

ICM asked about voting intentions for both the constituency and list vote; this is the first poll to ask about these to be conducted by a company other than YouGov since the 2011 Assembly election. Before discussing these results, though, a few cautionary words about comparing them with those from YouGov. The BBC/ICM poll used the exact question wording on voting intention used by YouGov since December 2013. We don’t, therefore have concerns about different question wordings causing different results. However, we should recall that the February BBC/ICM poll, which asked about general election voting intentions in Wales, produced a lower figure for Labour support than any YouGov poll that has been conducted the 2010 general election. It also produced an unusually high Plaid Cymru figure.

We may want to bear that in mind when looking at the figures below. This is not an implied slur on either ICM or YouGov; both are, quite deservedly, internationally-respected survey companies. (The Political Betting website habitually refers to ICM as the ‘Gold Standard’ of pollsters, while among YouGov’s many achievements was estimating the recent European election results in Britain closer than any other polling company). My point is simply that the different methods used to conduct the surveys (the ICM polls have been conducted by phone, while YouGov’s use the internet) and weight the data seem to be generating small but distinct differences in the results produced: ICM have Labour support a little lower, and that for Plaid Cymru a little higher, than do YouGov. It is therefore sensible to take this into account when analysing ICM’s new findings alongside those from recent YouGov polls. We are not quite comparing like with like.

The basic figures on voting intention are as follows:

 

Constituency Vote

List Vote

Labour

36%

38%

Conservatives

19%

21%

LibDems

5%

4%

Plaid Cymru

24%

22%

UKIP

13%

10%

Others

4%

4%

Translated into a national result, and assuming uniform national swings (with all the usual health warning applied to that assumption), this would produce the following result in an Assembly election (with changes from the seat totals won in May 2011 in brackets):

 

Constituency

List

Total

Labour

26 (-2)

2

28 (-2)

Conservatives

4 (-2)

7 (-1)

11 (-3)

LibDems

2 (+1)

0 (-4)

2 (-3)

Plaid Cymru

8 (+3)

6

14 (+3)

UKIP

0

5 (+5)

5

The constituency seats to change hands would be: Aberconwy and Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire (gained by Plaid Cymru from the Conservatives), Llanelli (gained by Plaid Cymru from Labour), and Cardiff Central (gained by the Liberal Democrats from Labour).

Even with the qualifications mentioned above about comparing this poll with those conducted by YouGov, ICM’s findings are broadly consistent with the trend over recent YouGov polls for Labour’s support on the constituency vote to be slipping below the levels enjoyed through 2011-13. ICM’s findings are also consistent with the modest upwards trend in Plaid Cymru constituency vote support found in recent YouGov polls; nonetheless, this is Plaid Cymru’s highest Assembly constituency vote score since October 2009.

Looking at the other parties, UKIP continue to perform quite strongly. That said, this was not an outstandingly good poll for them by recent standards; frankly, I was actually expecting a post-European election ‘bounce’ to lift them a little higher than this, especially on the list vote. The Liberal Democrats’ ratings continue to be awful; those for the Conservatives to be steady and resilient at a decent, if not outstanding, level of support.

One slightly surprising feature of the results is that Labour’s vote share is higher on the list ballot than in the constituency one. Labour have always won a higher vote share on the constituency vote than the list in the Assembly elections, while the last poll to put their list vote share as the higher one was an NOP poll conducted in April 2007. This may simply be one of those occasional, one-off findings that polls can produce, although we won’t know this for sure until we have more such ICM polls in Wales.

If we up-date our figures on the average constituency vote scores for each party for the last three years, these ICM findings – as indicated above – strengthen the trends that were already observable for Labour support to be declining, and that for Plaid Cymru and UKIP to be rising.

 

2012

2013

2014 (so far)

Labour

48.5

45.0

39.5

Conservatives

19.25

19.7

20.25

Plaid Cymru

17.25

18.0

20.5

LibDems

7

9

7.5

UKIP

-

6.0

8.75

Whether these trends will continue, of course, is another matter. For now I’d just like to thank the BBC and ICM for adding some further information to our understanding of where the parties in Wales currently stand.

The New BBC/ICM Poll

 

BBC Cymru-Wales have this week released some of the findings from a poll conducted by ICM shortly after the recent European election. (UPDATE, 16/05/14: the data from the poll is now available, either here or in the Opinion Polls section of the site.) Later in the week there will be some (very interesting!) figures on voting intentions for the National Assembly. But first they have published some other findings, which concern attitudes to, and knowledge of, devolved government.

Among the questions asked were both general and specific ones about the impact of Wales having a National Assembly. The first one asked was a general question: “Since it was established in 1999, do you think that having a National Assembly has…”, with respondents then asked to choose between three main options (there was also a Don’t Know option available). The plurality response, chosen by 46%, was that it had ‘Not made much difference either way’; however, of those who did express a clear view, almost three times as many (34%) thought that the National Assembly had ‘Led to an improvement in how Wales is governed’, than those (12%) who took the view that it had ‘Led to a decline in how Wales is governed’. It is also notable that only among Plaid supporters (of supporters of the main parties) do an absolute majority say that the impact of devolution has been positive.

This could hardly be said to be a vibrantly enthusiastic endorsement of the Assembly and its impact, but at least the balance of opinion among those with a definite view is positive. It is perhaps worth saying, though, that you would expect the proportions with definite views – either positive or negative – to increase during the campaign for the next Assembly election. The election will, to some degree at least, focus more media and public attention on the record of devolution.

However, things look less impressive still when we examine views about the impact of having a National Assembly on what are probably the two most high-profile policy areas that are largely devolved: health and education. For education, the plurality response (chosen by 38%) is once again ‘No difference’, but among those with a view more (26%) say that having a National Assembly has ‘led to a decline in education standards’ than those (22%) who say that it has led to an improvement. And the picture is worse still for health. Here, a plurality (37%) link the National Assembly to decline, with only 23% suggesting that it has led to an improvement and 34% choosing the ‘No difference’ option. Indeed, it is notable on health that even among supporters of the Labour party – the party that has held the health portfolio throughout the fifteen years of devolved government – more people think that devolution has led to a decline in the NHS in Wales than to an improvement. These are rather grim statistics.

The survey then followed these questions on health and education with three ones about public awareness of responsibility for key policy areas. Asking the questions in this order raises an interesting point (well, interesting to me anyway) about survey context and question ordering effects. Respondents to the survey ought to have been somewhat primed by the previous questions on policy evaluations to be aware that the Assembly has something to do with education and health. So when the question asking for evaluations of the impact of the Assembly on health was directly followed by one asking ‘Which of these levels of government do you think are mainly responsible for the NHS in Wales?’, respondents had arguably been helped slightly to give the correct answer. I should make clear that I am not implying any deliberate manipulation or bad practice here; in devising a poll to cover several, inter-related topics, it’s very difficult to avoid some questions potentially influencing the answers of some other ones. But the order in which the questions were asked might be expected to inflate slightly the proportion attributing responsibility to the Assembly, compared with results we might get from a poll that did not have such previous questions.

Yet when respondents were asked about the NHS, it was still the case that fewer than half (48%) gave the correct answer (‘The Welsh Government’), while almost as many (42%) chose ‘The UK Government’ (with the remainder choosing Don’t Know). After a decade and a half of devolution, barely a plurality appear to be aware that the Welsh Government is responsible for the NHS in Wales. (An interesting side-question raised by this finding concerns the wisdom of recent Conservative attacks on the Welsh Government’s management of the NHS. If many people are not even aware that the NHS is a devolved issue in Wales, it is not clear where they would attribute blame for any poor performance on health. Many people might well be inclined to attribute blame to the Conservative-led UK Government, rather than to Carwyn Jones, Mark Drakeford et al).

Things are a bit better for education: here a clear majority (61%) offer the correct answer of the Welsh Government, with about half that number (31%) choosing the UK Government. Greater awareness of the responsibility of the Welsh Government for education probably reflects the fact that education is something that directly touches the lives of so many people, either through their own schooling or that of their children or other relatives. The education system – even more than the NHS – is something that nearly everyone gets to have some personal experience of, and that may well help raise awareness somewhat. Many people will also have had experience of, or relatives and friends with experience of, the education system in England, and that may bring home to them the policy differences between the two nations in this field.

The survey then asked about responsibility for the Police in Wales. Policing is an interesting area, being devolved in Scotland since 1999, now devolved in Northern Ireland, but not devolved for Wales. Here again, though, awareness of responsibility was poor: exactly half of respondents thought that this was the job of the UK government, but almost as many (42%) thought that this was a responsibility of the Welsh Government.

As I suggested previously, we could expect that awareness levels would probably somewhat improve nearer the time of an Assembly election. The figures in this poll paint a somewhat gloomier picture in terms of public awareness than those gathered by the 2011 Welsh Election Study. But, of course, the latter data were gathered after the 2011 ‘Welsh Spring’ (!): we had experienced both a referendum campaign and then immediately afterwards an Assembly election campaign to educate the voters into an understanding of which level of government is responsible for what. The new BBC/ICM poll arguably gives us a better insight into levels of public awareness in more ‘normal’ times. Overall, this poll shows a Welsh public that neither knows a great deal about devolution, nor thinks very highly of its impact. A decade-and-a-half into the life of our National Assembly, this is a message that supporters of devolution can hardly find encouraging.

Down the Local

 

It is now slightly over two years since the last round of Welsh local elections (except for viewers in Ynys Mon…). In normal circumstances we would therefore be slightly over half-way through the term of office of the current councils. However, among the knock-on effects of the move to five-year fixed term parliaments for Westminster has been an impact on local elections; with the term of the Assembly having been extended by one year to 2016, to avoid Welsh devolved and local elections clashing, the next round of Welsh local elections is now scheduled for May 2017. Of course, with on-going debates surrounding the Williams Commission’s recommendations for local authority reform, it is not yet quite clear exactly what local authorities we will actually be voting for in 2017.

My friend Harry Hayfield (who regularly posts on the Political Betting site) has prepared a very helpful summary of the local council by-elections that have occurred since May 2012. (Please note that this list encompasses only by-elections for the twenty-two main local authorities, not for town, parish or community councils).

In the twenty-two local authorities,there have apparently been 22 by-elections in Wales since the last local elections with the vote tally, share and seats won as:

 

PARTY

VOTES

SHARE

SEATS WON

Labour

11,441

45%

16

Plaid Cymru

4,889

19%

2

Independents

3,813

15%

3

Conservatives

2,384

9%

1

LibDems

1,438

6%

0

UKIP

778

3%

0

Trade Unionists/Socialists

424

2%

0

Ratepayers

222

1%

0

Greens

164

1%

0

National Front

108

0%

0

Harry notes that “As a lot of these are multi member wards, it is impossible to make a direct comparison with 2012; however there have been by-elections in six single member wards”; the votes (and changes) in those are:

 

PARTY

VOTES

SHARE

CHANGE

Independents

1,349

36%

+20

Labour

1,268

34%

+1

Conservatives

475

13%

-1

Plaid Cymru

447

12%

-3

LibDems

167

4%

-14

Greens

16

0%

-4

Clearly we are dealing with a relatively small number of by-elections here (particularly with the latter table), many of which will have their own local idiosyncracies. I would caution people about drawing sweeping conclusions from the figures presented above. But I think they do show Labour continuing – notwithstanding its recent opinion poll slippage – to be continuing to perform strongly. The Conservatives performance looks rather weak, though we must recall that in some parts of Wales where they are relatively strong there remains a substantial independent tradition. The news remains largely bleak for the Liberal Democrats, while it is interesting that there has yet been little evidence of UKIP establishing a major presence in Welsh local government.

Many thanks to Harry Hayfield for this very useful information. I’ll be back later in the week with information on this week’s BBC/ICM poll. Some results from that have been published today; there’s more to come, much of it very interesting…