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.

A Very Coalitional Weekend

I spent much of last Friday at the Welsh Conservative conference in Cardiff. My main reason for being there was to give a brief presentation on Welsh Attitudes to the EU, at a fringe event organised by Cardiff University.

You can see the slides from my presentation here. They included some data from the most recent (January) Welsh Political Barometer poll, which we had held back until now; the detailed results for that are here.

Continuing the coalition theme, I was then the ‘presenter’s friend’ for BBC2 Wales’ coverage of the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ conference, on Saturday afternoon. In the unlikely event that any of you missed any of that coverage, you can find it on the BBC iPlayer here.

Anything to Learn?

I was asked recently how much I thought we could draw from the 2014 European election results as an indicator of what to expect for this year’s general election. In general, I suggested, not much: I’m distinctly sceptical about using 2014 as an indicator of what to expect for 2015. EP elections are very different things from general elections, and they not only produce very different levels of turnout, but also tend to generate quite different results.

On reflection, though, one thing that the EP results may offer is some (though far from perfect) indication of the relative strength of parties in different areas. We know that there have been some interesting regional patterns in elections in Wales over recent years. To give one example, it was notable that in the 2011 National Assembly election Labour did much better in south Wales than it did further west and north. Were this to be a persisting pattern in might have some relevance for some of the party’s target seats in the general election.

It may, therefore, be of some value (though I wouldn’t want to over-state this) to look at where the various parties did relatively better and worse in 2014.

Below I’ve produced a set of very simple tables: these list the changes in vote share between the 2009 and 2014 European elections that each of the main parties experienced in the 22 Welsh local authority areas. For each party I’ve ordered them from the relatively best to relatively worst result, and above the table indicated their overall change in vote share. I’ve also italicised the local authorities that each party won. I then offer a few words of commentary about each party below their respective table.

 

Labour (overall 7.9% rise from 2009-14)

Local Authority% change in vote
Torfaen12.5
Blaenau Gwent11.6
Cardiff11.1
Newport10.7
Bridgend10.5
Swansea10.4
Caerphilly9.6
Neath-Port Talbot9.4
Flintshire8.4
Wrexham8.4
Rhondda Cynon Taf7.6
Denbighshire5.9
Pembrokeshire5.8
Vale of Glamorgan5.8
Powys5.6
Merthyr Tydfil5.3
Carmarthenshire5.1
Monmouth5.0
Conwy4.7
Gwynedd4.4
Ynys Môn3.4
Ceredigion3.3

Overall, Labour had a fairly good European election last year (though perhaps not quite as good as they would have hoped), recovering significant ground from their 2009 nadir. But it’s notable that the eight local authorities where they had their largest increases in vote share were all in south Wales. One of them, third on the list, was Cardiff – which perhaps bodes well for Labour’s chances of winning its two key target seats there. Less positive in this respect are the below-average increases in those local authorities that include the Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, Vale of Glamorgan and Aberconwy seats. And it is striking that Labour’s four least favourable results were all in the north and west – including in Ynys Môn, perhaps the most vulnerable parliamentary seat that Labour currently hold.

 

Conservatives (overall 3.8% fall from 2009-14)

Local Authority% change in vote
Pembrokeshire-1.0
Merthyr Tydfil-1.5
Powys-1.7
Ceredigion-1.9
Monmouthshire-2.1
Conwy-2.1
Blaenau Gwent-2.3
Swansea-2.5
Neath-Port Talbot-2.5
Vale of Glamorgan-2.6
Rhondda Cynon Taf-2.8
Caerphilly-3.4
Carmarthenshire-3.5
Gwynedd-4.5
Bridgend-4.5
Wrexham-5.1
Flintshire-5.2
Newport-5.6
Torfaen-6.1
Cardiff-6.2
Denbighshire-6.4
Ynys Môn-6.9

Having come first in 2009, the Tories unsurprisingly fell back somewhat in the 2014 European election in Wales. But they had notably below-average vote losses in local authorities that include several seats they are defending (Preseli Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, Vale of Glamorgan, Aberconwy and Montgomery) as well as their most plausible target seat for 2015 (Brecon & Radnor). The well above average decline in Cardiff is less positive for their chances of holding Cardiff North, however.

 

Liberal Democrats (overall 6.7% fall from 2009-14)

Local Authority% change in vote
Carmarthenshire-4.1
Ynys Môn-4.2
Denbighshire-4.4
Gwynedd-4.5
Conwy-4.7
Caerphilly-4.9
Blaenau Gwent-5.4
Neath-Port Talbot-5.5
Rhondda Cynon Taf-5.7
Pembrokeshire-6.0
Vale of Glamorgan-6.0
Flintshire-6.7
Bridgend-7.1
Torfaen-7.3
Ceredigion-7.7
Cardiff-8.0
Powys-8.0
Wrexham-8.1
Monmouthshire-8.3
Merthyr Tydfil-8.7
Swansea-9.8
Newport-10.1

The Liberal Democrats, of course, had a horrible European election. Although they were never likely to win a seat, their performance was even worse than most party members could have feared. Moreover, they experienced significantly above-average vote share declines in the three local authorities that contain their current parliamentary seats. Is there really no end to the grim tidings for the Lib-Dems?

 

Plaid Cymru (overall 3.2% fall from 2009-14)

Local Authority% change in vote
Ynys Môn0.3
Gwynedd0.1
Denbighshire-0.1
Powys-0.3
Ceredigion-0.4
Monmouthshire-0.7
Cardiff-1.3
Newport-2.0
Vale of Glamorgan-2.8
Torfaen-3.1
Carmarthenshire-3.6
Flintshire-3.6
Rhondda Cynon Taf-4.0
Swansea-4.1
Merthyr Tydfil-4.5
Bridgend-4.9
Wrexham-4.9
Caerphilly-6.0
Pembrokeshire-6.2
Neath-Port Talbot-6.6
Blaenau Gwent-6.9
Conwy-7.8

 

Plaid Cymru’s European election performance was hardly fantastic, but it was less poor than they had feared, and they just clung onto their European seat. But it is perhaps encouraging for them that they experienced their relatively strongest performances in local authorities that contain two of their existing seats as well as their two top target seats. The slightly above-average decline in Carmarthenshire is a little less encouraging for their prospects in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr and in Llanelli; however, it is perhaps worth saying that Plaid still came first in this authority.

 

UKIP (overall 14.8% rise from 2009-14)

Local Authority% change in vote
Merthyr Tydfil21.3
Wrexham18.3
Newport18.1
Caerphilly17.9
Conwy17.2
Torfaen16.8
Bridgend16.1
Flintshire15.9
Swansea15.9
Blaenau Gwent15.6
Neath-Port Talbot15.6
Pembrokeshire15.5
Rhondda Cynon Taf15.2
Ynys Môn15.2
Carmarthenshire13.9
Monmouthshire13.7
Vale of Glamorgan13.7
Denbighshire12.4
Cardiff11.6
Powys11.6
Ceredigion11.0
Gwynedd10.2

The 2014 European election was, of course, UKIP’s big breakthrough in Wales. Nowhere did their vote share increase by less than 10 percentage points. But if we look at the results above we can perhaps understand why both Labour and the Conservatives in north-east Wales have apparently been experiencing some concerns about UKIP’s challenge there.

Whose Supporters are Most Likely to Vote?

 

It has long been recognised, both by academics studying elections and by parties fighting them, that a key part of electoral success is ensuring that a party’s supporters actually turn out on the day. Parties put a lot of effort into Getting Out The Vote, and they are right to do so: research about local campaigning suggests that much of the most effective on-the-ground work that parties can do is not so much about changing people’s minds as about identifying existing or potential support and then making sure that it turns out.

It is worthwhile, then, to keep a general eye on those polls (many, but not all of them) that enquire about how certain people are to vote and to see what if any patterns emerge from such data.

When we do this for GB-wide polls at present, the general picture tends to be distinctly discouraging for the Liberal Democrats. Not only have they lost the majority of their electoral support since 2010; but even those supporters that remain tend to score a lower percentage than those of other parties on certainty to vote. Among the other major parties we don’t tend to see great differences. One clear message from the polls is that anyone who is either expecting or hoping that UKIP support will melt away by election day may well be disappointed: many UKIP supporters appear highly motivated, and they generally score no lower – and sometimes even higher – than the other main GB-wide parties on likelihood to vote measures.

When we comparing across the different regions and nations of Britain, Scotland at present typically scores significantly higher in reported likelihood to vote. This is not, I should make clear, all about the SNP; rather this reflects the general political mobilisation and interest engendered by independence referendum. It may not persist into the longer-term but at present Scotland is simply a very politically-engaged and interested place. However, it is also clear that SNP supporters are currently no less motivated than those of other parties to turn out and vote.

What about Wales? Well, as I have had cause to celebrate on the blog previously, these days we do have fairly regular Welsh polling. In addition to Welsh Political Barometer polls that we at the Wales Governance Centre conducts with ITV-Wales and YouGov – and which we hope we may be able to make slightly more regular as the election approaches – there have been several polls conducted in the last year by ICM for the BBC. Moreover, not only do we have Welsh polls in greater quantity than before; we are also fortunate in that the two companies conducting them are two of the most highly-esteemed pollsters around, and that the polls are conducted using contrasting methods, with ICM polling by phone while YouGov work via the internet.

ICM typically ask about likelihood to vote in their political polls, not least because they use this information in weighting their vote intention figures. YouGov has typically placed less emphasis on likelihood to vote in their analysis; however, our recent Barometer polls have been asking about likelihood to vote in the general election and will continue to do so right through until the election itself.

The two companies ask about likelihood to vote in a very similar manner, requesting respondents to rate their certainty to vote on a scale running up to 10. Specifically, the questions are:

ICM: “Some people have said that they would not vote in a new general election to the Westminster parliament, while others have said that they would vote. I would like to know how certain it is that you would actually vote in a general election tomorrow”.

The scale then runs from 1-10, with 10 meaning ‘certain to vote’ and 1 meaning ‘certain not to vote’.

YouGov: “On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 meaning definitely will vote and 0 meaning definitely will not vote, how likely are you to vote in the UK General Election next May?”

As ICM’s scale runs from 1-10 and YouGov’s from 0-10 they are not absolutely comparable. But they are close enough for most practical purposes. We might note that, given that YouGov’s scale runs right down to 0, then ceteris paribus we should expect lower average scores from YouGov than ICM. But things are not equal: in the two polls that these companies conducted in Wales in January, 53% of ICM’s whole sample said that they were 10/10 certain to vote, while 68% of YouGov’s sample put themselves at 10/10 on the YouGov scale. These differences are no fluke: they reflect the fact that internet samples are somewhat more likely to sample among those who tend to vote.

What about the relative certainty to vote of the supporters of the different parties in Wales? This table summarises the findings of the two most recent polls (the January ICM poll for BBC-Wales and the January Welsh Political Barometer poll):

 

 ICMYouGov
 % 10/10Average /10% 10/10Average /10
Labour678.88769.52
Cons708.84759.44
Lib-Dems809.43759.31
Plaid608.76819.45
UKIP698.89799.52

 

In general there are not huge differences between the main parties, but a couple of points to note:

  • One thing that is possibly emerging as a systematic difference between the two pollsters is the likelihood to vote of Plaid Cymru supporters. On the average out of 10 measure they have been clearly the lowest of the five main parties on both the last two ICM polls (the previous one having been conducted in September last year); neither of the last two YouGov Polls have found anything similar.
  • The surprise in the latest ICM poll is that the Lib-Dems perform so strongly. This is not only contrary to the typical pattern in the GB-wide polls, but also contrary to the previous ICM poll in Wales, where the party scored worst out of the five on the 10/10 certainty measure. I suspect that this latest finding may simply be an outlier: given the low numbers of remaining Lib-Dem supporters in Wales (this finding depends on only 25 respondents) then it becomes easier to get blips like this.

Overall, the polling doesn’t suggest that any of the parties have established a clear and decisive advantage in terms of energising their potential support at present. All have some work to do – and in an election that could be very close, the fortunes of the parties could depend a great deal on how successfully they ensure that their potential vote actually ends up being manifest in the ballot box. So this is something I’ll be keeping a close eye on – and I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting.

The White Paper on Reforming Local Government

As most readers of the Blog will be aware, last week saw the Welsh Government publish their White Paper on local authorities (Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People). This was a lengthy and wide-ranging document, including a number of issues on which the government is actively soliciting outside opinions.

Most of the context of the White Paper touches on issues that fall well outside the remit of this Blog. But one part of the Welsh Government’s stated ambitions for local government reform is to improve democracy at local level. This clearly is directly related to what this blog is about: how elections are conducted, and who is elected through these elections.

There is much about the White Paper in this respect that reads rather well. I very much enjoyed reading the following statement:

“Democracy is the foundation which gives Local Government the moral and political authority to exercise the full range of powers and responsibilities vested in it by law. We believe this was insufficiently stressed in the report of the Commission for Public Service Governance and Delivery” (p.19).

I also support some more specific statements; for instance on p.26 the White Paper states that:

“We also believe it is important that candidates in Local Government elections are open and transparent about their political affiliations. We are therefore seeking views on whether candidates in Local Government elections should be required to record their membership of a registered political party on their nomination form, whether or not they are standing on behalf of that political party”.

I very much like this idea; there could be potential complications in implementation, but I strongly support such transparency and honesty in principle.

Elsewhere, on p.34 the White Paper proposes “an overall reduction in the number of Elected Members in Local Authorities to approximate more closely the position in the other parts of the UK”. All I can say in response to this is Yes! This is something for which I have been arguing for some years; we seem to be at least a bit closer to making it a reality.

Perhaps the most controversial proposal in this area of the White Paper will be that outlined on p.35, where the government says that it is “Seeking views” on whether there should be term limits for local councillors (five terms for elected members, two terms for leaders/Elected Mayors/Cabinet members). I am uncomfortable with the principle of restricting who the public can vote for, although I am also familiar with research evidence that has suggested some potential benefits in practice. By forcing well dug-in incumbents to move on, elections can be made more competitive and the membership of elected bodies can be refreshed. At the last round of Welsh local elections, 8.0% of all ‘elected’ councillors were actually returned unopposed, so we could certainly do with more vibrant electoral competition.

But there is a much better way to achieve this aim – and one that is also consistent with the other aims for representativeness of the White Paper. Scotland introduced the Single Transferable Vote system for local elections in 2007, and had its second round of using that system in 2012. In contrast to Wales, Scotland in 2012 had no councillors elected unopposed. STV produces far fewer safe seats for parties, and thus a greater degree of competition; rather than the same people forever re-elected with little competition in particular wards, and overall outcomes that bear little relationship to the verdict of the voters.

Sadly, the issue of electoral systems is wholly ignored throughout the entire document. It is what my former boss used to call a ‘screaming silence’. In the Foreword to the White Paper, by the Minister Leighton Andrews, we are told that “we must ensure local Councils are wholly representative of local communities” (p.vi). It is very difficult to disagree with that. But it would also be very difficult to actually achieve substantial progress towards this aim as long as we continue to choose our elected council members under electoral system(s) that actively promote un-representative outcomes.

On pages 31-33, for example, the White Paper develops a discussion about diversity in council representation, and the desirability of making local councils less dominated by white men over the age of 50. Yet, while the document as a whole makes an admirable effort to draw on relevant research, here it ignores the substantial research evidence that more proportional voting systems tend to produce electoral outcomes that are not only more representative in terms of the balance between parties, but also in terms of social characteristics.

In sum: I applaud the ambitions of the White Paper in terms of the democratic representativeness of local government in Wales. But these ambitions cannot realistically and convincingly be addressed unless the issue of the electoral system we use for choosing our councillors is also confronted.

Some Interesting Data on Party Leaders

As many of you will have noticed, the number of published opinion polls is rising steadily as we approach the general election. Among those polls very recently published was a Britain-wide one by Survation; apparently the first in a series that they will be running for Mirror group newspapers.

As with most polls, there was plenty of interest in Survation’s new offering. (For detailed results, and an explanation of the internet-based method used by Survation, see here). Of particular interest were a series of questions they ran about party leaders. The questions probed both levels of knowledge and attitudes. (The attitudes questions focussed only on the four ’main’ party leaders. As well as asking for ratings of which leader would make the best Prime Minister; and how well they were each performing in their current jobs; there were some other, engagingly eccentric, questions. Respondents were asked which party leader they would ‘most trust to pay you back if you lent them a tenner’, who they would most like to have to their house for dinner, and which one would be most likely to help with the washing up. If the Liberal Democrats can make helping with the washing-up a core electoral issue, Nick Clegg promises to be a real asset to them…).

I’m going to focus more, though, on the knowledge questions. These were done in a very interesting way. To quote Survation’s own explanation:

“[R]espondents where shown a picture of political party leaders taken from their respective Wikipedia pages. Respondents were initially asked “Do you recognise this political figure?” and those who answered “Yes” were then asked to choose who they thought that person was from a list of eight options. Those who initially responded “No” are displayed as Don’t Knows in the tables”.

Got that?

Here are the figures for Messrs Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage:

 

Leader% Correct% Wrong% Don’t Know
David Cameron93.53.03.5
Ed Miliband77.412.110.5
Nick Clegg73.56.320.2
Nigel Farage77.43.319.3

 

Producing polling evidence to show up public ignorance of politics has long been the political science equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Still, readers may find some of these figures slightly disturbing – particularly given that online opinion poll panels have generally been estimated to be slightly above average for political knowledge and interest. Eight Survation respondents thought that David Cameron’s photo was actually one of Ed Miliband… Meanwhile a full 9.0% of the Survation poll thought that Ed Miliband’s photo actually depicted his brother David… And more than one quarter failed to recognise the deputy Prime Minister.

Still, at least most of the respondents correctly identified who all these political leaders were. Things got a bit more interesting when the poll probed further by asking about three leaders who might not be so well-known to many people across Britain: the leaders of the (England and Wales) Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

First, Natalie Bennett. Her levels of recognition were much lower than for the four leaders discussed above. When shown her photo, a full 85.0% of respondents immediately acknowledged that they didn’t know who she was. Of the remainder, however, fewer than half (7.0%) actually identified her correctly, with slightly more respondents choosing someone else from the list of alternative female leaders offered by Survation. (The full list of female figures was: Natalie Bennett, Caroline Lucas, Harriet Harman, Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May, Dianne Abbott and Sarah Teather. Readers may be mildly amused that 1.8% of Survation respondents thought that Natalie Bennett’s photo was of Theresa May, while 1.6% thought that it was a photo of Dianne Abbott…). Perhaps less surprising is that Bennett’s recognition levels were lowest in Scotland (which has its own Green party, with a separate leadership team) of all the nations and regions polled.

Nicola Sturgeon’s figures are very interesting. Right across Britain she scored much more strongly than Natalie Bennett: some 39.4% of Survation respondents identified her correctly. OK, that means that over 60% of them did not identify her, but that is still quite a healthy score for the leader of a Scotland-only party. This doubtless reflects the high profile accorded to Sturgeon by the Scottish referendum and her recent accession to the SNP leadership. Almost certainly of more importance to Nicola Sturgeon, however, would be her rating in Scotland: there, a full 95.5% of respondents correctly identified her – a higher figure than for any other leader among the Scottish sub-sample except for David Cameron, and more than 20 percentage points higher than for Ed Miliband. Given that profile at home I would imagine that she could cope with being correctly recognised by fewer than 30% of respondents in London.

Finally, and of most interest to us in Wales perhaps, Leanne Wood. (Sadly, no other Welsh leaders were mentioned in the poll). It is probably unsurprising that Leanne’s recognition figures across the Britain-wide sample were very low, at a mere 3.4%, while 86.7% of respondents acknowledged immediately that they didn’t know who she was. (Somewhat bizarrely, a full 2.5% of respondents thought that her picture was of Caroline Lucas). Of more interest and importance, perhaps, is what the Welsh sub-sample thought. Here we must be cautious, because we are dealing with a small group of respondents (50 in total). However, as with the slightly larger Scottish sub-sample and Nicola Sturgeon, the basic message that comes through here is so clear that we can expect that it would remain robust to a much larger sample. That message is that most respondents even in Wales did not know who Leanne Wood was: some 75.5% of respondents immediately chose Don’t Know, while only 13.3% of them correctly identified her.

The immediate implications of this finding would seem to be pretty negative for Plaid Cymru. Just over three months before a general election, the substantial majority of the Welsh public seem to have little idea who the Plaid Cymru leader is. That can hardly be a good thing for the party. It suggests that the party needs to seriously up its game in promoting Leanne Wood. However, there may be a more potentially positive message for Plaid in this data as well. We know from several YouGov surveys in Wales that Leanne scores quite positively among those who offer an opinion about her, and indeed that those ratings have been slowly rising. The general impact of the election campaign should raise her profile; and were the TV debates to go ahead with Leanne Wood representing Plaid in them, then that would provide a considerable boost for her visibility. Plaid have a leader who seems to go down quite well with most people when they are aware of her; a main task for her party is to make sure that many more people come to know who she is.

Ratio Swing Numbers for the Latest Welsh Barometer Poll

I have promised to keep publishing here Ratio Swing (RS) seat projection figures, as well as those for the more traditional Uniform National Swing (UNS) method, on the various Welsh polls that come our way. I reported both sets of figures on the blog for the BBC/ICM poll last week; but it has been ‘helpfully’ pointed out to me that I omitted to publish the RS projections for the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll. So, here they are.

For Westminster, RS produces the following projected outcome for the Barometer poll:

Labour: 28 seats (gaining Cardiff North and Cardiff Central). This is the same projection as we get with UNS.

Conservatives: 8 seats (losing Cardiff North, but gaining Brecon & Radnor). Again, this is the same projection that we get with UNS.

Liberal Democrats: 0 seats. As before, we see the Lib-Dems doing worse on RS than with UNS. On UNS projections of the Barometer poll, the Lib-Dems retain Ceredigion; on RS projections they lose the seat.

Plaid Cymru: 4 seats (holding their existing seats and gaining Ceredigion). This is a one seat better projection for them from the Barometer poll than we get with UNS.

Ratio swing continues to produce a more negative picture for the Liberal Democrats, particularly with regards to their chances of holding Ceredigion. Which method is the more credible? I’ve discussed this before, without coming to any definite conclusion. UNS certainly has problems, which the Ceredigion seat actually illustrates rather well: provided Plaid Cymru rise no higher than 13% in the national polls then it is literally impossible for UNS to project them to gain Ceredigion, even if the Liberal Democrats fall to 0% in the national polls! (The latter, I should probably add, is not something that I am expecting to see happen). On the other hand, ratio swing projects a party to lose an equal proportion of its votes in every seat, and thus will almost certainly over-state the likely vote loss experienced by a party in heartland seats that it is fighting very hard to retain.

Of course, the biggest limitation with both methods is that they do not adjust for local peculiarities and conditions. The effects of a popular local candidate, or a particularly effective and energetic campaign, are not things that we can adjust for in nation-wide projections of opinion poll figures. The best that we can realistically hope for with either UNS or RS, I think, is for them to provide a baseline or benchmark, against which we can gauge more peculiar local results. For the Liberal Democrats I suspect that what will happen in this year’s general election is that their vote will melt away substantially in most of Wales, but be significantly more resilient in their existing strongholds. The big question for them is whether it will be resilient enough.

What about the RS figures for the National Assembly vote intention figures in the Barometer poll? An RS projection of the constituency vote intention figures leaves Llanelli as the only constituency seat to change hands, going from Labour to Plaid Cymru. All other seats remain unchanged. Once we add in the Regional List vote as well, and work through the projections of the list seats, we get the following outcome:

ConstituencyListTotal
Labour27229
Cons6511
Plaid6410
UKIP077
Greens022
LDs101

Again, this produces only very minor differences from the UNS figures: Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru are each one seat better off on the RS projection than the UNS one; UKIP, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats are each one seat worse off.

Finally – may I repeat a plea that I have issued here before? Neither the UNS nor the RS figures reported here are ‘predictions’ of the results in the next general election or Assembly election. I am not attempting to say what will happen in an election in three months’ time (still less one in fifteen months’ time). They are simply formula-based projections of the current situation, as best we can judge it from the attempts by the pollsters to measure voting intentions. I’m sorry if this seems pedantic, but I do get just a tad annoyed when I see myself quoted as having ‘predicted’ that party X will win Y seats in some future election. I’m quite happy to be held accountable for any predictions I have actually made; rather less so to be judged against predictions that I have never issued. And you don’t want to have an angry psephologist on your hands – it’s not pretty.

The New BBC/ICM Poll

To add to a bumper polling week in Wales comes news that BBC-Wales have run a new poll with ICM. Although the main focus of the poll was not directly on matters electoral, they have included a question on voting intention for the forthcoming general election. The poll, conducted by telephone, was actually carried out slightly before the new Barometer poll that was published on Monday, but the results were only been released last night.

The voting intention numbers (with changes from the last ICM poll for BBC-Wales, carried out in September, in brackets) are:

Labour: 38% (no change)

Conservative: 21% (-2)

Liberal Democrats: 7% (no change)

Plaid Cymru: 12% (-1)

UKIP: 13% (-1)

Greens: 6% (+4)

Others: 2% (no change)

 

So no major changes from the previous poll, except for the significant boost in support for the Greens. The numbers are all also within the ‘margin of error’ of those produced by YouGov for the Welsh Political Barometer poll published earlier this week. Both polls showed the Greens rising by several points, raising our confidence that this is a genuine increase and not an outlier.

Using the standard Uniform National Swing assumption to project from the raw polling numbers to seat outcomes, on the figures here only two seats would change hands: Labour gaining both Cardiff Central and Cardiff North. That leaves us with the overall outcome of:

Labour: 28 seats (+2 on 2010)

Conservatives: 7 seats (-1)

Liberal Democrats: 2 seats (-1)

Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (no change)

The only difference here with the Barometer poll is that ICM’s slightly lower score for the Tories, and marginally higher one for the Lib-Dems, leads to Brecon and Radnor being projected as a marginal Lib-Dem hold rather than a narrow Conservative gain. Using the alternative Ratio Swing assumption that I have periodically discussed here on the blog, we get these seat numbers:

Labour: 30 seats (+4; gaining Cardiff Central, Cardiff North, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, and Vale of Glamorgan)

Conservatives: 6 seats (-2; losing Cardiff North, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, and Vale of Glamorgan to Labour, but gaining Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats)

Liberal Democrats: 0 seats (-3)

Plaid Cymru: 4 seats (+1; gaining Ceredigion from the Liberal Democrats)

 

In terms of how we interpret the findings of this poll for the individual parties, I’d say this:

Labour: Rather like the Barometer poll, I think this is a moderately encouraging one for Labour. Given the erosion of Labour support throughout 2014, to see a second poll this week were poll in which Labour are holding their ground, and at a level slightly above that which they secured in 2010, is at least modestly good news for them.

Conservatives: One rather surprising – to many people, at least – feature of Welsh politics since 2010 has been how well the Tories’ support levels have held up. Throughout 2014 they were steady at a level only slightly below the vote share won by the Conservatives in the 2010 general election. In that context, this is slightly disappointing poll for them: it is only the second poll since the last general election, and the first in over a year, in which the Tories have scored below at least 22%. On these numbers, and assuming uniform national swings, they don’t suffer major seat losses. But some of the seats that this poll projects the Tories to hold on uniform swings, like the Vale of Glamorgan and Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, are on these numbers starting to get very marginal. And on ratio swings, those two seats actually fall to Labour.

Liberal Democrats: This is yet another in a very long line of disappointing polls for the Lib-Dems. There are still no signs of the party recovering much, if any, any of the substantial support they have lost since May 2010. On these numbers they have lost nearly two-thirds of their support since the last general election. (And it is perhaps worth mentioning that this is after taking into account the adjustments ICM make to the raw numbers, which are markedly favourable to the Lib-Dems. On the unadjusted numbers they are down at 5%: a loss of slightly over three-quarters of their 2010 support). At least in this poll, unlike with the Barometer one, they are still in fifth place rather than sixth…

Plaid Cymru: This is very much a so-so poll for Plaid Cymru. They are up a little on their 2010 vote share, but no more than that. While on uniform swings Plaid would hold their three current seats, it does not give them a sufficient increase in support to be projected to win any of their target seats on uniform swings, although ratio swing does project them to gain Ceredigion.

UKIP: A year ago this would have been a strikingly good performance in a Welsh poll for UKIP. But given their momentum during 2014, this may actually be slightly disappointing for them. Although changes since the last poll are small and well within the ‘margin of error’, this result is consistent with the picture from many of the GB-wide polls in January, suggesting that UKIP’s momentum may currently have stalled. But there is nothing to suggest that UKIP have yet gone decisively into reverse.

Greens: An interesting feature of the political year so far has been a relatively strong performance by the Greens in the opinion polls, coupled with an apparent surge in their party membership. This poll, as with this week’s Barometer poll, very much fits in with that picture. There is nothing to indicate that the Greens are likely to win a parliamentary seat at the general election, but they are attracting notably greater support now in Wales, just as they have begun to do in England.

The Other Barometer Results

As well as probing voting intentions for the general election, our latest Welsh Political Barometer has continued to ask about how people intend to vote in several other elections and referendums that may, or will, be facing Wales in the near future.

First, we asked people about their voting intentions for the National Assembly. With the elections for this body following on exactly one year after the general election, where do the parties stand right now?

For the constituency vote, the results of our new poll were (with changes from our previous poll, in early December in brackets):

  • Labour 34% (-1%)
  • Conservative 21% (-1%)
  • Plaid Cymru 18% (-1%)
  • UKIP 13% (+1%)
  • Liberal Democrats 7% (+1%)
  • Greens 6% (+1%)
  • Others 1% (no change)

Clearly, very little has changed since our last poll, with all the parties seeing changes in their support levels but by amounts that are well within the ‘margin of error’.

On these figures, and assuming uniform national swings across Wales, only two constituency seats would change hands from the results in the last Assembly election in May 2011: the Liberal Democrats would gain Cardiff Central from Labour, while Labour would also lose Llanelli to Plaid Cymru.

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

  • Labour 32% (+1%)
  • Conservative 20% (no change)
  • Plaid Cymru 15% (-4%)
  • UKIP 16% (+1%)
  • Liberal Democrats 8% (+2%)
  • Greens 8% (+1%)
  • Others 2% (no change)

Here there is a little more change evident. Plaid Cymru see a quite large fall in their regional list vote (after having had a significant rise in our previous poll), while several other parties edge upwards by smaller amounts.

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: 28 (-2): 26 constituency AMs, 2 list AMs
  • Conservative: 10 (-4); 6 constituency AMs, 4 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 9 (-2); 6 constituency AMs, 3 list AMs
  • UKIP: 8 (+8): all list AMs
  • Greens: 3 (+3): a list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 2 (-3); 2 constituency AMs

So, for the second time in a row, our Barometer poll projects an outcome which would mean six different parties being represented in the National Assembly. This time, though, the relatively strong performance of the Greens in our new poll actually relegates the Lib-Dems to sixth place in terms of projected seats. The Greens are projected to win list seats in North Wales, Mid and West Wales, and South Wales Central.

We should note, though, that with so many different parties in the mix, several of the list seats are projected to be won by tiny margins. In South Wales West, the final list seat was allocated to UKIP over the Conservatives in a calculation that went to the third decimal place – equivalent to about two votes! As the polls bob up and down in the period leading up to the next Assembly election we should expect to see the projected regional list seat outcomes showing quite a lot of turbulence.

As well as asking about election voting intentions, however, our Barometer polls have continued to ask people in Wales how they would vote in the two potential referendums we may be facing in the not-too-distant future. One of these is on the UK’s membership of the EU. In our latest poll, 44% of respondents in Wales said that they would vote for Britain to remain in the EU and 36% said that they would vote for Britain to leave, with the remaining 20% indicating either they didn’t know or that they would not vote in such a referendum.

This 8% margin between those who want to stay in the EU and those who want to leave is quite narrow. It is, though, the largest gap that we have seen for some months in Wales. The table below shows the results of all polls on this question conducted by YouGov in Wales since the launch of the Welsh Political Barometer in December 2013. The ‘remain’ camp has led in all of them bar the first, but that lead is normally very slender. If we do see an EU referendum at some time in the next few years it is far from clear which side Wales would end up supporting.

 

Poll% Remain% Leave% Don’t Know / Wouldn’t Vote% ‘remain’ Lead
December 2013384022-2
February 201444332311
June 20144138223
July 20144136245
September 20144337206
December 20144239193
January 20154436208

 

Another question that has been consistently run in Barometer polls concerns a possible referendum on handing some powers over income tax to the National Assembly. Our latest poll finds 37% of respondents indicating that they would vote in favour of the Assembly gaining some powers to raise or lower income tax levels in Wales but 39% suggesting that they would vote against; the remaining 24% were either unsure or indicated that they would not vote.

The table below again shows the various polls conducted by YouGov on this question since the launch of the Barometer poll just over a year ago. We can see here that, as with the matter of Britain’s EU membership, opinion in Wales has consistently been fairly evenly divided on this question. But here also we find that one side has consistently led, if mostly by fairly small margins. Not one poll conducted by YouGov has yet shown those in favour of devolving income tax in the lead. It seems unlikely that Welsh political leaders will be eager to hold an income tax referendum any time soon, with the balance of public opinion being so marginal, and actually leaning towards opposition.

 

Poll% Yes% No% Don’t Know / Wouldn’t Vote% ‘No’ Lead
December 20133538263
February 201431422811
May 20143339286
June 20143441257
July 201432422610
September 20143839241
December 20143738251
January 20153739242

 

 

One Hundred Days to Go

Our new Welsh Political Barometer poll is published today – as we hit the one hundred days to go point in the general election campaign. With the election on May 7th drawing ever closer, where do each of the parties stand here in Wales?

Here is what the Barometer poll found regarding general election support for each of the main parties (with changes from our last poll, conducted in early December, in brackets):

  • Labour 37% (+1%)
  • Conservative 23% (no change)
  • UKIP 16% (-2%)
  • Plaid Cymru 10% (-1)
  • Greens 8% (+3)
  • Liberal Democrats 6% (+1%)
  • Others 1% (-1)

So what does that mean in terms of who represents us in parliament? Well, if the changes since the last general election implied by these figures were repeated uniformly across Wales, we would get the following outcome in terms of seats:

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

Only three seats, of the forty in Wales, would change hands: Cardiff North and Cardiff Central would both won by Labour (from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats respectively); Brecon & Radnor would be narrowly gained by the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats.

There’s an interesting paradox here. Party politics in the UK currently seems more uncertain and turbulent than for a long time –maybe more than it has ever been. We’ve seen big recent movements in the support levels of several parties, including the rise in Wales of UKIP and now a notable increase for the Greens. Yet, at the moment, a direct projection of poll findings produces only very small changes in terms of who wins which seats. We could be on course for an election in which lots of things change, but the basic fundamentals of which parties represent us in parliament are hardly disturbed.

Overall, what does this poll tell us about the prospects for each party, as we enter the final hundred days of campaigning?

For Labour, this poll is at least modestly encouraging. A persistent feature of the opinion polls in Wales during 2014 was the decline of Labour support: they finished the year well below the point that they started it. Our new poll seems to suggest that Labour have stopped, and may even have begun to reverse, this erosion in their support. This poll doesn’t put Labour on course to gain as many seats as they would need to help secure a parliamentary majority for Ed Miliband. But it does place them slightly ahead of where they were in 2010, and indicates that Labour are currently on track to make at least some ground in May.

The Conservatives have surprised many observers with the robustness of their support levels since 2010, holding steady at a level only slightly below the vote share they won in the last general election. Here is yet another poll that supports this pattern. Although the poll projects the Tories to lose the ultra-marginal Cardiff North, on these figures they ought to retain all their other Welsh seats. And it puts them in with a very good chance of taking Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats.

For the Tories’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats this is yet another in a long series of disappointing polls. They have at least managed a very small up-tick in their support levels. But this poll still indicates that they have lost more than two-thirds of the support that they gained in Wales in 2010, and with the rise of the Greens they are now in sixth place! There seems to be no substantial improvement in their position in sight. The best the party can do for now, it seems, is to try to hang on to the three seats they currently hold. But even that will now be very difficult.

For Plaid Cymru this poll will be at least a little disappointing, putting them as it does a little below their vote share in 2010. One piece of slightly better news for them comes from a question where YouGov asked respondents how certain they were to vote in the election: Plaid supporters were the most likely to indicate that they were absolutely certain to vote. This poll suggests that Plaid may well be able to hold their existing seats. But they are nowhere near threatening the sort of breakthrough that their sister-party is doing in Scotland.

For UKIP, this poll may also be mildly disappointing. Perhaps the big story in Welsh politics in 2014 was the UKIP breakthrough. Our latest poll indicates, as have many of the recent Britain-wide ones, that UKIP’s forward momentum may well have been checked, at least for the moment. Nonetheless, UKIP have not yet gone into a clear reverse. They are currently on course to get lots of votes in Wales in May. But the party still remain up against it to convert this significant public support into a win in any specific constituency.

Finally, what about the Greens? This poll shows them making significant ground in Wales, relegating the Liberal Democrats to sixth place (as they did in last May’s European elections). As with UKIP, however, it is currently very difficult to see the Greens converting such support into actually winning a seat anywhere. But the more proportional voting system used for devolved elections makes a Green presence in the National Assembly after 2016 look increasingly likely.