Author Archives: Roger Scully

Roger Scully

About Roger Scully

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

New Welsh Political Barometer Poll: Party Leader Ratings

The new Welsh Political Barometer poll provides us with some very interesting information questions about party leaders in Wales – and also some about prospective leaders.

As in several previous Barometer polls we asked people to rate a set of politicians on a 0-10 scale, where 0 means ‘strongly dislike’ and 10 means ‘strongly like’; respondents were also able to choose a ‘Don’t Know’ option.

First of all, we asked about all the main party leaders in Wales: First Minister Carwyn Jones for Labour, Andrew RT Davies for the Conservatives, Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats, Nathan Gill of UKIP, and Pippa Bartolotti of the Welsh Greens. As a useful point of comparison, we also asked for views about the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

As I have discusssed on several occasions in the past on the blog, the percentage of respondents who respond ‘Don’t Know’ for a leader is one piece of useful information. Although some people might choose this option because they are genuinely undecided, in the aggregate the number of people selecting Don’t Know functions well as a measure of that leader’s anonymity with the public. So, a mere seven weeks after an election campaign that did much to raise the profile of Wales’ leading politicians, how well known are each of our six party leaders? Here are the percentages of our sample who, when asked for their view of each leader, simply responded ‘Don’t Know’:

 

Jones: 26%

Wood: 22%

Williams: 41%

Davies: 48%

Gill: 62%

Bartolotti: 61%

Cameron: 6%

 

The first, and most obvious feature of these findings is that David Cameron stands well ahead of all the Welsh politicians. This is unsurprising: as Prime Minister of the UK, and having recently led his party to victory in the general election, we should probably expect more people to have a clear view about him than anyone else. Similarly, we should also expect many people in Wales to have little idea who Nathan Gill and Pippa Bartolotti are, even though the election campaign raised their profile to some degree.

More interesting is that, even after having been First Minister for more than five and a half years, Carwyn Jones lags well behind Prime Minister Cameron in public visibility. More interesting still is the impact that the general election campaign, including her participation in the television debates, has had on the visibility of Leanne Wood. In polls asking such questions prior to the general election, similar proportions of people were unable to offer a view about her as they were about Kirsty Williams and Andrew RT Davies. Now, Leanne Wood appears to stand ahead even of the First Minister in public recognition.

But what of those who did have a definite view of each leader? Among those who did state an opinion for each leader, here are their average ratings out of ten (with those of Prime Minister Cameron again included for the purposes of comparison). Changes on the last poll to ask about each leader are in brackets. (Wood, Williams, Gill and Bartolotti all appeared in the televised Welsh Leaders’ Debates during the general election campaign, and we had therefore asked about them in a Barometer poll conducted before the first such debate in April. With Labour and the Tories having been represented in those debates by their Westminster spokesmen, the most recent polling data we have for Jones and Davies is from the early March Barometer.)

Jones: 4.8 (-0.2)

Wood: 4.8 (no change)

Williams: 4.4 (no change)

Davies: 3.7 (+0.3)

Gill: 3.4 (+0.4)

Bartolotti: 3.7 (+0.4)

Cameron: 3.8 (no change)

 

Not a single one of the politicians averages even five out of ten among those with a view about them! But I suppose it is hardly news that politicians are not very popular. Interestingly, despite his recent electoral success, David Cameron ranks well below three of the Welsh leaders in popularity. Also interesting, if slightly puzzling, is that the three least well-known leaders in this list have all seen modest improvements in their ratings, while none of the other politicians have seen such shifts.

The most important thing to emerge from these leader ratings, though, I think is that for the first time Leanne Wood equals Carwyn Jones in popularity. In next year’s National Assembly election, for the first time since 1999 Welsh Labour faces the prospect of fighting at least one opposition party with a leader who matches their own leader in both profile and popularity. In the last three Assembly elections either Rhodri Morgan or Carwyn Jones have been well ahead of their rivals; that may well not be the case in 2016. And though Leanne Wood’s higher ratings have not thus far yielded significant electoral gains for her party, as Welsh voters begin to focus more on the Assembly election next year this may change.

In addition to asking about the party leaders in Wales, we thought it might be interesting to gauge attitudes in Wales to the four candidates to be the UK-wide leader of Wales’ largest party, Labour. What, if anything, have people here made of the four candidates seeking to take over from Ed Miliband?

First of all, what proportion of people were simply unable or unwilling to offer a view? The following percentage of Barometer respondents offered a ‘Don’t Know’ answer for each Labour candidate:

 

Andy Burnham: 38%

Yvette Cooper: 37%

Jeremy Corbyn: 51%

Liz Kendall: 49%

 

There is little surprising about these findings. None of the candidates yet has a public profile remotely similar to that of David Cameron. But Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper were cabinet ministers prior to the 2010 election and have been senior and visible shadow cabinet figures since then. We should therefore expect them to be more known to the public than either Liz Kendall or Jeremy Corbyn.

Among those offering a view, these were the following average ratings:

 

Andy Burnham: 4.5

Yvette Cooper: 4.2

Jeremy Corbyn: 4.4

Liz Kendall: 4.3

 

In short, it’s all much of a muchness at the moment. There is little to indicate that the people of Wales are as yet very excited by any of the people who are vying to be the next Leader of the Opposition. But neither are most people decided against any of them in a deeply negative way.

 

Postscript: My apologies, but I realised this morning that this post had left out some very pertinent information on the Labour leadership contenders – namely, what Labour’s own supporters think of the four candidates. Very (though perhaps typically) stupid of me. Anyway, to put that right, here are the average ratings out of ten of the four leadership contenders amongst those who stated a Labour voting intention for Westminster:

Andy Burnham: 5.9

Yvette Cooper: 5.7

Liz Kendall: 4.7

Jeremy Corbyn: 5.1

 

It doesn’t quite look so even now, does it? Burnham and Cooper pull some way ahead of the other two, while Liz Kendall fares notably poorly. Of course, this raises some interesting questions about what Labour should be trying to do in choosing its next leader. Should you be looking to choose someone who will appeal most to your own supporters, and raise spirits within the party? Or should you be looking for a leader best able to extend the party’s appeal to those currently not inclined to vote for it? Liz Kendall fares worst, in this poll at least, among current Labour supporters. But she has the highest ratings by some way among those currently intending to vote for the Conservatives. That’s an interesting one for Labour members and supporters to ponder, I think.

Voting Intention Figures from the new Welsh Political Barometer poll

Below is the brief analysis I wrote up for ITV-Wales on the voting intention figures from our new Welsh Political Barometer poll.

 

Support for the main parties in Wales has changed little since May’s general election. Meanwhile, Wales is currently on course to have a National Assembly with a significant UKIP presence. These appear to be the key messages emerging from today’s new Welsh Political Barometer poll, the first definitive measure of political attitudes in Wales since the general election.

Our Barometer poll asked people about voting intentions for Westminster. Yes, the next general election is almost five years away. But asking this question provides us with the first assessment of whether support for the parties in Wales has changed since May 7th. We found the following levels of support for the parties (with changes on the general election indicated in brackets):

 

Labour: 37% (no change)

Conservative: 28% (+1)

UKIP: 15% (+1)

Plaid Cymru: 12% (no change)

Liberal Democrats: 4% (-2.5)

Greens: 3% (no change)

Others: 1% (no change)

 

In short, very little has changed in the seven weeks since the general election. This will probably strike most people as unsurprising; but it may be worth bearing in mind that this picture of continuity is in sharp contrast to what we saw five years ago. Then, support in Wales for the Liberal Democrats halved within weeks of the coalition agreement being signed, while Labour rapidly recovered in popularity. There has been no such dramatic turnaround in party fortunes this year.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, if we apply the changes implied by this poll since the general election uniformly across Wales, then no seats at all are projected to change hands between the parties.

Over the next year, though, increasing attention will focus on the parties’ prospects for next May’s election to the National Assembly. So where do the parties stand here? As has typically been the case in the past, our new Barometer poll shows some parties getting rather different levels of support for an Assembly election than for Westminster. In particular, Plaid Cymru do notably better when voters are thinking about a devolved election.

For the constituency vote for the Assembly, these were the levels of support indicated for each of the parties (with changes from the most recent previous YouGov poll in Wales, which was conducted immediately prior to the general election, again indicated in brackets):

 

Labour: 35% (no change)

Conservatives: 23% (+1)

Plaid Cymru: 20% (-1)

UKIP: 14% (+2)

Liberal Democrats: 5% (-1)

Greens: 3% (1)

Others: 0% (-1)

 

On the standard assumption of uniform national swing, this poll would project only two constituency seats to change hands from the last Assembly election in 2011: the Liberal Democrats would narrowly regain Cardiff Central from Labour, while Labour would also lose Llanelli to Plaid Cymru.

The figures for the regional list vote were as follows (with changes from the previous Barometer poll again indicated):

 

Labour: 32% (no change)

Conservatives: 22% (no change)

Plaid Cymru: 20% (no change)

UKIP: 14% (+1)

Liberal Democrats: 5% (-1)

Greens: 4% (no change)

Others: 3% (no change)

 

Again assuming uniform swings from 2011 across Wales, and after taking into account the distribution of constituency seats when allocating the list seats, this gives us the following projected overall outcome:

 

Labour: 28 seats (26 constituency seats + 2 list seats)

Conservatives: 12 seats (6 constituency seats + 6 list seats)

Plaid Cymru: 10 seats (6 constituency seats + 4 list seats)

UKIP: 8 seats (8 list seats)

Liberal Democrats: 2 seats (2 constituency seats)

 

Clearly this poll suggests that the picture of public support has remained hardly changed since early May. None of the parties have seen changes in their support levels that are at all dramatic, and those minor changes seen could well be little more than random fluctuations within the ‘margin of error’. But the poll also indicates that Labour remains tantalisingly close to a majority of seats in the National Assembly, while many of the list seats are currently projected to be won by only tiny margins. With more than ten months to go until the Assembly election, everything is still very much up for grabs.

 

Postscript: And for the real hard-core cognoscenti out there, here are the Ratio Swing projections from the poll.

For Westminster, 39 of the 40 seats produce the same outcome on Ratio Swing as with UNS. The only seat that generates a different outcome is our old friend Ceredigion – there, the decline in Lib-Dem support since the general election (according to this one poll) leads Ratio Swing to project Plaid Cymru to gain Ceredigion. However, I would caution people that ratio swing was regularly projecting Plaid to gain Ceredigion prior to the general election, and we know how it actually turned out.

For the Assembly, Ratio Swing, as with UNS, projects only two constituency seats to change hands, but they are not the same two seats. Both project Plaid to gain Llanelii from Labour. But while UNS projects the Lib-Dems to gain cardiff central from Labour, under Ratio Swing it is the Lib-Dems who lose a constituency seat – their only remaining one in Brecon & Radnor.

After taking into account these constituency projections in calculating the list seats, we get the following overall projected outcome for the national Assembly under Ratio Swing:

Labour: 29 seats (27 constituency seats + 2 list seats)

Conservatives: 13 seats (7 constituency seats + 6 list seats)

Plaid Cymru: 10 seats (6 constituency seats + 4 list seats)

UKIP: 7 seats (7 list seats)

Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 list seat)

First Results From the New Welsh Political Barometer Poll: the NHS

The first results to be published from the new Welsh Political Barometer poll concern attitudes towards the NHS in Wales. YouGov asked respondents to the Barometer poll two interesting questions about the health service, a topic that will surely be one of the most important issues – indeed, possibly the most important – in next year’s National Assembly for Wales election.

The first question asked respondents the following:

“To what extent, if at all, do you trust the NHS in Wales to provide a high quality service?”

The overall profile of answers given is re-produced below, alongside those given by adults in England to an almost identical question (which asked about the NHS in England) in a parallel YouGov poll run at pretty much the same time last week.

ResponseWalesEngland
Trust a great deal1217
Trust a fair amount4957
Do not trust very much2717
Do not trust at all94
Don’t Know36

 

The positive news here is that the majority of people in Wales trust the NHS to provide a high quality service at least ‘a fair amount’. The less positive news is that ratings here are notably, if not massively, lower than in the parallel poll in England. Fewer people in Wales have positive levels of trust in the NHS, and greater numbers express distrust.

A rather similar pattern is evident in a second question that was included in the Barometer poll: this one asked about future expectations of the NHS:

“Do you think the standard of care in the NHS in Wales will get better or worse over the next few years, or will it stay much the same?”

Again, thanks to our friends in YouGov, we are able to compare Welsh responses to this question with a near-identical question included in a parallel study run in England:

ResponseWalesEngland
Get better1213
Get worse4737
Stay much the same3241
Don’t Know108

 

Just as in ratings of trust in the NHS at present, when we ask people about the future we see (very slightly) less optimism in Wales than England, and greater levels of pessimism. In both nations people are much more likely to think that things will get worse than get better in the NHS over the next few years. But whereas in England pessimists outnumber optimists by just under three-to-one, in Wales the ratio is very nearly four-to-one.

These findings do tend to suggest that public evaluations of the performance of the NHS in Wales are not particularly strong, and also that people are not very optimistic about its future.

One reasonable counter to the findings presented here might be that “it’s just one poll”. Except that it isn’t just one poll. In a much more detailed evaluation of public attitudes to the NHS published in January of this year, Lord Ashcroft found that there were consistent national differences in public evaluations of the NHS, measured in a number of different ways. Public evaluations were consistently the most positive in Scotland, less so in England, and the most negative in Wales.

In short, our findings here do not seem to be some freak outlier, but symptomatic of a consistent pattern in public attitudes. The broader political implications of this are something that I suspect we will return to on the Blog over the next few months.

I’ll be back later tonight with the voting intention figures from the Barometer poll. There will be other findings rolled out over the next few days.

A New Welsh Political Barometer Poll

I expect that many of you will be pleased to learn that a new Welsh Political Barometer opinion poll is on the way. First results from the new poll will be published next Monday, June 29th. This will be the first opinion poll conducted in Wales since the general election. As has been our established practice, the poll will include voting intention figures for both the National Assembly and Westminster, as well as for EU membership and Income Tax Devolution referendums. And they will be a few other delights as well.

That will be fun, won’t it?

Before we publish any findings, however, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a brief word about methodology. After their not-entirely-satisfactory experience in the general election, all the main pollsters have been reviewing their methods. (For a useful discussion of the first public meeting of the British Polling Council’s Inquiry into the performance of the opinion polls at the general election, see Anthony Wells’ excellent overview here). Some of the pollsters, in their GB-wide polls, have already implemented significant methodology changes since the election.

Our friends in YouGov have not yet completed their own internal investigations and considerations as to what changes might be necessary. The methodology of the new Barometer poll will therefore be largely unchanged from their pre-election polls in Wales, with one fairly small exception. In the words of Adam McDonnell, a Research Executive at YouGov who has worked with us on this poll:

“Currently, while we work out our new sampling frames and weighting, we are using the same sampling methods as pre-election and the same weight variables with the exception of Party Identification. Instead of Party Identification we are weighting by 2015 general election result.”

Given that the final YouGov Welsh poll was actually very accurate – only being about one percentage point too low for the Conservatives and one point too high for Labour, with the other parties being estimated very accurately indeed – these changes should not make much difference to the results. They should probably tend to reduce Labour’s reported support very slightly compared with the pre-election methodology, and increase that of the Conservatives by a tiny amount, while leaving that of the other parties pretty much unchanged.

Therefore, if we see in our new poll any substantial changes in reported support levels for the parties (when compared with our previous YouGov polls in Wales), then those shifts will not be ones that can simply be accounted for by methodological changes. Shifts in party support might reflect normal sampling variation between individual polls, or they might reflect  genuine changes in the public mood. But methodological changes by YouGov would not be responsible. I hope this clarifies how we should respond to next week’s poll.

(By the way, in case you are wondering – at time of writing this I have not seen any results from the poll. So I am not trying to offer tantalising hints of what the findings are. I can’t do that because I don’t know – and nor does anyone else yet either!)

Does ‘Elections in Wales’ Have a Future?

The aftermath of a major election is generally a time for reflection and consideration. This is certainly so for political parties, and for those who cover elections in the news-media. But such is also very much the case for academics, including those strange people who run election-related blogs.

Having been given back much of the time in May which I expected to have to spend offering commentary on attempts to form a coalition or minority government, I’ve been able to spend a little time since 7th May thinking about the future of Elections in Wales. The good or bad news, depending on your point of view, is that I do intend to continue with the blog. However, there are likely to be a few changes and adjustments over the next few months.

First of all, over the next few months the pace of posting is likely to dip a bit. In the build-up to the general election I was sometimes posting several pieces a week. That is a bit difficult to sustain when I am doing the blog in my spare time: running this site is not what Cardiff University pay me to do as my day job. I therefore now intend to throttle back towards my more customary ‘cruising speed’ of one post a week. And even that rather more leisurely pace will not be maintained during the couple of weeks in the summer when I am on holiday.

Second, there may well be something of a re-design and refreshment of the look of the blog. The current look – which I like to think of as ‘basic but functional’, though others might reasonably take a more critical view – stems partly from the limitations of the platform that I use but mainly from the much more substantial limitations imposed by my own technical (in)competence. However, Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre – which is where I work – is having its web presence enhanced. As part of that process, we hope to be able to improve the look of this blog and link it rather more closely to the WGC web-site. The aim will be to retain all the good bits of the current site, but to make it look a bit better. (So, basically, to achieve the exact opposite of what the BBC did the last time that they ‘enhanced’ their news website …). Look out for that in the next few weeks.

Third, there will now be, fairly naturally, a shift in the focus of the blog, somewhat away from the UK general election and towards other matters. The most obvious of these is next May’s Welsh Assembly election: that will undoubtedly be a central focus for the blog in the next months. But there is also the EU referendum to consider, and I will be trying to make sure that the blog discusses the Welsh dimension of that vote. And then we have a potentially fascinating set of local government elections in 2017 as well.

In short, the outlook for elections (and referendums) in Wales in the period ahead appears anything but dull. And Elections in Wales will, I intend, be doing its own little bit to try to contribute to debates and understanding of these events.

Post-Election Review

Yesterday, the Wales Governance Centre here at Cardiff University held a post-election review seminar.

In addition to a free breakfast, those attending had the rather more dubious delight of listening to a presentation by me about the election results and what we can make of them.

The event was filmed, and I’ll post a link to the video version of this as soon as it is available. In the meantime, a PDF version of the slides from my presentation is available here.

Postscript: The video of the presentation is now available here. Enjoy!

Scully and Wyn Jones Live…

In September last year, my good friend Richard Wyn Jones and I gave a ‘Masterclass’ session on Public Attitudes to Welsh Devolution to a group of senior staff in the Welsh Government.

It was a very enjoyable session to do. What I hadn’t realised at the time was that we were being filmed, and that the film of the Masterclass would be published on YouTube.

So, anyway, for those of you who might (God only knows why!) wish to view Scully and Wyn Jones Live in Concert: Part I of the Masterclass is here; and Part II is here.

‘Highlights’ from this session may well be included in our forthcoming Live double-DVD release. But for those of you wanting to get ahead of the game…

Free Breakfast!

Next Monday morning, in the Pierhead Buiding in Cardiff Bay, the Wales Governance Centre will be holding one of our occasional Breakfast Seminars. This one will be a review of the 2015 General Election in Wales.

Further details on the event, including how to register, are available here.

The bad news is that, if you do attend, you have to listen to me talking about the election. The much better news is that there is no charge to attend the event, and a free breakfast is included.

For those of you who can’t attend, I’ll post the slides after the event. But I hope to see a few of you there.

Why Wales Should Count in the Morning

[NOTE: This piece was drafted prior to the suggestion being made that the EU membership referendum might be held on the same day as the devolved elections in 2016.)

 

This piece constitutes something of a change of direction for the Blog. We’ve spent a lot of time over recent weeks and months looking at the general election, and at the support levels of the parties. This has all been fairly data-heavy: i.e. grounded in the quantitative evidence of surveys and election results.

Today, I hope you might permit me to indulge in a little bit of, largely evidence-free, editorialising. I’d like to make the case for changing one specific feature of how next year’s National Assembly for Wales election is run. Specifically, I’d like to propose that the votes in this election be counted not overnight, as has normally been the case, but on the following morning.

Each voter in next year’s devolved elections, in both Scotland and Wales, will have two votes. One is for an individual representative in their constituency. The second is for a party; that vote will be used to allocate the four regional list seats within each of the five regions of Wales. (For more details on how the electoral system in National Assembly elections works, see here). The voter receives two ballot papers. (They tried using a single ballot paper, and machine counting of those papers, in Scotland in 2007, but that did not go well.) Once you have selected your preferred constituency candidate, and preferred party on the list, you then take both ballot papers and place them in the same ballot box.

Once the polls close at 10pm, the sealed ballot boxes will be transported to the relevant counting centre. After the various verification checks are gone through, the ballot papers then have to be separated into constituency and list ballots. (They usually make them different colours, which helps). Then the counting can begin. Most places seem to count and declare the constituency contests first. Even so, in recent elections it has taken quite a long time for the first results to come in, and many of them haven’t been declared until about 3am or 4am – some five to six hours after the close of poll.

It hasn’t always been like this. In the inaugural National Assembly election in 1999, counting was done on the following morning. The same practice was followed in one region of Wales (north Wales) in 2011. I propose that we follow this practice across Wales next May.

Why, you might well ask. Well, I see two advantages to Wales in counting the following morning. The first is that a morning count would help raise the profile of the National Assembly election results, both in Wales and across the rest of the UK. In the overnight election shows, the bulk of the attention of the media and public across the UK, and among some in Wales too I daresay, will be elsewhere: on the results for the Scottish Parliament election, and on the English local council elections. By counting simultaneously with those elections, we in Wales are pretty much guaranteeing that we will be only the third most-covered election story of the night. If we were to delay the count until the following day, there is some chance of the media across Britain paying rather more attention to Wales: with the bulk of the counts completed in Scotland and England, we would be the only major results coming out at that stage. This would therefore allow for greater media focus on Wales. Given the low levels of public and media knowledge of Welsh politics, I think we should do everything we reasonably can to help raise the profile of the election. And this would be one, small, thing that we easily could do. Gwnewch y pethau bychain!

The second reason for favouring doing the count the following morning is that it will allow the whole process to be done rather more efficiently. Instead of having people waiting around in the count centres until the ballot boxes arrive, and then having them working through the night, we can do it in a much better way. The teams of counters can all get a good night’s sleep (unless they are political obsessives, like me, who will be watching the Scottish and English results coming in through the night). Then, when they come in to do the count the following morning, all the ballot boxes can be in place and everything ready to go for when the count actually starts. That ought to allow the counting to be done much more speedily than it has been in recent Assembly elections.

This might seem a slightly odd thing to write about. I know that it’s not the most important issue facing the next Welsh Assembly election, by some way. Nonetheless, I hope that this is something that the powers-that-be consider. It is one (albeit very small) way in which I think we could make the next National Assembly election a little better, whatever the result.

So How Did the Ashcroft Polls Do In Wales?

One of the innovations seen in the period prior to the 2015 general election was the large number of constituency polls published – nearly all of them by Lord Ashcroft. We had quite often seen ‘marginals’ polls reported previously, but those were usually done with a standard sample size spread over a number of marginal seats – and thus having only a small number of respondents in each constituency. What was new about Lord Ashcroft’s polls was full-scale samples done in a large number of individual seats.

Another innovation of Lord Ashcroft’s polls was to ask, in all those conducted, two different voting intention questions. The first one was a standard, ‘generic’ question:

‘If there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?’

 

This was then followed by a question which specifically prompted respondents to think about the particular dynamics in their own seat:

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

 

The responses to this latter, constituency-specific question were generally used as the ‘headline’ figures reported from the polls. Now that the election is over, we can evaluate how these constituency polls, and the two voting intention questions contained within them, performed in relation to the actual election results across the five Welsh seats that Lord Ashcroft polled – Cardiff North, Cardiff Central, Brecon & Radnor, Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire, and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Before we do so, one word of caution should be entered. A poll is always an attempt to measure opinion at the time it was taken: in the phrase Lord Ashcroft himself likes to use, it is ‘a snapshot, not a prediction’. Some of the Ashcroft constituency polls were done quite some time before the election, and the further away from the election a poll is taken the less reliable we should expect it to be as a guide for how the election actually turns out. Please bear that in mind.

That qualifier entered, below I present five tables, for each of the five seats polled. (For Cardiff North, which was polled twice by Lord Ashcroft, we’ll take the more recent of the two polls). For each party the table will list three key pieces of information:

  • That party’s share on the ‘generic’ voting intention question
  • That party’s share on the constituency-specific voting intention question
  • Their actual 2015 general election result in the seat

The tables also list, at the bottom of the ‘generic’ and ‘constituency-specific’ columns, the overall mean error: how much, on average, the polling figures differed from the actual election result per party.

 

Cardiff North (July 2014)

PartyGenericConstituencyResult
Conservative313042.4
Labour384138.3
UKIP14127.7
Plaid Cymru574.5
Lib-Dems563.8
Greens332.5
MEAN ERROR3.374.10

 

Cardiff Central (September 2014)

PartyGenericConstituencyResult
Labour373640.0
Lib-Dem162427.1
Conservative221914.7
UKIP1096.5
Greens756.4
Plaid Cymru695.0
MEAN ERROR4.423.22

 

Brecon & Radnor (November 2014)

PartyGenericConstituencyResult
Conservative322741.1
Lib-Dems183128.3
Labour181514.7
UKIP21178.3
Plaid Cymru784.4
Greens423.1
MEAN ERROR6.485.08

 

Carmarthen West & South Pembs (Dec 2014)

PartyGenericConstituencyResult
Conservative323343.7
Labour302928.7
UKIP161411.6
Plaid Cymru131610.4
Greens333.2
Lib-Dems442.4
MEAN ERROR3.633.47

 

Vale of Glamorgan (February 2015)

PartyGenericConstituencyResult
Conservative403846.0
Labour323232.6
UKIP101010.7
Plaid Cymru8125.6
Lib-Dems542.6
Greens532.1
MEAN ERROR2.53.0

 

 

So what can we make of all that? A few observations:

  • When comparing the elections outcomes to the results of the two voting intention questions, the constituency-specific question was, overall, closer to the result in three of the seats (albeit only very narrowly, by 0.16% in one instance) while the generic question was closer in the other two. In four out of the five seats (all except Cardiff North) the generic question ‘predicted’ the correct winner; the constituency-specific question got it right in three out of five (incorrectly ‘predicting’ the Liberal Democrats to win in Brecon & Radnor). Certainly in Wales there was no demonstrable superiority to either form of question.
  • When we look at specific parties, we do find that the constituency-specific question was closer to the correct result for the Liberal Democrats in the two examples where they were defending their own seats. But for Plaid Cymru, the generic question was closer to the final result in all five constituencies.
  • There was also no very obvious trend for the Ashcroft polls to be closer to the actual result the closer they were conducted to the election.

Overall, were these constituency polls worth it? Perhaps that depends on whether you have a few tens of millions of pounds going spare… We await a full analysis of all the Ashcroft constituency polls across Britain. But the experience of them in Wales does suggest that they were certainly not exempt from some of the problems that faced the opinion polls in 2015.

Postscript (02/06/15): Just a brief addition to this post, in response to some comments both here and on Twitter, about the performance of Plaid Cymru in these polls. The first point is a reminder that all the Ashcroft constituency polls were conducted by telephone. (There is a very good reason for this: even the company with the largest on-line panel, YouGov, would struggle to find samples of 1000 people within individual constituencies). Therefore, suggestions that supporters of Plaid are over-represented on the web can’t possibly be relevant to the apparent tendency of these Ashcroft polls to over-state Plaid support.

A second point is that, to my mind at least, the over-statement of Plaid support in these polls, and particularly on the constituency-specific vote, remains somewhat puzzling. It is not as if polls generally have tended to over-state Plaid support – either in the past or this year, where the eve-of-voting YouGov poll got, on its generic voting intention question, Plaid support more-or-less dead on. Moreover, if we look to Scotland, we find that both the Ashcroft constituency polls and the nation-wide ones were pretty good indicators of the major SNP advance. So quite why Ashcroft’s polls should have tended to over-state Plaid’s support, in seats where they were never in contention, remains something of a minor mystery within Welsh psephology – something for us to puzzle over during the long winter nights a few months hence.