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.

Where We Work We Win?

One of the more remarkable statistics about the last general election in Wales is that the Liberal Democrats gained more than 10% of the vote in every Welsh seat bar Ynys Môn. This statistic speaks to a time that was only a few years ago but, politically, feels almost like another century. Since entering coalition in London, times have been unremittingly tough for the Lib Dems. Although the 2011 devolved elections saw the Welsh party mostly escape the heavy losses inflicted on their Scottish counterparts, last year’s European elections were particularly grim for the party here in Wales: their 3.9% share of the Welsh vote, which put them in sixth place, was by some way the Lib-Dems’ lowest vote share anywhere in Britain.

Nor are things looking obviously brighter for the forthcoming general election. The party’s showing in the Britain-wide opinion polls remains stubbornly low, at around one-third of their vote share in 2010. The picture of the Welsh polls is similar – indeed, possibly even worse. The most recent Welsh Political Barometer had the party in sixth place, on five percent of the vote: almost exactly one-quarter of the 20.1% that they won here in 2010.

One thing that has kept Lib-Dem spirits up, however, is the belief that while the party may suffer substantial vote losses in seats that they don’t hold, they will be able to put up a much stronger fight in many seats they do hold. Well-known and hard-working incumbent Liberal Democrats MPs, many in the party contend, will be much more electorally resilient than the national polls would suggest.

Is there any evidence to support this claim? Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polls have provided a mixed picture. In some of their seats the Lib-Dem vote seems to be holding up well, but in others much less so. Two such polls conducted in Wales illustrate this mixed picture well. A poll conducted in Cardiff Central in September 2014 suggested that the Lib-Dems’ vote share was down by around two-fifths on 2010 and that they were well behind Labour in the seat; however, another poll done two months later in Brecon and Radnor had their vote holding up rather better and the party clinging onto a narrow lead from the Conservatives.

Is there any other evidence we can bring to bear? Lacking a spare few tens of thousands of pounds to conduct my own series of constituency polls – I had a look down the back of the sofa, but no luck – I’ve been trying to see what clues we might be able to draw from the polling evidence that we do have. The detailed data supplied by YouGov for each Welsh Political Barometer poll contains the parliamentary constituency of each survey respondent. We also, crucially, have a measure of how each respondent voted – if they did vote – in the 2010 general election. With this information to hand, we are then able to compare directly how the same individuals, across different types of constituencies, voted in 2010 with how they say they intend to vote now.

What I’ve done is combine the last three Welsh Political Barometer polls: those conducted in December, January and March. (Between them they give us 3,446 total respondents; 604 of whom are recorded by YouGov as having voted for the Liberal Democrats in the 2010 general election. This is slightly below the percentage of people in Wales who actually voted Lib-Dem in 2010, mainly because the polls include some people who didn’t vote in 2010).

These three Barometer polls showed the Lib-Dems on 5% (December), 6% (January) and 5% (March). The average of 5.33% across the three polls is just barely above one-quarter of the support level the party was winning in 2010. But to what extent is this decline uniform? Or do the detailed Barometer figures show the party doing notably better in their four key seats? To assess this, I’ve split those respondents into two categories:

  • Those respondents in the three parliamentary seats that the Lib-Dems currently hold (Brecon & Radnor, Cardiff Central, and Ceredigion), plus the one other seat that they appear to be seriously targeting this time around, Montgomery. (I did ponder whether or not to include Montgomery; however, the Lib-Dems own recent Welsh conference talked very positively about their prospects in this seat, so I have decided to take them at their word. It is maybe worth adding that I checked, and the results I report below do not differ substantially if Montgomery is removed from this category).
  • The respondents in the other 36 seats.

The data is all taken from national Welsh polls and so they are not sampled to the demographics of each of the specific constituencies. For this reason the findings should be seen as indicative rather than definitive. Still, I think they are interesting.

In the 36 non-core seats, we see the Lib-Dems’ support falling by more than three-quarters on that gained in the 2010 election. That is much as we would expect to see based on the polls. What about the four key seats? Well here we do indeed see clear evidence that the Lib-Dems are doing better in those seats. But when you are losing about three-quarters of your support nationally, better is very much a relative term. What it means in the case of the Lib-Dems is that, according to the figures from these recent polls, they have lost slightly more than three-fifths of their 2010 support among our sample of respondents in these four seats. Yes, that is better than elsewhere. But it is not very much better.

If they do lose three-fifths of their 2010 support even in their four key seats, then the Liberal Democrats would come nowhere near to regaining Montgomery. They would also be very unlikely to hold any of Brecon & Radnor, Cardiff Central, and Ceredigion. Is the game up, then, for Roger Williams, Jenny Willott and Mark Williams? Not necessarily. There are several reasons for being cautious in interpreting these figures.

  • First, these figures are taken from polls conducted between December 2014 and March 2015. As all readers of this blog should know by now, a poll is not a prediction of a future event but an attempt to measure attitudes at the time it is taken. Several weeks of remaining campaigning could well improve the Lib-Dems’ position in general.
  • Second, the Lib-Dems will be campaigning hard in their key seats over the next few weeks. As with campaigners for all parties in marginal seats, they will be trying to get voters to focus on the local dynamics of their particular constituency. (Think ‘Focus’ leaflets with slightly dubious bar-charts, and horse-racing graphics alongside the message that ‘It’s a Two Horse Race’…). As this message gets across, one would expect the Lib-Dems’ position in their key seats to improve somewhat.
  • Third, these polls used a generic voting intention question. Yet Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polls have shown that one can get rather different results when asking people to think specifically about their own constituency.

In short, the evidence at present is that the Welsh Lib-Dems will do rather better than the national swings in their four key seats. In the rest of Wales they are likely to see their vote slip back very considerably from 2010. However, with more than 10% of vote in every seat but one last time, the Lib-Dems have a lot of votes they can afford to lose. What matters to them this year is their vote in their key strongholds. Here we must, I think, expect them to be considerably more resilient. The key question for the Liberal Democrats in 2015 is whether better will be good enough.

General Election Briefing

This morning, at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay, Richard Wyn Jones and I gave a briefing on the forthcoming general election, concentrating in particular on the situation in Wales.

The slides are available here. And, in the unlikely event that you should wish to watch me, the video of my presentation is available here. (Please note that the video has a little gap in the middle – they edited out the bit where the fire-alarm went off, just as I was about to discuss Nigel Farage….)

The Latest Figures on Referendum Voting Intentions

Among the other things – in addition to Westminster and National Assembly voting intentions – that the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll asked about were how people might vote in the two potential referendums that have been mooted for Wales. These are, respectively, a UK-wide vote on British membership of the European Union, and a vote in Wales on whether the National Assembly should be given some powers over income tax.

So what did we find? Here, first, are the figures for an EU referendum:

“If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

I would vote to remain a member of the European Union: 43%

I would vote to leave to European Union: 36%

I would not vote: 5%

Don’t Know: 17%

 

So as with nearly all previous surveys in Wales that have asked about this matter, we find here a small-ish lead for those wishing to remain in the EU. The table below summarises the findings of all recent polls on the matter:

 

Wales, EU Referendum Polls

Poll% Remain% Leave% DK/ NV% ‘remain’ Lead
ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 201314235227
Western Mail/Beaufort, June 20132293735-8
WGC/YouGov, July 20133394021-1
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 20134384022-2
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014544332311
Walesonline/YouGov, June 201464138223
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June-July 201474136245
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 201484337206
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 201494239193
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, January 2015104436208
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, March 2015114336227

 

  1. 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?”
  2. 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?”
  3. 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?”
  4. 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?”
  5. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1250. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”
  6. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for Walesonline. Number of respondents = 2270. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”
  7. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1035. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”
  8. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1025. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”
  9. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1131. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”
  10. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1036. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”
  11. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1279. Question asked: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

 

And what about income tax? Well, here is what we found on that:

“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?”

In favour of powers to raise or lower the levels of income tax in Wales: 37%

Against powers to raise or lower the levels of income tax in Wales: 36%

Would not vote: 7%

Don’t Know: 20%

 

This is the first time that the prospective Yes camp in any income tax referendum has led for some while – as the following table make clear:

 

Wales, Income Tax Referendum Polls

Poll% Yes% No% DK/ NR% ‘No’ Lead
ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 20131393427-5
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 201323538263
Western Mail/Beaufort, December 20133323038-2
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014431422811
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 201453339286
Walesonline/YouGov, June 201463441257
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, June-July 2014732422610
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, September 201483839241
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, December 201493738251
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, January 2015103739242
ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, March 201511373627-1

 

  1. 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?”
  2. 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?”
  3. 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?”
  4. 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?”
  5. 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?”
  6. 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?”
  7. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1035. 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?”
  8. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1025. 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?”
  9. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1131. 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?”
  10. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1036. 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?”
  11. Internet poll conducted by YouGov for ITV Wales. Number of respondents = 1279. 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?”

 

Voting Intentions for the National Assembly

In addition to probing voting intentions for the forthcoming general election, our latest Welsh Political Barometer has continued to ask about how people would intend to vote in an election to the National Assembly. Where do the parties stand right now in devolved voting intention?

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

  • Labour 37% (+3%)
  • Conservative 22% (+1%)
  • Plaid Cymru 20% (+2%)
  • UKIP 11% (-2%)
  • Liberal Democrats 6% (-1%)
  • Greens 4% (-2%)
  • Others 1% (no change)

On these figures, and assuming uniform national swings across Wales, only one constituency seat would change hands from the results in the last Assembly election in May 2011: Labour would lose Llanelli to Plaid Cymru.

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

  • Labour 33% (+1%)
  • Conservative 22% (+2)
  • Plaid Cymru 21% (+6%)
  • UKIP 12% (-4%)
  • Liberal Democrats 5% (-3%)
  • Greens 5% (-3%)
  • Others 2% (no change)

Taking into account both the constituency and list results, and assuming uniform national swings across Wales, 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: 13 (-1); 6 constituency AMs, 7 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 11 (no change); 6 constituency AMs, 5 list AMs
  • UKIP: 5 (+5): all list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 1 (-4); 1 constituency AM
  • Greens: 1 (+1): 1 list AM

So, for the third time in a row, our Barometer poll projects an outcome which would mean six different parties being represented in the National Assembly. As with the previous such poll, though, the allocation of the final list seats between the parties in the regions is often very tight. For this poll, the final lists seat in South Wales West was projected to be won by the Conservatives, ahead of Plaid Cymru, by a margin of approximately 25 votes; with the very smallest of changes in support for those parties, the projection might have placed both on 12 seats.

So what can we make of the respective parties’ showing in this poll?

For Labour, these results reinforce the message of the Westminster results, and our January Barometer poll, that the party appears to have stopped the erosion in its support that was so characteristic of 2013 and 2014. By the end of last year, Welsh Labour’s support level for a devolved election appears to be heading in the direction of, and possibly even below, the vote share the party won in 2007 – its worst-ever devolved election in Wales. The rot seems to have been stopped, and has possibly even begun to be reversed. And while Labour is still some way below the poll ratings it was receiving in 2012, it also remains far ahead of any other party in Wales.

For the Conservatives, these findings are testament to the impressive robustness of its Welsh vote. The poll places the Tories only slightly below their 2011 support level on the constituency ballot, and almost exactly matching it for the regional list vote. The party are not advancing greatly, but not are their opponents succeeding in pushing them backwards.

Plaid Cymru will be pleased by these figures. Their poor showing in the previous poll, particularly on the list vote, may have been an outlier. Nonetheless, to be posting a six-point rise in their list vote share is not something they will turn down. At the same time, while this poll does offer some encouragement for Plaid, they remain far short of matching Leanne Wood’s stated ambitions of challenging Labour’s dominance of the Assembly. This poll shows some significant progress, but there is a long way still to go.

UKIP will surely be somewhat disappointed by the figures in this poll, which shows them slipping in support on both ballot – and falling further on the regional list ballot, which will surely be the more important one to them in 2016. Nonetheless, up until a few months ago this sort of pol rating would probably have delighted UKIP. That is a measure of the extent to which expectations of the party’s performance in Wales changed during 2014. Even on this disappointing poll, they are still projected to win list seats in every region on Wales next year – the only party projected to do so.

For the Liberal Democrats, this is yet another contribution to the apparently ceaseless tide of bad news from the opinion polls. About the best that can be said for this poll is that the party remains in fifth place, rather than sixth, for the constituency ballot – that almost qualifies as good news for the party in Wales these days. Something will need to change if Kirsty Williams is not to be threatened with the prospect of leading a party of one in the Assembly after next year’s election.

The Greens have slipped back a bit in this poll, after their very strong performance in January’s Barometer. Nonetheless, they remain currently on course to win representation in the National Assembly – this poll projects them to win the final list seat in Mid and West Wales.

 

Postscript (09.30, 11/03/15): And for the real hard-core enthusiasts out there, here are Ratio Swing projections from the same poll for the National Assembly:

  • Labour: 29 seats (27 constituency seats; 2 list seats)
  • Conservatives: 13 seats (6 constituency seats, 7 list seats)
  • Plaid Cymru: 12 seats (6 constituency seats, 6 list seats)
  • UKIP: 5 seats (all list seats)
  • Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (constituency seat)

The only difference between the UNS and Ratio Swing projections is therefore for Plaid to be winning an extra list seat (in Mid and West Wales) ahead of the Greens.

 

There’s lots more goodies to come from the latest Barometer poll. I’ll be back soon with more of the findings.

New Barometer Poll: Westminster Vote Intention Figures

The latest Welsh Political Barometer findings on how people are intending to vote in May’s general election are good news for both Labour and the Conservatives, but provide rather poorer tidings for UKIP and the Liberal Democrats.

When asked by YouGov how they would vote in a general election, our respondents gave the following responses:

Labour: 39% (+2)

Conservatives: 25% (+2)

UKIP: 14% (-2)

Plaid Cymru: 10% (no change)

Greens: 6% (-2)

Liberal Democrats: 5% (-1)

Others: 1% (no change)

If we apply uniformly across Wales the swings implied by this poll from the May 2010 general election result, we see the following outcome in terms of seats:

Labour: 28 seats (holding the 26 they won in 2010, and gaining both Cardiff Central from the Liberal Democrats and Cardiff North from the Conservatives);

Conservatives: 8 seats (losing Cardiff North to Labour, but gaining Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats);

Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (no change);

Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (losing both Cardiff Central and Brecon & Radnor, and holding on only to Ceredigion).

There are a number of significant features about these findings. A notable feature of Welsh opinion polls throughout 2013 and 2014 was the steady erosion of Labour support. This is the third poll published in Wales this year, and all three have indicated clearly that this decline in Labour support for the general election has been halted – and may even, to some extent, have been reversed. Labour are now back above the vote share which they won in Wales in May 2010.

The Conservatives will also be heartened by these findings. Their poll rating is now nearly up to the level of support they won in the 2010 election, and they currently appear on course to pretty much hold their ground in Wales at this general election. That is a much better outcome for them than looked likely some 12-18 months ago, and strikingly good for the lead party of a government that has spent five years implementing a programme of austerity.

While Plaid Cymru are holding their ground in this poll, the same cannot be said for either UKIP or the Liberal Democrats. This is the second Barometer poll in a row that shows UKIP slipping two points in their general election vote intention. Taken along with the recent very disappointing poll for the party in the Vale of Glamorgan constituency, there does seem to now be evidence that the UKIP bandwagon in Wales has, for the moment at least, gone into reverse.

While the poll shows only a very modest decline for the Liberal Democrats, well within the ‘margin of error’, to be polling at only one-quarter of their 2010 vote share, and actually to be slipping back in the wake of their recent Welsh party conference, must be disappointing for the party. Five years on from Clegg-mania, the Lib-Dems are in sixth place in Wales. Indeed, further bad news for the Liberal Democrats comes from an additional question in the poll, which asked respondents to rate on a 0-10 scale (where 0 means ‘definitely will not vote’ and 10 means ‘definitely will vote’) how likely they were to vote in the general election. Among supporters of the other main parties there were no substantial differences in the proportion saying that they would definitely vote. But supporters of the Liberal Democrats were not only rather few in number; even those few who remain appear somewhat less certain to participate in the election.

I’ll be back later with more discussion of other results from the poll, including some very interesting figures on National Assembly voting intention.

Postscript (11.35am, 10/03/15): As well as the standard Uniform National Swing projections of the figures here, I’ve also now been able to work out Ratio Swing projections.(It is such an exciting life that I lead…). These produce the following figures:

Labour: 29 seats (holding the 26 they won in 2010, and gaining Cardiff Central from the Liberal Democrats, Cardiff North from the Conservatives, and Arfon from Plaid Cymru);

Conservatives: 8 seats (losing Cardiff North to Labour, but gaining Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats);

Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (losing Arfon to Labour but gaining Ceredigion from the Liberal Democrats);

The Liberal Democrats would lose all their three current seats on this projection (Cardiff Central to Labour, Brecon & Radnor to the Conservatives, and Ceredigion to Plaid Cymru).

Please remember, though: a projection of a current poll, using whatever method, is not a prediction of what will happen in May.

New Ashcroft Poll of Vale of Glamorgan

The Political Blogosphere was aflame on Wednesday evening with news of Lord Ashcroft’s latest set of published polls. Most of the attention, understandably enough, focused on the results from constituency polls in eight seats in Scotland. Very much in line with all the national polls there since October, and also with his earlier batch of Scottish constituency polls, these showed huge swings to the SNP. The party continue to be on-course to make substantial gains in Scotland at the general election.

Amidst all this excitement, there was rather less attention paid to the somewhat less dramatic results of four other polls conducted in marginal seats outside Scotland. One of them was in a Welsh seat, the Vale of Glamorgan. The Vale is a very interesting seat in many respects. It was held by Labour throughout the Tony Blair years, but lost to the Conservatives in 2010: the former regional AM Alun Cairns won the seat by a fairly clear 8.9% margin on a substantial (6.1%) swing from Labour to the Tories. However, Labour held the seat the following year in the Assembly election: Jane Hutt retaining the seat she has had since 1999 with a clear 11.4% margin, on a 5.6% swing from the Conservatives to Labour. The Westminster Vale seat is not one that Labour necessarily need to gain to become the largest party in the House of Commons (as they do with, say, Cardiff North), but it would be hard for them to win an outright parliamentary majority without winning seats like the Vale.

The fieldwork for Lord Ashcroft’s poll here was carried out, as with all his other constituency polls, by telephone; it was done in early February, so the findings are not too dated. What did he find?

As before, Lord Ashcroft reports two sets of headline vote intention figures. The first comes from a standard ‘generic’ voting intention question; the second comes from a follow-up question where respondents are specifically prompted to think about their ‘own parliamentary constituency’, and ‘the candidates who are likely to stand for election to Westminster there’. The table below produces both figures for the main parties, as well as their actual result in the Vale of Glamorgan in the 2010 general election:

Party2010 ResultGeneric QuestionConstit. Question
Conservatives41.8%40%38%
Labour32.9%32%32%
Lib Dems15.2%5%4%
Plaid Cymru5.5%8%12%
UKIP3.1%10%10%
Greens0.9%5%3%
Others0.5%1%1%

 

For the constituency vote figures, which most people seem to be interpreting as the main ‘headline’ numbers to take from these polls, the Conservatives are therefore six points ahead of Labour. While this is hardly a comfortable margin – one couldn’t imagine Alun Cairns looking at these numbers and deciding to take a week off the campaign trail – it is nonetheless fairly encouraging for him. You’d always rather be six points ahead than behind. What is perhaps particularly interesting is that, in this seat, the Tories appear currently to have held Labour to a very small swing, of less than 1.5%, since the 2010 general election. This is notable because many of Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polls, including some of his latest batch, have been showing swings to Labour since 2010 that are at least as big or even bigger than the average swing suggested by the GB-wide opinion polls – which is around 3.5%-4%. On the evidence of this survey, that has not been the case in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The poll also suggests that the contest in the Vale is very much a two-horse race. That is interesting, because in last year’s European Parliament election, UKIP actually won the Vale of Glamorgan. OK, that was in the Vale of Glamorgan local authority, which does not have quite the same boundaries as the parliamentary constituency. Nonetheless, given UKIP’s victory there last May, and their continued strength in the national polls, I would have been pretty confident in predicting that any poll in the Vale constituency would place UKIP in, at worst, a clear third place. That expectation is confounded, however: the constituency question results place UKIP in a rather poor fourth, behind Plaid Cymru. Meanwhile, the results for the Liberal Democrats are predictable awful, and there is no sign of any Green surge in this particularly green part of Wales.

Plaid’s relatively strong performances in the Ashcroft constituency polls continue to be one of the minor mysteries of contemporary Welsh psephology. This is the fifth of the forty Welsh seats to have been polled (see discussion here); none of the five could remotely be described as a Plaid target seat in the context of a Westminster general election. Yet in every case the Ashcroft polls have shown a significant rise in support for Plaid from the level they won in 2010. At 6.5%, the Vale poll actually shows the largest such Plaid rise, although all have been at least 4%. This is puzzling for at least two reasons. The first is that such constituency-specific rises in support are not being matched by rises in Plaid’s support in the national polls. The second is that such evidence as we have from other electoral contests, such as last year’s European election, is that Plaid’s recent electoral performance has been strongest in its traditional areas of strength. These are not the places in Wales where Lord Ashcroft has been polling. And yet he has consistently shown them rising in support. Curious indeed.

We cannot explain this puzzle through a particularly strong Plaid presence on the ground. Among the other questions asked in this series of constituency polls, as in previous ones, was whether respondents had been contacted ‘over the last few weeks’ by any of the political parties. A number of possible types of contact (leaflets, direct mail, email, and telephone or in-person canvassing) were mentioned. The results were as follows (the percentages add up to more than 100 because respondents could, and some did, report having been contacted by more than one party):

Party% reporting contact
Conservatives33%
Labour33%
Lib Dems5%
Plaid Cymru10%
UKIP4%
None of them44%
Don’t Know1%

Here we see the two parties in serious contention for the seat well ahead of the others in the reported impact of their ‘ground game’, and dead-level with each other in their overall rates of contact. None of the other parties even come close, although Plaid Cymru do best of the rest. So Plaid’s apparent rise in support since 2010 is certainly not down to them out-working the two main parties on the ground. Nor is Plaid’s relatively strong performance obviously down to the methodology of Lord Ashcroft’s polls. If anything one would have expected the constituency-specific question to hurt Plaid in the five seats where Ashcroft has polled. Ashcroft’s use of recalled-2010 general election vote to weight his data also hurts, rather than helps, Plaid.

We have now had constituency polls in one-eighth of all the seats in Wales. These polls have focussed on seats relevant to the main UK parties. Overall, Lord Ashcroft’s polls suggest that we are in for a very close election here in Wales. I think most of us would have thought that anyway. But it’s always good to have more evidence, even when it confirms what we already believed to be the case.

Support for Welsh Independence Doubles

Well, that’s one way of looking at it – but probably not the most sensible way.

The annual BBC/ICM St David’s Day poll has been published. (The full results are now available here). There are a number of interesting findings in the poll, many of which were discussed on BBC Wales yesterday. I’ll be reviewing some of them in more detail in later posts on the blog.

But I thought I should turn first to one particular result. Many of you will recall that we have had some debate and discussion here previously about the questions on ‘constitutional preferences’ that the BBC/ICM polls, and other ones, have generally run. In particular, I discussed the changing wording of the questions here. I also (somewhat belatedly) discussed here the results of the last such question run on a BBC/ICM poll. That previous poll had been conducted in the immediate aftermath of the Scottish referendum, and produced two particularly notable findings:

  • Support for ‘More Powers’ for the Assembly was an unusually high level, at 49%: the highest level in any such BBC/ICM poll, and one of the highest levels on any even vaguely comparable question in any poll in recent years;
  • Support for Independence was, at 3%, just about the lowest ever found in any such multi-option constitutional preference question.

It was the latter finding that much of the media, and many politicians, seemed to seize upon, and which excited a great deal of comment. As I suggested in my review of that poll and how its results had been reported, I thought a lot of that discussion was greatly overdone. It ignored a number of obviously pertinent considerations, most particularly:

  • That such polls have a 3% ‘margin of error’. The 3% choosing the independence option was within the margin of error of the finding of the previous such survey, which had found 5% selecting the independence option. So maybe all the September poll was showing was normal sample variation amidst a picture of no real change.
  • There was a very obvious contextual factor that might explain why this particular poll could have produced findings a little out of kilter with the norm. It was conducted immediately after the Scottish referendum result, where independence had been rejected but there had been considerable discussion in the final few weeks of ‘more powers’ for the Scottish Parliament. In such a context, finding a low level of support for independence and a high level of support for more powers was not merely unsurprising; it was eminently predictable.

So now, more than five months on, the same survey company (ICM) have asked the exact same question to a new set of respondents in Wales. What did they find? The table below presents the results, and the percentage changes from the September 2014 poll:

“Which of these statements comes closest to your view?”

Wales should become independent, separate from the UK6% (+3)
The Welsh Assembly should have more powers than it currently has40% (-9)
The powers the Welsh Assembly currently has are sufficient and should remain as it is now33% (+7)
The Welsh Assembly should have fewer powers than it currently has4% (+2)
The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster13% (+1)
None of these1% (-2)
Don’t Know3% (-)

 

So, what can we make of these figures, and the changes since the September poll? Well, I suppose I could also have headlined this piece ‘Support for Assembly to have fewer powers doubles”! But although strictly accurate, that would have made no more sense than to focus on the apparent doubling of support for independence.

What I think we are seeing here is simply a reversion to a much more normal pattern of results. The findings of this new poll are much more typical of what the BBC/ICM polls, and other similar ones, have been finding pretty consistently in recent years. We see support for independence, on this sort of question wording, a little below 10%. We also see support for abolition of the Assembly, on this sort of question wording, at around about, or just below, 15%. And we see a very clear majority of respondents supporting either the status quo or a more powers option – with there normally being a modest margin in favour of the latter. This is very much the pattern that has generally been found in most studies across the last decade or so, and we have little evidence that it has changed very much over that period.

At least some of the readers of the blog will be familiar with Twyman’s Law, semi-seriously coined by Prof Michael Twyman, which states that “Any piece of data or evidence that looks interesting or unusual is probably wrong”. Prof Twyman’s injunction is very often relevant to the analysis of polls, and almost certainly was relevant to the constitutional preference findings of the September BBC/ICM poll. That is not to criticise the conduct of the poll – as I have said here before, ICM are a company with a deservedly high reputation. But they were asking about constitutional preferences in Wales at a particularly extraordinary moment in political life in the UK. Now that the dust has settled on last September’s referendum, the pattern of answers to this question about how Wales should be governed seems also to have settled down. The moral of the tale, I think, is clear: avoid getting too excited about the findings of any single poll, particularly one carried out at an unusual time.

What the ‘Experts’ Think Will Happen in the General Election

Some academic colleagues of mine, along with the Political Studies Association, surveyed large groups of academic specialists in elections, pollsters, and journalists, regarding their expectations of the forthcoming general election.

You can read the outcome of the exercise here. Plaid Cymru will doubtless be eagerly looking forward to their predicted gain of 0.3 of a parliamentary seat…

Your confidence in the calibre of the experts may, or may not, be boosted by the knowledge that I was one of them.

 

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.