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Recent Trends in Party Support in Wales, 1

 

The launch of the Welsh Political Barometer last December means that we now have the assurance of reasonably regular political polling in Wales. We know that we will be having at least four polls a year; these regular polls, supplemented by occasional ones from other sources, make it easier to begin to pick out broad trends in public attitudes and party support. Of course, it would be good to have even more frequent polling, and I hope that this may become possible in the run-up to the next general election and the National Assembly election in 2016. I also hope that we may start to get regular polling from companies other than YouGov. That’s not in any way a complaint about YouGov – they have been and remain a joy to work with – but it’s always healthy to have at least some diversity in sources of information. Just occasionally, the varying methods employed by different polling agencies can produce significantly different results; and when that happens, it often points to something rather important. Nonetheless, the situation with regards to political polling in Wales is now much healthier than it used to be.

The Opinion Polling section of this site contains copious information about polls in Wales, going back until roughly 1999. Please avail yourself of the various charts and tables (which I will continue to update periodically). What I want to do here, and in my next Blog Post, is to talk about some of the recent trends in Welsh polling – and their potential political implications. To do so, I’m going to look at two sets of figures: those concerning voting intentions for the next UK general election, and those for the constituency ballot in the next National Assembly election. For reasons discussed here, the wording for the question on National Assembly regional list vote was changed last year, making it impossible to follow consistent trends back beyond December 2013. But for the general election vote, and the Assembly constituency vote, we have a longer run of consistent information. In this post I’ll look at the general election figures, turning to the Assembly vote next time.

After the 2010 UK general election, there was only one published poll which asked about general election vote intention prior to January 2012; so I’ll focus on the period from January 2012 onwards. (A table with figures from all the polls discussed is included at the end of this post). From January 2012 until well into 2013, the picture was one of total Labour dominance. The party in Wales had been resurgent more-or-less from the moment the ink dried on the deal to form the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in London and Welsh Labour was no longer tarnished by association with an unpopular Labour UK government. This resurgence was clear in Labour’s strong performance in the 2011 Assembly election, and it was also evident in the five polls conducted in Wales by YouGov between January 2012 and February 2013. Labour’s general election vote share was always at 50% or higher, averaging exactly 51%. To give some perspective to that figure, it is higher than the vote share won in Wales by Labour at every general election after 1997.

But the poll conducted by YouGov for the launch of this Blog in July 2013 saw the first signs of erosion in Labour’s position. OK, the 48% Labour general election vote share in that poll was hardly disastrous! But it was the first sign of a downwards trend in Labour support that has continued subsequently. The seven published polls from July 2013 onwards give Labour an average general election vote intention of 44.4%, down 6.6 percentage points from the earlier period. However, it is also clear that Labour’s position looks a little stronger in polls conducted by YouGov than in those reported by other companies. Labour’s two lowest general election vote share figures have come from the BBC/ICM poll earlier this year, and that reported a little while ago by Lord Ashcroft. Looking solely at YouGov polls from July 2013 onwards – which may be the fairer comparison, as those for the earlier period were all conducted by YouGov – then Labour’s average score is 45.8%. But this still indicates a notable erosion of Labour support in Wales since 2012 and early 2013. In this context it may be significant that, although the change from February’s Barometer poll is well within the ‘margin of error’, the 43% Labour support seen in the May Barometer poll is Labour’s lowest figure in any YouGov poll since the 2010 general election.

This is potentially important because, as I have mentioned previously, on uniform national swings there is a ‘sweet spot’ for Welsh Labour in the mid-40s in terms of UK general election percentage support. It is very likely that Labour will make some gains in Wales at the next general election – after all, their 2010 Welsh vote share of 36.2% was Labour’s worst in Wales at a general election since 1918. If Labour can’t do better than that next year, the party across Britain is in serious trouble! But in the context of a UK general election that is likely to be very close, every gain in Wales could really matter for Labour. If Labour’s support levels only rise modestly – to the high-30s or low-40s – they are on course to make only very modest seat gains (possibly only 1 or 2 seats); as they hit the mid-40s, several other seats come obviously into play.

What about the other parties? The most notable trend for both the parties in the current UK government is the lack of any observable trend. Conservative support remains robust and stable in the low-20s; by historic standards this is a very respectable level of support for the Welsh Tories. Support levels for the Liberal Democrats are also stable (excepting the 4% rating in July 2012, all polls have put the party in the 6-9% range), but that probably the best thing that can be said about the party’s current ratings. The Lib-Dems’ task for the next general election seems very much one of hanging on to as many of their three current seats as they can, and then hoping for the national mood to change, to allow them to re-build their support base.

The most obvious trend in recent polls in Wales, as in England, has been the rise of UKIP. UKIP’s support levels are generally a little lower in Wales, but the party has still hit double figures in terms of general election support in four of the last six Welsh polls. UKIP are not yet at the sort of support levels where they might be threatening to win a seat, but they are starting to hit levels where the UKIP vote could influence which party does win some seats. We await to see whether their recent success in the European elections will transfer into higher poll ratings for Westminster and the National Assembly.

There is also a minor, but observable, upwards trend regarding support for Plaid Cymru. The four polls conducted between July 2012 and July 2013 saw Plaid average 9.5% of general election voting intentions – a support level below even Plaid’s mediocre 2010 general election performance of 11.3%. In the six polls since July 2013, Plaid’s performance has improved – it has always polled at least 11%, and has averaged 12.3%. This is hardly something to get carried away about, but does constitute a clear, if small, step in the right direction for Plaid Cymru. It is also notable, though, that there are some differences between the pollsters: while Labour does best with YouGov, Plaid does worst, and its two highest ratings have come from ICM and Lord Ashcroft.

Well, that’s probably enough for now for you all to get your teeth into! I’ll be back soon with a look at recent trends in National Assembly constituency vote intentions.

 

General Election Vote Intention, Wales (%), 2012-present

Poll

Lab

Con

Lib-Dem

Plaid

UKIP

Others*

ITV-Wales/YouGov, end-Jan–Feb 2012

50

25

6

11

9

Cardiff Uni/YouGov, mid-April 2012

50

23

7

12

9

ITV-Wales/YouGov, July 2012

54

23

4

10

9

ITV-Wales/YouGov, August 2012

50

23

7

9

12

ITV-Wales/YouGov, February 2013

51

22

9

10

7

2

WGC/YouGov, July 2013

48

23

8

9

8

4

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Dec 2013

46

21

8

12

10

4

Lord Aschroft, Jan 2014 (published March)

40

24

6

15

13

3

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, Feb 2014

47

22

7

11

9

4

BBC Wales/ICM, Feb 2014

42

24

9

14

7

4

FoES/YouGov, April 2014

45

24

7

11

10

3

ITV-Wales/WGC/YouGov, May 2014

43

22

7

11

13

5

*Including UKIP until 2013; UKIP results not identified separately previously.

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