Happy Birthday to Us

Our latest Welsh Political Barometer poll arrived pretty much exactly one year after the inaugural one, in December 2013. As you all sing ‘Happy Birthday Welsh Political Barometer’ to yourselves while reading this, I thought it might be of some interest to look at how the patterns of party support in Wales have changed from that poll to this one. One year on, what have been the changes in the Welsh political landscape?

We’ve followed both general election and National Assembly voting intentions through the last year. First, for Westminster: the following table shows support levels for each of the main parties in December 2013, and twelve months later:

December 2013 December 2014
Labour 46 36
Conservative 21 23
Liberal Democrats 8 5
Plaid Cymru 12 11
UKIP 10 18
Greens 2 5
Others 2 2

There are two major changes evident in the figures here. The first is the 10-point decline in Labour vote share. Our inaugural Barometer poll already showed Labour some eight points down from their high-point of 54% in a July 2012 YouGov poll. But over the last twelve months Labour have lost very nearly one-quarter of their remaining general election support in Wales. Last December’s poll would – on uniform national swings – have projected Labour to win 33 of the 40 parliamentary seats in Wales, a net gain of seven on the 2010 general election. Wales was thus on-track for making a fairly significant contribution towards Labour winning an overall majority in the House of Commons. In our latest poll, Labour’s support level is actually no higher than it was in May 2010, and Labour is projected to make only very modest seat gains.

The other major change is clearly the rise of UKIP. Twelve months ago they still seemed like a relatively minor factor in Welsh politics. That is no longer so. Their support levels began to pick up in Wales in the latter part of 2013, and the party has maintained momentum throughout 2014. Recent polls have placed UKIP in a clear third place in terms of general election vote share. However, on uniform swings, at least, UKIP are not projected to actually win any seats next May. The challenge for them in May 2015 will be to try to concentrate support effectively in particular seats; otherwise they may well win the electoral support of a fair proportion of the Welsh electorate but have nothing to show for it in terms of parliamentary representation.

The Conservatives have held very steady throughout the last year. And with Labour support falling, this places them in a much stronger position to hold their ground in the general election. Twelve months ago the Tories were projected to win only three parliamentary seats in the next general election, a net loss of five from 2010. In our new poll they are now projected to make no net losses at all, with the potential loss of Cardiff North being offset by a projected gain from the Liberal Democrats in Brecon and Radnor.

Plaid Cymru have held similarly steady over the last year, although I suspect that would accord them somewhat less comfort than it would the Conservatives. On our new poll they are projected to hold onto their three current seats – which is again an improvement on last year, when they were projected to lose Arfon. However, this change reflects Labour’s declining support rather than any significant advance for Plaid.

The Liberal Democrats continue to languish. A year ago they were doing dismally in the polls, having lost well over half the support they won in 2010. Now they are doing even worse. On uniform swings, they are currently projected to lose both Cardiff Central and Brecon and Radnor, and only to hang onto Ceredigion. This represents a decline on last year, when our inaugural Barometer poll projected them to hold Brecon and Radnor.

We see very similar patterns when looking at the two ballots for the National Assembly. First, here are last year’s and this year’s figures for the constituency vote:

December 2013 December 2014
Labour 43 35
Conservative 19 22
Liberal Democrats 9 6
Plaid Cymru 20 19
UKIP 7 12
Greens 2 5
Others 1 1

And here are the numbers for the regional list ballot:

December 2013 December 2014
Labour 40 31
Conservative 19 20
Liberal Democrats 9 6
Plaid Cymru 15 19
UKIP 10 15
Greens 4 7
Others 3 2

Here again we see Labour declining; UKIP advancing; only small changes in the performance of the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru; and the Liberal Democrats falling even further behind. There has also been some significant progress by the Greens, who are actually one point ahead of the Lib-Dems for the regional list vote in our latest poll.

Interestingly, although their decline in vote share for the Assembly over the least year has been nearly as stark as for Westminster, the implications for Labour in terms of seat projections for the Assembly are rather less so. Here are the uniform national swing projections from both last year and now:

December 20103:

  • Labour: 30; 29 constituency AMs, 1 list AM
  • Conservative: 11; 5 constituency AMs, 6 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 9; 5 constituency AMs, 4 list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 5; 1 constituency AM, 4 list AMs
  • UKIP 5; all list AMs

December 2014:

  • Labour: 28; 26 constituency AMs, 2 list AMs
  • Conservative: 12; 6 constituency AMs, 6 list AMs
  • Plaid Cymru: 10; 6 constituency AMs, 4 list AMs
  • UKIP: 7; all list AMs
  • Liberal Democrats: 2; 2 constituency AMs
  • Greens 1; a list AM (in Mid and West Wales)

Overall, the last twelve months have certainly seen a weakening in Labour’s dominance over Welsh electoral politics. But as the seat projections above indicate, that dominance is still some way from being overturned. Labour may be looking distinctly less formidable than it once did. But we are still, it appears, some way from witnessing another party present it with a serious challenge.



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