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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.

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