As we approach the National Assembly election, the party leaders will come ever more to the fore. Leaders have a key role in election campaigns, as the key faces and voices of their party and its message. We therefore thought that it was important, in our new Welsh Political Barometer poll, to once again measure the public visibility and popularity of the leaders of all the main political parties in Wales.
As in several previous polls (most recently last September) we asked people to rate party leaders 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. We asked people about all the main party leaders at the UK level (David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Nigel Farage and Natalie Bennett); we also asked about the Welsh leaders of those five parties, plus of course Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru.
First, on visibility. The percentage of respondents who answer ‘Don’t Know’ for a leader is a useful guide to how well known that leader is. Yes, some people do choose this option because they are genuinely undecided. But in the aggregate the number of people selecting Don’t Know is a good measure of that leader’s relative visibility with the public. So how did the UK and Welsh leaders do on this measure? Here are the percentages of our sample who, when asked for their view of each leader, simply responded ‘Don’t Know’:
David Cameron: 7%
Jeremy Corbyn: 10%
Tim Farron: 49%
Nigel Farage: 7%
Natalie Bennett: 42%
Carwyn Jones: 22%
Andrew RT Davies: 47%
Kirsty Williams: 41%
Leanne Wood: 23%
Nathan Gill: 61%
Alice Hooker-Stroud: 79%
These responses are very much in line with what we have found in previous polls that asked the same question. The leaders of the two main UK parties, and Nigel Farage, have much greater visibility levels than any other leaders. That includes not only Tim Farron (who appears to have failed to cut through to the public since taking over as Lib-Dem leader) and Natalie Bennett; it also includes all of the Welsh party leaders.
Even though Carwyn Jones has now been First Minister of Wales for more than six years, he is significantly less visible in Wales than David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage. Indeed, in this respect he is pretty much on a par with Leanne Wood. The latter saw a substantial rise in her public profile after participating in the general election debates: it was that, rather than her work in Wales and the National Assembly, that brought her to a wider public. These findings illustrate a general problem with the low profile of devolved politics in Wales. Even a few months before the National Assembly election, many people have little idea who are the main politicians competing for their votes.
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. For all the leaders who were included in our September poll (all the leaders except for Natalie Bennett and Alice Hooker-Stroud of the Greens), in brackets we show the change in average rating in that time:
David Cameron: 3.3 (no change)
Jeremy Corbyn: 4.0 (-0.7)
Tim Farron: 3.7 (-0.1)
Nigel Farage: 3.6 (no change)
Natalie Bennett: 3.8
Carwyn Jones: 4.9 (+0.1)
Andrew RT Davies: 3.4 (-0.2)
Kirsty Williams: 4.3 (no change)
Leanne Wood: 4.5 (-0.2)
Nathan Gill: 3.0 (-0.2)
Alice Hooker-Stroud: 3.1
As we have seen before when asking this question, no politician averages even five out of ten. “Politicians in Unpopularity Shock!” However, beneath the headline numbers there are some very interesting details. David Cameron and Nigel Farage continue to attract the highest proportion of zero out of ten ratings: while very popular with the supporters of their own parties, they generate a lot of hostility from elsewhere. Increasingly so also does Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Corbyn is popular with continuing supporters of his own party, and also with some Plaid Cymru voters. But his ratings overall has fallen more than any other politician since September, with a six-point rise across our whole sample in those giving him a zero out of ten rating.
As we approach the Welsh Assembly election, though, the ratings of the Welsh party leaders are of particular importance. These are the figures that will be articulating their parties’ messages. So what do the public make of them? Here there is some good news for Labour. Carwyn Jones’ rating has edged upwards since our last poll. With Leanne Wood’s ratings have moved marginally in the other direction, the First Minister is now clearly the most highly-rated politician in this poll. For the first time since 1999, Labour enter a National Assembly election campaign without having the most clearly well-known Welsh party leader. But he remains generally popular, and a likely electoral asset to his party.
The general election debates brought a rise to both Leanne Wood’s profile and popularity in Wales. The higher profile remains, but – for the moment at least – her overall popularity appears to have faded very slightly. Nonetheless there is much more prospect of her being an electoral asset to her party than has been the case for any Plaid leader since 1999.
In a dreadful poll for her party, Kirsty Williams continues to produce quite strong ratings. One can only wonder how well she would rate in a more promising political environment for her party. The leader of the opposition in the Assembly, however, does not poll so well: Andrew RT Davies has not really cut through to much of the Welsh public. However, that was also the case for his predecessor, Nick Bourne, who never polled very strongly – and that did not prevent Bourne leading the party to electoral gains in the last three Assembly elections.