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The BBC/ICM St David’s Day Poll

BBC Wales published last week findings from the annual poll that they run with ICM. As in previous years the poll was conducted by telephone, and covered quite a wide range of ground. It’s a pity for us voting obsessives that the list of questions did not include voting intention for either the Assembly election nor the EU Referendum – it would have been interesting to see if YouGov’s recent findings were confirmed by another leading survey agency. Still, we mustn’t get greedy – and there should be another poll with such matters along before too much longer. (Subtle hint…)

The detailed results of the BBC/ICM poll are available here. Given the range of ground covered, I’ll discuss the results across a few posts in the next week or two. I’ll start here with the findings of the poll’s now traditional question on how Wales should be governed. As in previous iterations, respondents were presented with several options as to how Wales might be governed and asked ‘Which of these statements comes closest to your view?’ The results were as follows:

 

Wales should become independent, separate from the UK: 6%

The Welsh Assembly should have more powers than it currently has: 43%

The powers the Welsh Assembly currently has are sufficient and should remain as it is now: 30%

The Welsh Assembly should have fewer powers than it currently has: 3%

The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster: 13%

None of these: 1%

Don’t Know: 3%

 

As has been the case with pretty much every survey that has asked this type of question over the last decade and more, the results show strong majority support for devolution in Wales. Public appetite for either independence or the abolition of devolution seems very limited. And among those who endorse devolution, the balance of opinion is modestly in the direction of support for some further powers.

As I’ve discussed at some points in the past on the blog, the exact question wording used by the BBC/ICM poll on their main constitutional preference question has changed at a few points in the past. The current wording has only been used in the last three such polls – conducted in September 2014 (immediately after the Scottish independence referendum), in the St David’s Day poll this time last year, and now. The following table shows the pattern of results across these three polls:

 

  September 2014 March 2015 March 2016
Independence 3% 6% 6%
More Powers 49% 40% 43%
Remain as present 26% 33% 30%
Fewer powers 2% 4% 3%
Abolish Assembly 12% 13% 13%
None/Don’t Know 3% 4% 4%

 

In short, there has been little dramatic change. The September 2014 poll was likely influenced by the context of the Scottish referendum. The unusually low level of support for Independence found in that poll received a preposterous degree of attention, but was likely explained by the same factor that also produced the – much less commented-upon – finding of an unusually high level of support for More Powers. That is, the poll was done immediately after a very high-profile vote in Scotland in which people had said No to independence but had received very well-publicised promises of significant new powers. It was entirely unsurprising that such events should have had some spillover into attitudes in Scotland – and it was slightly depressing how little commentary at the time acknowledged this rather obvious point.

When ICM came back several months later and asked the same question, after memories (in Wales at least) of the referendum had faded a little, quite predictably responses on both Independence and More Powers reverted back towards the sort of levels we have more typically seen in other studies, and there was also a rise in support for the status quo. The latest measure from ICM shows very little change at all since a year ago: the only ones of any note at all being a rise of three points in those choosing More Powers and an equivalent fall in those choosing the status quo. This may indicate a genuine but modest move in such a direction among the Welsh public, but it could equally be little more than sampling variation and essentially random noise. The broad picture remains consistent – much as it has done since early in this century. Relatively few people in Wales currently support independence. Nor do a great many more support getting rid of devolution: much though some of them like to think so, those wishing to abolish the Assembly do not, on all available evidence, speak for the ‘silent majority’ or anything approaching it. Wales overwhelmingly endorses devolution within the UK, with significant – though probably not majority – sentiment favourable to somewhat extending devolution.

A later question in the poll asked about the devolution of a specific matter, namely income tax. The precise question asked:

“The UK Government has announced plans to give the Welsh Government control over some income taxes. Which of these statements comes closest to your view?”

Some 54% of respondents chose the answer option “I believe that the Welsh Government should have the power to control some income taxes”; rather fewer – only 42% – selected the answer option “I believe that only the UK Government should have the power to control income taxes”; while the remainder of respondents chose Don’t Know.

Answers to this latter question, unsurprisingly, were strongly related to those on the general constitutional preference question: thus, 87% of supporters of independence and 76% on More Powers backers endorsed Wales being given some income tax powers, whereas only 8% of those favouring the abolition of the Assembly did so. A little more surprisingly, perhaps, female respondents were also much more likely to back partial income tax devolution (by 58%-38%) than were males (who split 50%-45% in favour).

As with the broader question, the balance of opinion in Wales here is leaning towards support for further devolution. But that balance is hardly overwhelming. The evidence from this poll is consistent with plenty of other data which suggests that there is a considerable constituency of support for some further devolution in Wales. But that support is not yet established among a clear and consistent majority of the Welsh people. Nor is the issue necessarily of high salience to most of them.

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