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Who Represents You? Part II

In my previous blog post I outlined some of the questions that we asked in this year’s pre-election wave of the 2016 Welsh Election Study (WES) about voter recognition of their elected representatives. As I explained, we asked our survey respondents about all four types of elected politician we have in Wales above the level of councillor – MPs, constituency AMs, regional AMs and MEPs. I will now present some of the main results that these questions produced.

First MPs. To remind you, the question asked was “Which of the following people is the MP in your UK parliamentary constituency?” and each respondent was offered a list which included the actual name of the MP for their constituency alongside five incorrect but plausible names. So how many respondents got it right?

 

Name Recognition for Respondents’ MPs

Response %
Correct Answer 70%
Incorrect Answer 9%
No response 21%

 

These findings seem to me to be fairly encouraging. It is true, as I mentioned in the previous post, that such tests of name recognition are easier than when people are asked to recall the name of a politician with nothing to prompt them. It is also true that internet-based samples may still tend somewhat towards having slightly too many politically interested and engaged people in them – thus perhaps inflating the percentage of correct answers a bit. Nonetheless, to find that fully seventy percent of WES respondents did correctly recognise the name of their MP from a list of six plausible names is still, I think, quite good.

How did the closest Assembly equivalents of MPs, constituency AMs fare? We asked an almost identical question about them as for MPs. Bear in mind that the data here was gathered less than two months before the Assembly election: the campaign was not yet in full swing, but sitting constituency AMs who were standing again (which was the majority of them) would have already been working hard to boost their profile and popularity. The table below shows the overall pattern of responses for constituency AMs.

 

Name Recognition for Respondents’ Constituency AMs

Response %
Correct Answer 53%
Incorrect Answer 15%
No response 32%

 

Clearly, these results for constituency AMs are not as good as the ones for Westminster MPs. But the contrast between the levels of name recognition seen for the two types of representatives is not very stark. The majority of WES respondents did correctly recognise the name of their constituency AM.

It is more complicated to present the results for regional representatives and MEPs. Given that everyone has four of both types of representative, we chose to use a slightly different question format – one which allowed respondents to choose several names from a list of six, which always had two correct answers and four plausible but false names. The table below summarise the – rather complicated – pattern of responses that we got on regional AMs. It is fair to say that the findings are not nearly as good as for constituency AMs.

 

Name Recognition for Respondents’ Regional AMs

Response %
Both correct, none incorrect 2%
One correct, none incorrect 21%
Two correct, at least one incorrect 1%
One correct, at least one incorrect 2%
At least one incorrect, none correct 14%
No response 60%

 

I find it difficult to come up with a very positive interpretation of these findings. Only three percent of respondents correctly chose the two actual regional AMs that we listed – and around a third of those respondents rather spoiled things by then choosing a third name, which was one of the false ones! In total, just over a quarter of our WES respondents were able to recognise one of the six names used in this question as being that of an actual regional AM. This isn’t completely dreadful, I suppose, but it is hardly good either.

Probably the most positive interpretation of the regional AMs data is that at least it isn’t as bad as that on MEPs. Here is the pattern of how our sample responded to the equivalent question about them – which followed an almost identical format to that about regional AMs:

 

Name Recognition for Welsh MEPs

Response %
Both correct, none incorrect 2%
One correct, none incorrect 14%
Two correct, at least one incorrect 1%
One correct, at least one incorrect 3%
At least one incorrect, none correct 18%
No response 63%

 

Oh dear. I spent much of the early part of my academic career studying the European Parliament; one of the things that my research impressed on me was that most MEPs are very hard working individuals. Yet the efforts of Wales’ four current representatives in the EU’s elected chamber do not appear to have had much impact on the public. Barely one-fifth of our entire sample were able to correctly choose the name of an actual MEP from those presented before them. And some of those apparently correct answers may even have been guesses, as almost as many respondents picked names that turned out to be false.

If we probe further into the details of the answers on the MEPs, if anything the picture gets worse. The following table shows what percentage of our WES sample that saw a name actually selected it as being, they believed, the name of one of our MEPs. The first four names listed are those of our actual MEPs, the following four were the false names included in the survey:

 

Name Recognition for Individual MEPs/False Names

Name % Selected
Derek Vaughan 9%
Nathan Gill 16%
Kay Swinburne 6%
Jill Evans 11%
David Sherwood 5%
Elwyn Davies 12%
Lynn Goodwin 5%
Jenny Green 5%

 

It’s difficult to know what to say about some of these results. It is, I think, probably unsurprising that Nathan Gill came top, given the higher profile that his role in the Assembly election was giving him. But none of the other Welsh MEPs were selected by a greater proportion of the WES respondents that that legendary figure in Welsh politics ‘Elwyn Davies’ – whose contributions to our national political life I feel I need not elaborate upon. Even Jill Evans, who had been an MEP for Wales for almost 17 years at the time this survey was implemented, had her name selected by fewer people than chose the mysteriously popular Mr Davies. For Kay Swinburne, Conservative MEP for Wales since 2009, the picture is even worse: her name was picked out barely more than any of the false names listed.

We will, of course, very likely be losing our MEPs when the UK leaves the European Union. But on these results, it seems fair to say that most of the Welsh public are unlikely to notice.

 

Source for all figures in this post: 2016 Welsh Election Study, pre-election wave (administered 7-18 March 2016). Number of respondents = 3,272. Data gathered by YouGov via the internet, and weighted for representativeness of the adult population in Wales.

Comments

  • Nigel Marriott

    Very interesting Roger! I agree that the constituency level results are encouraging and are broadly consistent with turnout figures in those elections.

    The figures for list members are awful but I am not surprised given that they were elected from closed lists. I am completely opposed to closed lists and will use these figures as justification for avoiding any election system that uses closed lists.

    I think the results would have been a lot better had open lists been used. I advocated this in an article I wrote last year on alternative election systems.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1740-9713.2015.00841.x/abstract

  • Rhodri Tomos

    Back when MEPs were regional I did a vox pop asking people of N.Wales who their MEP was – not one correctly identified Joe Wilson. Dozens of people in two towns…plus ca change!

  • James

    Were there differences between how well-recognized the list AMs were? My guess is that they’d be mainly obscure with spikes for Andrew R. T. Davies, Nathan Gill, etc.

  • J.Jones

    Another very interesting piece of research. Have you got comparable research for the rest of the UK?

  • John R Walker

    This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic! The really tragic part is that everybody has an equal chance to vote and every vote is worth the same even if the knowledge behind each vote is seriously variable.

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