After an extraordinary 2016, there’s certainly lots to look back on! Whatever else we might say, it wasn’t dull…
The main electoral event in 2016 in Wales was, of course, the National Assembly election in May. In the end the result was much as had been suggested for some time by the Welsh Political Barometer polls conducted in the months leading up to the election; and also very close to the projections from the first ever ‘on the day’ poll in a devolved election, which was conducted by our friends at YouGov for the Wales Governance Centre and ITV Cymru Wales. The table below summarises the election result in Wales:
|Party||Constituency Vote Share (change on 2011)||Regional Vote Share (change on 2011)||Seats Won (change on 2011)|
|Labour||34.7% (-7.6)||31.5 (-5.4)||29 (-1)|
|Plaid Cymru||20.5% (+1.3)||20.8 (+3.0)||12 (+1)|
|Conservative||21.1% (-3.9)||18.8 (-3.7)||11 (-3)|
|UKIP||12.5 (+12.5)||13.0 (+8.5)||7 (+7)|
|Lib-Dems||7.7 (-2.9)||6.5 (-1.6)||1 (-4)|
|Others||3.5 (-0.2)||9.4 (-3.8)||0|
Turnout 45.3% (+3.1)
For Labour, 2016 was yet another election in which they came first in both votes and seats in Wales (the 37th of the last 38 Wales-wide electoral contests, in a run starting in 1922, with the 2009 European election being the only exception). Though suffering a significant vote-share loss on their best-ever Assembly election performance in 2011, the party only lost a single seat – Rhondda, lost to Plaid leader Leanne Wood. Amidst a difficult political broader political context, the Assembly election result must be regarded as a highly successful defensive operation for Welsh Labour.
For Plaid Cymru, the Assembly election was a step forward after a decade or more marked by almost continual electoral retreat. But it was only a fairly modest step forward. Plaid reclaimed its status as the second-largest party in the Assembly – at least for several months… On the same day, Plaid also managed to win two of Wales’ four Police and Crime Commissioner elections. However, overall Plaid remained a long way behind Labour, and even further behind matching the performance of their sister party in Scotland.
For the Conservatives, the result was undoubtedly a disappointment. Hitherto the Tories had improved their position at every Assembly election; they had also led Plaid Cymru in the vast majority of polls during 2011-16. But a rather lacklustre Welsh campaign, and a torrent of bad news coming from London, led to the Welsh Conservatives significantly under-performing their hopes in 2016 – once again in sharp contrast with the fortunes of their Scottish counterparts.
For UKIP, 2016 was the year in which they not only achieved their historic goal of having the UK vote to leave the EU, but also entered a domestic British legislature in significant numbers for the first time. Their Assembly election result actually represented something of an under-performance compared to what the polls had been suggesting for the last year or so. But this was still enough for the party to win more seats in 2016 than the Liberal Democrats had ever won in an Assembly election.
For the Liberal Democrats, however, 2016 was yet another bad year in Wales. Having successfully held most of their ground in 2011, five years on the pressures against the party were just too great for them to hold the line. A small vote share loss on both ballots from 2016 was enough to see them lose their four regional list seats. Although Kirsty Williams held Brecon & Radnor with an increased majority, she soon resigned as leader, just as her party ceased to be an official entity in the Welsh legislature.
But, of course, 2016 was not only the year of the Assembly election. It is likely to be remembered for many years as the year of the Brexit referendum. Our Barometer polls had been suggesting for some time that the outcome in Wales was likely to be close. However, just as with the GB-wide polls, the Remain side had tended to be narrowly ahead in the Welsh polls – whereas when the result was declared, both Wales and the UK as a whole had voted, by narrow but clear margins, for Leave. The final tally was 52.5% for Leave and 47.5% for Remain. The table below summarises the result across Wales, with local authorities ranked by their % Remain vote:
|Local Authority||% Remain||% Leave||% Turnout|
|Vale of Glamorgan||50.7||49.3||76.1|
|Rhondda Cynon Taf||46.3||53.7||67.4|
|Neath Port Talbot||43.2||56.8||71.5|
But there were other electoral contests in Wales during 2016. There was a steady stream of local government by-elections for seats across the 22 Welsh local authorities: some 23 by-elections in total. My friend Harry Hayfield (@HarryHayfield on Twitter) has very kindly prepared for us a detailed list of the results. (Any errors or omissions in the list, please let me know). The overall patterns are summarised in the following table:
|Party||Total Votes||N of candidates||Seats Won||Net Gain/Loss||Average Swing#|
(#Mean average swing from the previous election, for all by-elections where a party stood candidates in both the by-election and the previous election. This measure therefore does not include cases where a party failed to stand a candidate either in a by-election or the previous election. It has only been possible to calculate this measure for the four main traditional parties.)
Observing detailed patterns in these local results is hampered by the fact that parties are somewhat selective in where they stand. No party stood candidates for every by-election, and only Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru even stood in the majority of them. However, at least some observations can be made.
- Labour saw their vote share decline in all but three of the local by-elections where they stood candidates in 2016 and had stood in 2012. However, Labour were declining from a high base – their very strong performance in the 2012 Welsh local elections. And they clearly remained the leading party in Welsh local elections in 2015: in terms of presence (they stood the most candidates), votes won, and seats won.
- The Welsh Conservatives performed noticeably poorly in 2016 in Welsh local elections. They stood candidates in 17 of the 23 races – but won none of them. Moreover, their vote share was down in most seats where they stood and had also stood previously – and that represents a decline on a far-from-stellar performance in 2012.
- The Liberal Democrats’ local by-election performance continues to be patchy. They stood candidates in most races this year, unlike in 2015, and they made one strong gain late in the year; their vote share was up in places where there was direct comparison with 2012. But their vote share was only up marginally, and that on a pretty dreadful 2012 performance.
- Plaid Cymrumaintained a reasonably strong presence of candidates, and put in plenty of good performances. These results show them continuing to be the second strongest party in Welsh local government, and generally moving forward. In all but three of the seats where they had stood in 2012, Plaid increased their vote share, and they more than doubled the Lib-Dems’ for the average increase overall. But their performance was still a little inconsistent, and does not yet indicate a major surge in their support.
- UKIP’s presence and impact in local elections continues to be very patchy. They stood in fewer than half of the by-elections, and came nowhere winning a seat anywhere, winning only four percent of all the votes cast.