The revival in the fortunes of the Welsh Labour party is holding firm, while Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are on course for historically bad election results. These are the standout findings from the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, which has measured where the parties stand with just one week to go in the general election battle.
This has been an erratic election in Wales: the first two polls of the campaign showed clear Conservative leads, and indicated that the Tories were on course for an historic electoral breakthrough. But our last poll indicated a dramatic Labour fightback.
Now, our new poll shows the following voting intention figures for the general election (with changes on the last Barometer poll, conducted earlier this month, indicated in brackets):
Labour: 46% (+2)
Conservatives: 35% (+1)
Plaid Cymru: 8% (-1)
Liberal Democrats: 5% (-1)
UKIP: 5% (no change)
Others: 0% (-3)
There are no substantial changes since our previous poll; all movements are well within the ‘margin of error’.
If we use the standard method of projecting these polling numbers across Wales – computing uniform national swings since the 2015 general election for each constituency –then our latest poll implies the following overall result. (Projected seat changes from the 2015 result are in brackets):
Labour: 27 seats (+2)
Conservatives: 9 seats (-2)
Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (no change)
Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (no change)
The first two previous polls of the campaign had suggested the Conservatives to be on course to make substantial seat gains in Wales from Labour, and possibly even to come first in both seats and votes. But things have changed around dramatically in recent weeks. Labour support has apparently surged. While the Conservatives are still polling well above their actual vote share in 2015, on this poll they would lose both of the seats that they gained from Labour in the last general election: Gower and the Vale of Clwyd. As has been the case in all previous polls during this campaign, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats apparently remain course to hold the seats they currently have but make no gains.
What can we make of these latest findings? They show, first of all, that the dramatic Labour revival seen in our last poll was not simply a fluke, or merely the product of a sympathy factor after the sad death of Rhodri Morgan. Welsh Labour, these polls are suggesting strongly, are very much back. Indeed, if the figures from this poll were to be produced on election day then we would see the Labour party gain their largest vote share in Wales at a general election since 2001. That would be an extraordinary achievement for the party. Labour success appears to be grounded particularly among younger voters: these have long been more inclined to support Labour than the Conservatives, but the Labour advantage among 18-24 year old voters in our latest poll is running at approximately three-to-one. Of course, such younger voters are often less reliable in terms of turnout, so one of the key factors for Labour in this last week of the campaign will be converting supportive attitudes amongst younger voters into actual votes in the ballot box.
For the Conservatives, the reversal in their fortunes seems to reflect less a decline in their support and more the success of Labour. After all, this poll still has the Tories almost eight percentage points higher than their actual Welsh vote share in 2015. Yet the details of the poll also show that some of the advantages the Conservatives appeared to enjoy earlier in the campaign have eroded. Conservative support among 2015 UKIP voters has ebbed: in the first two polls of the campaign, approximately two-thirds of such voters backed the Tories. Now that proportion has slipped to just over half. Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ emphasis on leadership may also be much less of an advantage than it was: Theresa May’s poll ratings have slipped significantly in the course of the campaign, while the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn has risen. The May versus Corbyn contrast that the Conservatives have sought to make central to the campaign could be working much less well for them now than it was doing. However, the Tories retain one considerable strength: voters still rank Brexit as the most important issue in the election, and rate the Conservatives as the best party to deal with this issue.
Prospect for the election are, however, starting to look very ominous for Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. Were the two parties to do no better on polling day than in our latest poll, then this would be Plaid’s lowest general election vote share since 1987, and the worst ever experienced in Wales by the Liberal Democrats and their predecessor parties. Even in the darkest days of Liberalism, in the 1950s, their vote share in Wales never dipped as low as five percent. Although these parties and their leaders have had plentiful opportunities to publicise their party’s messages during the campaign, nothing they have done thus far seems to be working.
This could turn out to be an historic general election in Wales, although perhaps not in the ways we were thinking when the Conservatives were storming ahead of Labour in the polls. Our new poll gives the two largest parties a combined 81 percent of the vote. The last time that Labour and the Conservatives jointly won over eighty percent of the vote in Wales was 1966. But, for the moment at least, two-party politics seems to be back. And Labour are holding their position as the leading party in Wales.
The poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, had a sample of 1014 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov from 29-31 May 2017.