A Psephological Summer

I hope you have all had a good summer.

You will have noticed that the blogging has been quiet for some weeks. I spent some time while the weather was warmer re-charging my psephological batteries; since I returned to work at the start of the month I have had my hands rather full with my new role at Cardiff University, where I am now Head of Politics and International Relations. However, the call of electoral analysis cannot be resisted for long.

I have presented three papers at academic conferences in the last few weeks, which blog readers might be interested in.

The first, which I presented to a panel at the American Political Science Association annual conference in Boston, explored the 2017 general election in Wales. In particular, I examined a topic which is covered in some detail in my book, The End of British Party Politics?: the heavy ‘Welsh’ emphasis, branding and leadership of the Labour campaign. The question I explored in my paper was whether this emphasis actually made much difference to how people in Wales voted? Detailed analysis of the data suggests that voting decisions were still driven primarily attitudes towards UK-wide political factors, including the main party leaders: put simply, Labour’s victory in Wales last year was more about Corbyn than Carwyn. You can see the slides from my conference presentation here.

The other two papers I presented were both given to the annual conference of the Political Studies Association’s specialist group on Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (EPOP). The first summarised findings from some focus group work conducted last year by the Wales Governance Centre here at Cardiff University in collaboration with YouGov. More than a year after the Brexit referendum, we spoke to groups of working-class Leave voters in the south Wales valleys – trying to understand why they had voted the way they had, whether any of them had subsequently changed their minds, and their expectations of the consequences of Brexit. The slides from my presentation on this are available here.

At the EPOP conference I also co-presented a paper with my very talented PhD student Jac Larner. (You can find Jac on Twitter: @JacLarner). In this paper we were exploring the relationship between people’s preferences and perceptions of devolution. Using some new question formats, we have explored the extent of political autonomy that people wish for Wales; and on the same scale, examined how much autonomy they actually think it currently has. As first commented on here, there is a striking correlation between the two – and in a direction that suggests a large amount of ‘wishful thinking’ by people. Those who do not want Wales to have substantial devolution appear to think that it has little; those who favour substantial self-rule for Wales appear to believe that it is well advanced in that direction. My new paper with Jac documents that this pattern is robust across multiple surveys in Wales; across slightly different question formats; and can be found in Scotland as well as Wales. Quite what this all means is something that we then spend some time trying to understand: the slides from our presentation can be found here.

Disturbing psephological peace over the summer, but also of considerable interest, have been the leadership elections that were, at one point, running for all four Welsh Assembly parties. We are now ‘two down, two to go’: UKIP and the Welsh Conservatives have chosen their new leaders; Plaid Cymru will shortly declare the outcome of their party leadership election; and Welsh Labour are on course to give us the Christmas present of a new First Minister in December. I’ll be commenting on the implications of some of these contests in my annual assessments of the Electoral State of the Parties, which will be published over the next few weeks.


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