Amidst the ongoing Brexit crisis, and in the wake of the recent Newport West by-election, the new Welsh Political Barometer poll provides us with the very latest measure of public attitudes to the political situation in Wales. Among the questions asked in the new poll, as is normal were ones about voting intentions for both a Westminster general election and for the National Assembly.
First, Westminster. Sampling for the new Barometer poll took place during a period of considerable instability in British politics (but when is there anything else in politics these days?). What impact has all this had on party preferences? This was the first poll in Wales to be able to properly include the ‘new kids on the block’: Change UK and the Brexit party. How do they, and the longer-standing parties, fare?
Here is what YouGov found (with changes from the previous Barometer poll, published in late February, in brackets):
Labour: 33% (-2)
Conservative: 26% (-3)
Plaid Cymru: 15% (+1)
Change UK: 9% (+9)
Liberal Democrats: 7% (+1)
Brexit Party: 4% (+4)
UKIP: 3% (-3)
Others: 3% (-5)
These are sensational results. They show the combined Labour and Conservative vote share below 60 percent – having been at 82.5 percent in the June 2017 general election. The apparent resurgence of two-party politics that we saw just a couple of years ago seems to be in something close to free fall. Just eighteen months ago Labour alone were at fifty percent support in Wales; now they are not much above thirty percent.
What is also striking, though, is that the support that the old duopoly are leaking is going in various directions. Plaid Cymru’s poll rating is impressively robust – their highest showing in a Welsh poll since July 2016. The Liberal Democrats have also avoided being further squeezed by new competitors. Meanwhile, Change UK actually edges ahead of the Lib-Dems, while the Brexit party are also marginally ahead of UKIP. Overall, these result suggest a public having little faith in the two leading parties – but still being undecided about where else to turn.
Using the normal method for projecting electoral results from poll figures – uniform national swings since the last general election – this new poll suggest that five seats would change hands at a general election. Given Labour’s domination of current Welsh MPs, and the large decline in their support since the general election suggested by this poll, the five projected changes are all Labour losses: with Cardiff North, Gower, Vale of Clwyd and Wrexham all projected to be gained by the Conservatives, and Ynys Mon by Plaid Cymru. That would give the following overall outcome in terms of seats:
Labour: 23 seats
Conservatives: 12 seats
Plaid Cymru: 5 seats
Meanwhile, what about voting intentions for the National Assembly? YouGov as per usual asked about voting intentions for both the constituency and the regional ballots in a devolved election. Here are the findings for the constituency ballot (with changes from the April Barometer poll once again in brackets):
Labour: 31% (-1)
Plaid Cymru: 24% (+1)
Conservatives: 23% (-3)
UKIP: 7% (no change)
Liberal Democrats: 6% (-2)
Change UK 4% (+4)
Others: 6% (+1)
Here again we see a decline in the position of the two main Britain-wide parties. Labour’s support edges down again: well within the margin of error, but the lowest reading for Labour on this ballot in two years (ie. just before the Corbyn surge in the 2017 general election campaign). Meanwhile, this is the first time that YouGov have put Plaid Cymru ahead of the Conservatives for the Assembly constituency ballot since July 2016.
Once again deploying the assumption of uniform national swings since last time (the National Assembly election of May 2016), this poll would project six constituencies to change hands. As with Westminster, all the projected changes are seats currently held by Labour: the Conservatives are projected to gain the Vale of Clwyd and Vale of Glamorgan. Plaid Cymru are projected to pick up Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff West, Caerphilly and Llanelli. Labour’s projected twenty-one constituency seats would be clearly their worst-ever performance at a National Assembly election.
Now the regional list vote. YouGov produced the following results (with changes from April’s Barometer poll once again in brackets):
Labour: 28% (-1)
Plaid Cymru: 22% (-1)
Conservatives: 20% (-4)
Brexit Party: 6% (+6)
Liberal Democrats: 5% (-1)
UKIP: 5% (-1)
Change UK: 5% (+5)
Greens: 3% (-1)
Abolish the Assembly: 3% (-1)
Others: 2% (-2)
These results further confirm the decline in the former dominance of Conservatives and Labour – but also the lack of public consensus on the alternatives. Both Labour and Plaid Cymru are more or less stable since our last poll, but the Conservatives see their vote share slip by several points since February. But several parties – the Brexit party, Change UK, the lib-Dems and UKIP – are all at about the same level of support: a vote share that could see them teetering on the edge of winning regional representation in the National Assembly.
Allowing for the constituency results already projected, and once more assuming uniform national swings since 2016, our new poll projects the following overall results for the Assembly’s regional list seats:
North Wales: 2 Plaid, 1 Conservative, 1 Brexit Party
Mid & West Wales: 2 Labour, 1 Plaid, 1 Brexit Party
South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid
South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 Brexit Party
South Wales East: 2 Conservative, 1 Brexit Party, 1 UKIP
These figures therefore generate the following overall result for the National Assembly:
Labour: 23 seats (21 constituency, 2 regional)
Plaid Cymru: 16 seats (10 constituency, 6 regional)
Conservatives: 15 seats (8 constituency, 7 regional)
Brexit Party: 4 seats (4 regional)
Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)
UKIP: 1 seats (1 regional)
In short, this new poll projects the Brexit party to come from nowhere to win four seats within the Assembly. But before people get too carried away with this, a few health warnings. First, my periodic reminder that uniform national swing is only a ‘rough and ready’ guide to how opinion poll results – even if they are accurate at the national level – would translate into constituency and regional results. Second, it is innately difficult to know how to compute projections for a completely new party. For this poll I have projected both the Brexit Party and Change UK to have even support levels across Wales; absent any detailed hard data on their geographical distribution of support, I think there is no other sensible way to proceed. But in reality, any party will have stronger and weaker areas. Third: on the poll, the regional seats – and particularly the final seats allocated in each region – are coming down to very tiny margins. With polls that have a certain ‘margin of error’ on estimates of support, it would take very little for the seats currently projected to go to the Brexit party to instead be allocated elsewhere – such as to Change UK.
More generally, this poll gives a broader insight into the current state of party politics in Wales, and indeed across Britain. And what the poll says, above all, is that our traditional two leading parties are in some trouble. Their failings are losing them support. While the voters of Wales have not yet coalesced around a single alternative, the potential for other parties to gain support is very considerable. With further troubles for the Conservative-Labour duopoly likely to lie ahead, we should not assume that their dominance of electoral politics in Wales will continue.Ja
YouGov interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,025 adults in Wales online between 2-5 April 2019.