With fateful political decisions for the UK looming ever larger on the horizon, our new Welsh Political Barometer poll provides the latest evidence about what impact these turbulent political times are having on support for the political parties.
As always, our new poll enquired about the Welsh public’s voting intentions both for a UK general election and a devolved election. Have all the arguments about Brexit, and the various political controversies around the conduct of the Prime Minister, had any significant impact on levels of party support since our last Barometer poll in late July?
First, with an early general election still appearing a strong possibility, how do the parties stand in terms of Westminster support? This is what YouGov found in our new poll (with changes from the July Barometer poll in brackets):
Conservative: 29% (+5)
Labour: 25% (+3)
Liberal Democrats: 16% (no change)
Brexit Party: 14% (-4)
Plaid Cymru: 12% (-3)
Greens: 4% (+1)
Others: 1% (no change)
After the splintering of support for the two main UK parties in the first half of 2019, our new poll appears to show something of a move back to the old duopoly. In particular, the Welsh Conservatives will be delighted to see their support move up five percentage points, after a seven point climb in the last poll from the depths to which they sunk around the time of the European elections in late May. Much of that Conservative improvement appears to have come at the direct expense of the Brexit Party: although the latter still clearly have significant support, they now lag well behind the Conservatives among 2016 Leave voters, whereas in our July poll the two were level-pegging in this group. Whatever his political opponents think of his conduct, Boris Johnson’s political strategy appears to be paying some electoral dividends.
After hitting an all-time low in July, Welsh Labour will also be relived to see their support edge up by three points. This change is within the standard ‘margin of error’, and suggests that our July poll may have been something of an ‘outlier’ in its estimate of the extent of the fall in Welsh Labour support. Nonetheless, that there has been a substantial Labour decline over the last year cannot be in any doubt. Similarly, there can be little question that 2019 has seen the electoral re-birth of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Although their support has flatlined since July, it has done so at a level the party could barely have dreamed of twelve months ago.
What the poll shows above all, though, are the stark divisions in Wales – as across most of Britain – on the issue of Brexit. Among 2016 Remain voters, the Conservatives are in a distant fourth place, while the Brexit Party wins literally zero percent support; among 2016 Leavers, the Conservatives win nearly half of all support (49%) and the Brexit Party the bulk of the remainder (another 29%).
In these unprecedented political times, and with public support spread across several parties, all attempts to use opinion poll numbers to project outcome in term of parliamentary seats should be viewed with very considerable caution. However, using the standard method of calculating uniform national swings since the last general election generates the following outcome in terms of projections for Welsh seats in a UK general election:
Labour: 18 seats
Conservatives: 17 seats
Plaid Cymru: 4 seats
Liberal Democrats: 1 seats
If they were ever to be realised, these seat projections would constitute a substantial change from the 2017 election – and, indeed, the modern electoral history of Wales. Most of the seats to change hands would be won by the Conservatives directly from Labour. The poll projects the Tories to capture Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Cardiff North, Clwyd South, Delyn, Gower, Newport West, Vale of Clwyd, and Wrexham from Labour. This is even though our new poll actually has Conservative support falling by more than four percentage points since the 2017 general election. Labour support has simply fallen much further, being barely more than half what it was in June 2017. The poll also projects Labour to lose Ynys Mon to Plaid Cymru; although the poll also suggests that Plaid, in turn, might lose Ceredigion to the Liberal Democrats.
What these figures suggest is that any general election occurring soon would open the possibility of profound changes in Welsh politics. Labour have won the last 26 general elections here. You don’t manage that without having some serious staying power, so it would take a brave person to bet heavily against them doing so once more. But the tectonic plates may be shifting. Labour’s 18 projected seats would be the first time they had not won an outright majority of Welsh seats in a general election since before the war.
But it is not only change at Westminster which is suggested by our new poll. As well as Westminster, YouGov also 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 shifts in support since our July Barometer poll once more in brackets):
Labour: 25% (+4)
Conservatives: 23% (+4)
Plaid Cymru: 22% (-2)
Brexit Party: 15% (-4)
Liberal Democrats: 11% (-1)
Greens: 4% (no change)
Others: 1% (-1)
If we again assume uniform national swings since the last National Assembly election (though with similar caution about such projections as for Westminster), our new Barometer poll suggests Labour party might lose ten of their current constituency seats. Labour’s projected seventeen constituency seats would be by far their worst-ever performance at a National Assembly election – they have never thus far failed to win a clear majority of constituency seats in the chamber. Labour’s projected losses are as follows: the Conservatives are projected to gain Cardiff North, Gower, the Vale of Clwyd, the Vale of Glamorgan, and Wrexham; Plaid Cymru are projected to gain Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Cardiff West and Llanelli; while the Liberal Democrats are projected to gain Cardiff Central.
For the regional list vote, the new Barometer poll produced the following results (with changes since our July poll once again in brackets):
Labour: 23% (+4)
Conservatives: 22% (+4)
Plaid Cymru: 21% (-2)
Brexit Party: 14% (-3)
Liberal Democrats: 10% (-2)
Greens: 5% (+1)
Others: 5% (-2)
These results for the regional list vote support the the constituency vote figures in suggesting some recovery in the Labour and Conservative positions since our July poll. Meanwhile, it appears that Plaid Cymru, the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats may all have slipped back a small amount in public support. Although they are still in a strong third place, there is no repeat for Plaid in this poll of July’s unprecedented result when they led the way for both National Assembly votes.
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 Brexit, 1 Liberal Democrat, 1 Plaid
Mid & West Wales: 2 Brexit, 1 Labour, 1 Liberal Democrat
South Wales West: 1 Brexit, 1 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 Liberal Democrat
South Wales Central: 2 Brexit, 1 Plaid, 1 Conservative
South Wales East: 2 Brexit, 1 Conservative, 1 Liberal Democrat
These figures therefore generate the following overall projected result for the National Assembly:
Labour: 18 seats (17 constituency, 1 regional)
Conservatives: 14 seats (11 constituency, 3 regional)
Plaid Cymru: 13 seats (10 constituency, 3 regional)
Brexit Party: 9 seats (9 regional)
Liberal Democrats: 6 seats (2 constituency, 4 regional)
Since the first election to the National Assembly in 1999, Labour have always much been the largest party in the chamber and have always led the Welsh Government. Our new poll indicates that we are currently on course for a rather different type of politics in what is soon to be known as Senedd Cymru/the Welsh Parliament: a chamber where every party has fewer than one-third of the seats, and where there are five significant parties, with the Liberal Democrats back in play. Yet given the scale of change in the polls in the last year, and the magnitude of the political events that might occur before the next Welsh devolved election in May 2021, who knows where Welsh politics will be by then?
Our latest Welsh Political Barometer poll is a fitting reflection of the uncertain political times in which we are living. The Conservatives will be greatly encouraged by their rise in support since our last poll, and the fact that this is their second Barometer poll in a row to show them leading in Wales. Should a general election come, the Welsh Tories could begin the campaign with realistic expectations of targeting significant seat gains. At present, at least, they appear to be achieving significant success in marginalising the Brexit Party, and harvesting substantial support from 2016 Leave voters. By contrast, despite a modest recovery since our last poll, Welsh Labour look to be on the defensive. Both for Westminster and the Assembly they currently seem on course to lose significant ground. But perhaps what the poll most reinforces is the extent of the current divides within a Wales, and a UK, in which the defining political issue is Brexit. With momentous developments on that issue possibly just days away, the electoral landscape could soon be witnessing further turmoil.
YouGov interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,032 adults in Wales online between 10-14 October 2019.