With just a few weeks to go until the Senedd election, today’s Welsh Political Barometer poll provides the very latest evidence on the political state of play. And it shows Wales to be currently on course for what might be the closest devolved election ever – and possibly the worst ever result for the Labour party.
Our new poll once again asked about voting intentions at both the devolved level and Westminster. Polling for the Senedd included 16 and 17 year olds, to take account of the newly-expanded franchise; respondents in this age group were, however, excluded from the sampling of voting intentions for a UK general election.
Given the looming devolved election it makes sense to look first at Senedd voting intentions. Here are results from our latest poll for the constituency ballot (with changes in support for each party since the last Barometer poll, published in January, indicated in brackets):
Labour: 32% (-2)
Conservatives: 30% (+4)
Plaid Cymru: 23% (+1)
Liberal Democrats: 5% (+1)
Reform UK: 3% (-2)
Greens: 2% (-4)
Others: 5% (+1)
Our new poll thus shows a substantial shrinkage in Labour’s advantage, and a clear improvement in the position of the Welsh Conservatives. While we should always be cautious about over-interpreting a single poll, these numbers are close to those found by YouGov in another recent poll (for Wales Online); they are also very much in line with the changes seen in recent Britain-wide polling, which has suggested some strengthening of the Conservative position and a modest Labour decline. The polling continues to indicate that there are three major parties in the contest for the Senedd. But Labour’s status as the leading one of those parties no longer looks as if it can be taken for granted.
A uniform swing projection of the changes in party support since May 2016 indicated by this poll suggests that the Conservatives would make five constituency gains from Labour: the Vale of Glamorgan, the Vale of Clwyd, Gower, Wrexham and Cardiff North. On top of these Labour losses, the projection also indicates three seats going from them to Plaid Cymru: Llanelli, Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West. (Although developments in all three constituencies since 2016 must make such Plaid gains less likely than the uniform swing projection suggests).
And what about the regional list vote? The new Barometer poll sees the following results (with changes since January’s poll once again indicated in brackets):
Labour: 31% (+1)
Conservatives: 28% (+3)
Plaid Cymru: 22% (-1)
Abolish the Assembly: 7% (no change)
Liberal Democrats: 4% (no change)
Greens: 3% (-2)
Others: 4% (-2)
Just as for the constituency vote, we see for this ballot a fall in the Labour lead – although of rather smaller order than for the constituency vote, and based on reported changes for the two leading parties that are both well within the standard ‘margin of error’. The position of the Conservatives as the strongest challenger to Labour appears to be reaffirmed by the findings here; while Plaid Cymru continue to be in a fairly strong third place, there are no current signs of them gaining any significant ground on the two parties ahead of them.
Another interesting aspect of our new Barometer poll is that it continues to show the anti-devolution Abolish the Assembly party at a level of support that might well win them some regional list seats in the Senedd. We see this when, once again assuming uniform national swings since 2016, our new poll projects the following overall results for the Senedd’s regional list seats:
North Wales: 1 Labour, 1 Plaid, 1 Conservative, 1 Abolish the Assembly
Mid and West Wales: 2 Labour, 1 Conservative, 1 Abolish the Assembly
South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid
South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 Abolish the Assembly
South Wales East: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 Abolish the Assembly
From these figures we generate the following overall projected result for the Senedd:
Labour: 22 seats (19 constituency, 3 regional)
Conservatives: 19 seats (11 constituency, 8 regional)
Plaid Cymru: 14 seats (9 constituency, 5 regional)
Abolish the Assembly: 4 seats (4 regional)
Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)
Labour must still be the strong favourites to be the largest party in the Senedd after the election: they still lead in all recent polls, and they have a track-record of having finished well ahead in all previous devolved Welsh elections; even in difficult years for Labour, none of their opponents have yet been able to come close to defeating them for first place. But the evidence from our latest poll does suggest that Labour’s dominance may be challenged more strongly than ever before in 2021.
And how about Westminster? Our first poll of 2021 indicated that Labour’s Welsh lead had shrunk to a very narrow one; our new poll suggests that it might have disappeared altogether. The new general election figures are as shown below (with changes from the previous Barometer poll once again in brackets):
Labour: 35% (-1)
Conservatives: 35% (+2)
Plaid Cymru: 17% (no change)
Liberal Democrats: 4% (+1)
Greens: 3% (-1)
Reform UK: 2% (-3)
Others: 3% (+1)
These figures once again demonstrate that party politics in Wales, at present at least, is a three-cornered contest. Labour’s traditional dominance for Westminster is now under considerable challenge from the Conservatives, who draw level with them in this new poll. But there is also some good news for Plaid Cymru here: their historic high of 17 percent in our previous poll does not appear to be in any way a fluke. Indeed, one of the major puzzles of these last two Barometer polls has been the coincidence of all-time high performances for Plaid on general election voting intention alongside them remaining only third-best in support for the Senedd. It used to be the case that we could rely on Plaid support being appreciably higher in the devolved context; it now appears that the long-standing differential in Plaid support between the Westminster and Senedd electoral arenas has diminished, though not quite disappeared altogether.
What might these numbers from the new Barometer poll mean in terms of parliamentary seats? Using the standard method of projecting swings since the last general election uniformly across Wales generates the following projected outcome in terms of seats (with changes from the December 2019 election result indicated in brackets):
Labour: 19 (-3)
Conservatives: 16 (+2)
Plaid Cymru: 5 (+1)
Four seats are projected by this poll to change hands: the Conservatives are projected to narrowly gain Alyn and Deeside, Newport West and Gower, all of which they came quite close to gaining at the last general election; however, the Conservatives on this projection would also lose Ynys Mon to Plaid Cymru. (These projections are, however, based on the current 40-seat Welsh constituency boundaries; by the time of the next election we are very likely to see a reduction to 32 Welsh seats, on substantially changed boundaries).
Overall, our new poll indicates that the outcome of the forthcoming Senedd election is in greater doubt than that of any previous such election. We have long been accustomed to Labour carrying all before it in Wales. But we cannot assume that this will simply happen once more in 2021.
The Welsh Political Barometer poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, had a sample of 1,174 Welsh adults aged 16+ and was carried out online by YouGov from 16-19 March 2021. Figures for Westminster voting intention reflect only those respondents aged 18 and over.