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A Quiet and Uneventful Period in Politics…

22 February 2019

My apologies that the blog has been quiet for a few weeks. However, there has been the little matter of the day job… In the meantime – well, politics certainly hasn’t been dull, has it? In additional to the ongoing saga of Brexit, we now have the reality of MPs breaking away from both the Labour and Conservative parties, and even the possibility of some sort of ‘Alliance Mark II’ in the centre-ground of politics.

In this febrile context it is a great time for there to be two new Welsh opinion polls on the horizon. First out of the traps should be the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll – as before, conducted by YouGov for ITV-Wales and Cardiff University. Results from this should be published at the beginning of next week. Later in the week should come the BBC Wales annual St David’s Day poll – which, as before, is I understand being conducted by ICM. While not all previous BBC polls have asked about voting intentions, the most recent one did. If this latest one follows suit it will provide us with two fairly up-to-date readings on the state of electoral support for the parties in Wales, and whether this has yet been impacted substantially by recent events.

Getting two polls so close together will also provide us with some evidence about whether different polling agencies are tending to show differences in levels of party support. All serious polling agencies seek to get it right. But there are such things as sampling errors, which no-one can wholly avoid. And the slightly different approaches of different polling companies can also lead to somewhat more systematic differences. Recent experience has suggested some modest differences between the three companies that have conducted Welsh polling in the last twelve months: YouGov, ICM and Sky Data. To illustrate what I mean I will show results from the ICM and Sky Data Welsh polls conducted during 2018, alongside those from YouGov polls conducted in Wales at very similar time points.

First, here are the voting intention figures for the BBC/ISM poll reported almost exactly a year ago, alongside those from the YouGov Barometer poll conducted very shortly thereafter:

  Westminster NAW Constituency Vote NAW List Vote
Party ICM YouGov ICM YouGov ICM YouGov
Labour 49 46 40 39 36 36
Conservative 32 33 22 28 21 27
Plaid 11 11 24 22 22 21
Lib-Dems 5 4 6 4 6 4
UKIP 2 4 5 5 8 6
Others 3 3 3 2 5 7

And here are the figures from YouGov’s December 2018 poll, along with those of the Sky Data Welsh poll that was published very shortly afterwards:

  Westminster NAW Constituency Vote NAW List Vote
Party YouGov Sky YouGov Sky YouGov Sky
Labour 43 45 40 42 36 39
Conservative 31 32 25 26 24 23
Plaid 13 14 20 22 20 22
Lib-Dems 6 3 7 3 4 2
UKIP 3 4 5 4 4 4
Others 4 2 3 3 11 10

There are too few data-points here for us to identify definitive patterns. Nonetheless, it is interesting that YouGov appear to have been generally showing Labour support a little lower than did the other polling agencies. This is particularly interesting given that, in the 2017 general election, YouGov’s Britain-wide polls were (and it turned out, correctly) among the most favourable to Labour during the latter part of the campaign period. In a similar way, YouGov have mainly been reporting marginally lower levels of support for Plaid Cymru. While there was a notable difference in Conservative support levels for the National Assembly a year ago between ICM and YouGov, this difference was not seen in Westminster voting intentions and was not repeated when YouGov and Sky both polled towards the end of 2018. Sky Data did, though, report much lower levels of support for the Liberal Democrats in December 2018 than did YouGov.

As if two new Welsh polls were not enough to keep psephologists excited, there is also a forthcoming parliamentary by-election on the horizon. The circumstances in which this one has arisen are ones that no-one would have wished for – the death of Paul Flynn, the highly popular Labour MP for Newport West. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that the by-election that we are now faced with will be unusually interesting.

Here is result of Newport West at the 2017 general election:

Party Votes %
Labour 22,723 52.3
Conservative 17,065 39.3
UKIP 1,100 2.5
Plaid Cymru 1,077 2.5
Liberal Democrats 976 2.2
Greens 497 1.1

The seat has been held by Labour since Paul Flynn took the seat from the Conservatives in 1987. Nonetheless, it was one of those seats that looked like a potential Conservative gain in the early stages of the 2017 campaign, when the first two Welsh polls indicated large swings to the Tories.

In normal circumstances the by-election ought to be a comfortable ‘hold’ for Labour. We are in the mid-term period of a Conservative government at Westminster; a government, moreover, that is having substantial problems with the dominant political issue of the time. Labour already have in place a politically experienced candidate, Ruth Jones (a former President of the Wales TUC). Although the Conservatives do not need a huge swing to take the seat, all the normal psephological rules would suggest that Labour ought to have no major problems.

But these are not normal political times. We don’t yet know when the by-election will be held. Nor do we know how many Labour MPs might have defected from the party by the time of the ballot: another defection has been announced in the time it has taken for me to write this blog-post. Nor do we know who might be the other candidates – both for established parties, and possibly for new ones. As with most things about politics at the moment, the by-election is unlikely to be dull.


  1. John R Walker

    Will there be an Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party candidate in Newport West is a good question? It would make a lot of sense for them to field an experienced candidate if only to try and bring their message to a wider audience than is usual in Assembly elections.

    Turnout in Newport West at the general election in 2017 was 67.5% (43,438) compared with 44.7% (27,751) in the 2016 Bay Bubble election. Even allowing for a lower turnout in a by-election, this suggests there could be several thousand more potential voters who might see Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party at the top of the ballot paper and wonder why they haven’t heard of them before?

    Their vote in a higher turnout election might give us all a better view of what their likely overall support could be once they break through the artificial ceiling which rather looks as if it is being imposed on them by the usual suspects who regard their policy as heresy and seem to go out of their way to avoid naming the party at all in case anybody else thinks they have a really good idea.

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