The BBC/ICM Poll, 1: Devolution6 March 2017
BBC Wales published last week findings from its annual poll on political issues – as has become traditional, results were mostly published on St David’s Day. As in previous years the poll was conducted by ICM, with fieldwork by telephone. A sample of just over 1000 respondents was obtained. In this and a couple of following blog posts I will look at some of the findings.
One question that the poll explored was opinions about how Wales is governed. As in previous polls, respondents were presented with several options as to how Wales might be governed and asked ‘Which of these statements comes closest to your view?’ The results were as follows:
Wales should become independent, separate from the UK: 6%
The Welsh Assembly should have more powers than it currently has: 44%
The powers the Welsh Assembly currently has are sufficient and should remain as it is now: 29%
The Welsh Assembly should have fewer powers than it currently has: 3%
The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster: 13%
None of these: 1%
Don’t Know: 3%
Consistent with the results of just about every survey that has asked this type of question for about the last decade and a half, the results show strong majority support for devolution in Wales. Public appetite either for independence or for the abolition of devolution seems very limited. Most people in Wales appear to want some self-government, but within the UK. And as in most polls in recent years, the BBC/ICM survey finds that among those who endorse devolution the balance of opinion is modestly in the direction of support for some further powers.
Although the BBC/ICM poll has carried some form of such question for a number of years, the latest one was only the fourth to use the current question wording. The following table shows the pattern of results across these four polls:
|September 2014||March 2015||March 2016||March 2017|
|Remain as present||26%||33%||30%||29%|
In short, other than in the first of these polls, which was conducted in the immediate aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum and which showed both unusually low levels of support for independence and ‘Remain as present’ and an unusually high level of support for ‘More Powers’, there has been very change in these polls over time.
Sadly, because the BBC/ICM poll did not ask about voting intentions or some other measure of party support, we have no idea how followers of the different parties stood in this poll. But we have plenty of information on such matters from other sources – notably last year’s Welsh Election Study. That suggested that, unsurprisingly, Plaid Cymru supporters are most supportive of independence, and Conservatives and UKIP-ers most likely to endorse abolition. But large proportions of supporters of all parties actually support devolution for Wales.
Of course, the idea of ‘More Powers’ relates to a status quo about which people may have less than accurate perceptions. More than what? One means of probing this is to ask respondents directly about which level of government is responsible for key policy areas. The BBC/ICM poll this time around ran a question enquiring about who runs the Welsh NHS. They ran a similar question last year, which was worded as following:
“Thinking about the delivery of public services in Wales, do you think that responsibility for running the NHS in Wales lies with the Welsh Government in Cardiff or the UK Government at Westminster?”
This time around the question was worded in a subtly different way:
“On public services, do you think that the Welsh Government or the UK Government runs the health service in Wales?”
I think I prefer the 2017 version: I think last year’s had perhaps too many cues for ‘Wales’ before the options were actually given to the respondents, thus perhaps unconsciously pushing them in a particular direction. Anyway, with that proviso entered, and bearing in mind that the two questions were not wholly equivalent, this is the picture for this year’s responses compared to last year’s:
|March 2016||March 2017|
Thus, if anything levels of knowledge appear to have become worse in the last twelve months! This may be due to the changes in question wording, or the fact that the poll last year was conducted prior to the Welsh Assembly election. Nonetheless, on this most important of devolved responsibilities in Wales, public knowledge of who does what remains somewhat less than flawless.
I’ll be back in a few days to discuss some other aspects of the BBC/ICM poll.
Non-partisan thoughts on elections, voting and political representation from Roger Awan-Scully of Cardiff University.