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The BBC/ICM Poll, 1: Devolution

6 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
Independence 3% 6% 6% 6%
More Powers 49% 40% 43% 44%
Remain as present 26% 33% 30% 29%
Fewer powers 2% 4% 3% 3%
Abolish Assembly 12% 13% 13% 13%
None/Don’t Know 3% 4% 4% 4%


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
Welsh Government 65% 60%
UK Government 29% 30%
Neither/Both/Don’t Know 6% 7%


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.


  1. Graham Boucher

    Thank you Roger. I know not how to inform the Welsh public but I can tell you of two pensioners I know who asked two of their “better informed” friends how to vote in the EU referendum.
    Needless to say the generation that benefitted most from membership voted to exit. When they asked the way I voted their jaws dropped in disbelief. Asked about Trump I had the same reaction.
    The r/wing fiction that is the media, the demise of Trade Union culture, and the triumph of fear, greed & prejudice look pretty insurmountable to me. I speak to my fellow Bowls Club members & they’re just as regressive about most things.
    We have no Welsh media worth the name but we have Roger Scully and a few contemporaries struggling to inform the ill-informed.
    For this I am very grateful. More grist to your mill Sir!

  2. J.Jones

    So, to put it simply, people are told that the Welsh government spends half its money on the Welsh NHS but still only 60% think that the Welsh NHS is a Welsh government responsibility?

    People can’t be that stupid! I can only suppose that there is an interpretation of this question that is understood differently.

  3. John R Walker

    So 44% want more powers for the WG and 40% don’t know what powers the WG already has! Further evidence that people should have to pass a basic exam before they’re allowed to vote!

    But this ignorance is an effect not a cause – the cause is having an unnecessary and confusing extra layer of governance that most people don’t really have time or inclination to follow. It should never have been allowed to happen and it’s still not too late to eliminate the problem…

    It is aggravated by the way the political class and the pro-regionalisation media portray politics. In Wales when they say ‘government’ they often mean the WG without actually being specific about it so it is hardly surprising that a significant proportion of the population are not sophisticated enough to understand which government they are talking about. As far as I’m concerned we have 3 governments too many. Worse, we may yet have 4 governments too many if England gets one as well.

  4. Graham Hathaway

    There’s disparity between better policy making is made closer to the delivery and centralisation of power. The further they are apart the greater the malfunction. The losers are the electorate. This isn’t partisanship but pragmatism since the more you feed local circumstances into the shape of policy the greater the fit.

  5. Seimon Williams

    In reply to John R Walker, I agree that the blame for confusion around the responsibilities of the Governments of Wales and the UK can be laid largely at the media’s door. However, the Welsh Government is always referred to as such. Welsh citizens – who receive so much of their news from London-based sources – are routinely informed of the actions of “the” Government, of “the” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the impact of his policies on “the” NHS and so on. There is confusion, but it’s created largely by the laziness and ignorance of the London media.

  6. J.Jones

    “So 44% want more powers for the WG and 40% don’t know what powers the WG already has”.

    John Walker raises an interesting question but it is one that can be answered by ICM doing the cross tabulations. Of those who say that Wales needs more powers, how many also wrongly thought that the Welsh government DIDN’T already have responsibility for the NHS in Wales, or “Didn’t know”?
    Because we are drip fed results from the St David’s day poll perhaps there were other devolution questions that could be used to enlighten us about what is known about WG responsibilities but the large “Survey of Wales” has always suggested that only a few people claim to know “a lot” about what the Welsh government does.

    It may be that the response to any question that is formed in this way “More….for Wales” will trigger a “patriotic” response.

  7. J.Jones

    Roger rightly points out that, in reality, this poll is like all the previous ones. Virtually identical in fact; which is very strange.
    The reason why the figures SHOULD have changed is that the situation with regard to devolution has changed. Over 11 polls that asked about the devolution of taxation powers, taken from 2013 on- wards, more people were against devolution of income taxation powers than were in favour. On average by 3%.
    Logically, between March 2016 and March 2017 opinions on devolution should have changed because income tax raising powers were devolved.
    Some who were in favour of “More” would be satisfied and move into the “contents” and some who did not want more devolution would now want less…the removal of taxation powers.
    Instead there isn’t any variation at all which suggests that, no matter what new powers Wales is given, exactly the same proportions of people will answer the poll in the same way. Those wanting “more” will never be satisfied whilst those who say that the WG has enough powers will never be upset when the devolution journey continues to chug along.

    If that analysis is true the belief that devolution ends in Independence is reasonable. So, despite the fact that those wanting independence continue to be in a tiny minority, it is hard to see how they would not win out in the end.

  8. J.Jones

    Mind you…how reliable these polls are all depends on how good the sampling is. In this case ICM had a sample with 62% able to speak Welsh to some degree against 15% of adults able to speak Welsh in the 2011 census.
    There is another survey of 14,300 people, the National survey of Wales, that prompts respondents with a question as to whether they “speak a few words”. When those people are included the “able to speak Welsh” figure goes up to 24%. Still nowhere near the 62% of the St David’s day poll. Mind you I did find a training video for the Cardiff Welsh governance polling statistics department:-

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