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The Electoral Review of the Year, 2016

1 January 2017

After an extraordinary 2016, there’s certainly lots to look back on! Whatever else we might say, it wasn’t dull…

The main electoral event in 2016 in Wales was, of course, the National Assembly election in May. In the end the result was much as had been suggested for some time by the Welsh Political Barometer polls conducted in the months leading up to the election; and also very close to the projections from the first ever ‘on the day’ poll in a devolved election, which was conducted by our friends at YouGov for the Wales Governance Centre and ITV Cymru Wales. The table below summarises the election result in Wales:

Party Constituency Vote Share (change on 2011) Regional Vote Share (change on 2011) Seats Won (change on 2011)
Labour 34.7% (-7.6) 31.5 (-5.4) 29 (-1)
Plaid Cymru 20.5% (+1.3) 20.8 (+3.0) 12 (+1)
Conservative 21.1% (-3.9) 18.8 (-3.7) 11 (-3)
UKIP 12.5 (+12.5) 13.0 (+8.5) 7 (+7)
Lib-Dems 7.7 (-2.9) 6.5 (-1.6) 1 (-4)
Others 3.5 (-0.2) 9.4 (-3.8) 0

Turnout 45.3% (+3.1)

For Labour, 2016 was yet another election in which they came first in both votes and seats in Wales (the 37th of the last 38 Wales-wide electoral contests, in a run starting in 1922, with the 2009 European election being the only exception). Though suffering a significant vote-share loss on their best-ever Assembly election performance in 2011, the party only lost a single seat – Rhondda, lost to Plaid leader Leanne Wood. Amidst a difficult political broader political context, the Assembly election result must be regarded as a highly successful defensive operation for Welsh Labour.

For Plaid Cymru, the Assembly election was a step forward after a decade or more marked by almost continual electoral retreat. But it was only a fairly modest step forward. Plaid reclaimed its status as the second-largest party in the Assembly – at least for several months… On the same day, Plaid also managed to win two of Wales’ four Police and Crime Commissioner elections. However, overall Plaid remained a long way behind Labour, and even further behind matching the performance of their sister party in Scotland.

For the Conservatives, the result was undoubtedly a disappointment. Hitherto the Tories had improved their position at every Assembly election; they had also led Plaid Cymru in the vast majority of polls during 2011-16. But a rather lacklustre Welsh campaign, and a torrent of bad news coming from London, led to the Welsh Conservatives significantly under-performing their hopes in 2016 – once again in sharp contrast with the fortunes of their Scottish counterparts.

For UKIP, 2016 was the year in which they not only achieved their historic goal of having the UK vote to leave the EU, but also entered a domestic British legislature in significant numbers for the first time. Their Assembly election result actually represented something of an under-performance compared to what the polls had been suggesting for the last year or so. But this was still enough for the party to win more seats in 2016 than the Liberal Democrats had ever won in an Assembly election.

For the Liberal Democrats, however, 2016 was yet another bad year in Wales. Having successfully held most of their ground in 2011, five years on the pressures against the party were just too great for them to hold the line. A small vote share loss on both ballots from 2016 was enough to see them lose their four regional list seats. Although Kirsty Williams held Brecon & Radnor with an increased majority, she soon resigned as leader, just as her party ceased to be an official entity in the Welsh legislature.

But, of course, 2016 was not only the year of the Assembly election. It is likely to be remembered for many years as the year of the Brexit referendum. Our Barometer polls had been suggesting for some time that the outcome in Wales was likely to be close. However, just as with the GB-wide polls, the Remain side had tended to be narrowly ahead in the Welsh polls – whereas when the result was declared, both Wales and the UK as a whole had voted, by narrow but clear margins, for Leave. The final tally was 52.5% for Leave and 47.5% for Remain. The table below summarises the result across Wales, with local authorities ranked by their % Remain vote:

Local Authority % Remain % Leave % Turnout
Cardiff 60.0 40.0 69.6
Gwynedd 58.1 41.9 72.3
Ceredigion 54.6 45.4 74.4
Vale of Glamorgan 50.7 49.3 76.1
Monmouthshire 50.4 49.6 77.7
Ynys Môn 49.1 50.9 73.8
Swansea 48.5 51.5 69.5
Carmarthenshire 46.3 53.7 74.0
Powys 46.3 53.7 77.0
Rhondda Cynon Taf 46.3 53.7 67.4
Conwy 46.0 54.0 71.7
Denbighshire 46.0 54.0 69.1
Bridgend 45.4 54.6 71.1
Newport 44.0 56.0 70.2
Flintshire 43.6 54.6 74.8
Merthyr Tydfil 43.6 56.4 67.4
Neath Port Talbot 43.2 56.8 71.5
Pembrokeshire 42.9 57.1 74.4
Caerphilly 42.4 57.6 70.7
Wrexham 41.0 59.0 71.5
Torfaen 40.2 59.8 69.8
Blaenau Gwent 38.0 62.0 68.1


But there were other electoral contests in Wales during 2016. There was a steady stream of local government by-elections for seats across the 22 Welsh local authorities: some 23 by-elections in total. My friend Harry Hayfield (@HarryHayfield on Twitter) has very kindly prepared for us a detailed list of the results. (Any errors or omissions in the list, please let me know). The overall patterns are summarised in the following table:


Party Total Votes N of candidates Seats Won Net Gain/Loss Average Swing#
Labour 8,122 21 8 -4 -8.5%
Conservative 2,503 17 0 -1 -3.2%
Lib-Dems 3,611 15 3 +1 +2.1%
Plaid Cymru 4,133 15 5 +3 +5.7%
UKIP 867 10 0  
Greens 146 3 0  
Independents/Others 5,056 7 +1  


(#Mean average swing from the previous election, for all by-elections where a party stood candidates in both the by-election and the previous election. This measure therefore does not include cases where a party failed to stand a candidate either in a by-election or the previous election. It has only been possible to calculate this measure for the four main traditional parties.)

Observing detailed patterns in these local results is hampered by the fact that parties are somewhat selective in where they stand. No party stood candidates for every by-election, and only Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru even stood in the majority of them. However, at least some observations can be made.

  • Labour saw their vote share decline in all but three of the local by-elections where they stood candidates in 2016 and had stood in 2012. However, Labour were declining from a high base – their very strong performance in the 2012 Welsh local elections. And they clearly remained the leading party in Welsh local elections in 2015: in terms of presence (they stood the most candidates), votes won, and seats won.
  • The Welsh Conservatives performed noticeably poorly in 2016 in Welsh local elections. They stood candidates in 17 of the 23 races – but won none of them. Moreover, their vote share was down in most seats where they stood and had also stood previously – and that represents a decline on a far-from-stellar performance in 2012.
  • The Liberal Democrats’ local by-election performance continues to be patchy. They stood candidates in most races this year, unlike in 2015, and they made one strong gain late in the year; their vote share was up in places where there was direct comparison with 2012. But their vote share was only up marginally, and that on a pretty dreadful 2012 performance.
  • Plaid Cymrumaintained a reasonably strong presence of candidates, and put in plenty of good performances. These results show them continuing to be the second strongest party in Welsh local government, and generally moving forward. In all but three of the seats where they had stood in 2012, Plaid increased their vote share, and they more than doubled the Lib-Dems’ for the average increase overall. But their performance was still a little inconsistent, and does not yet indicate a major surge in their support.
  • UKIP’s presence and impact in local elections continues to be very patchy. They stood in fewer than half of the by-elections, and came nowhere winning a seat anywhere, winning only four percent of all the votes cast.


  1. Geraint

    What strikes me about the Assembly Elections is how close it was. Seeing Baroness Morgan talking on talking TV about how well Labour had done but with the need to re-connect with their voters reinforced the point.
    Five Labour constituency AMs were returned with majorities of less than 1,000 votes.
    In Llanelli the Labour AM had a majority of 382 with the Greens, Liberals and a former Plaid councillor taking a shade under two thousand votes. If Plaid had recaptured the seat the fourth top up seat would have gone to William Powell the Liberal candidate and Plaid would have lost their top up seat.
    The next most marginal seat was Blaenau Gwent. Labour have been having trouble here for years, having lost the parliamentary seat, the assembly seat and the council in recent years. If Plaid had managed to get another 330 Labour voters to support them they would have won the seat and the Tories would have taken the fourth top up seat.
    Next comes the Vale of Clwyd with a Labour majority of 768 and a seat taken by the Tories at the general ekection. A Tory win here would have seen the top up seat go to Plaid and Conservative Mark Isherwood out.
    The next two most marginal seats are in South Central with Labour ahead of the Tories in the Vale by 777 votes and the Tories holding the parliamentary seat. Cardiff Central has Labour ahead of the Liberals by 817 votes and Plaid and the Greens polling 3,000 votes in this constituency.
    If Labour lost these two seats the fourth top up seat would have gone to Plaid and David Melding would have lost his seat.
    The over all result would be Labour on 24, no change for UKIP, two more Liberals, an extra Tory and a stronger Plaid group on 14.
    Just shows how political power in the Assembly turns on very small margins.

  2. Jonathon Harrington

    No mention of the relative success of the Abolish The Welsh Assembly Party which beat the Greens in ALL regions and The Lib Dems in two; much to the surprise of many including those in both Cardiff and Westminster.

  3. Geraint

    Sorry mistake on the Mid and West top up seat. The loss of Llanelli from Labour would have resulted in Labour gaining the 4th topup seat. Forgot B&R is in the region.

    The Abolish Party had its best result in the Mid & West region gaining 10,707 but there would have to be 9 top up seats before they gained any seats. A substantial vote but still a long way to go before they are elected.

    A question this raises in my mind is what formula the TV companies will come up with to allocate places to the party leaders for the election debates.

  4. oldnat

    Do we have any information as to the “solidity” of the votes for the 4 main parties (5 if you include LDs) in Wales?

    In other words, what percentage of the parties’ support comes from folk who have voted (sometimes many) different ways in the past?

    Bliadhna Mhath Ùr

  5. Chris Johnes

    Old Nat probably the best data is the consistency of polling support for the main parties which would suggest ceilings and floors; both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru seem to operate within a fairly narrow band of support between 15-25% and UKIP now for a while between 12 and 18%. Labour have much more volatility but are clearly operating at the highest ceiling and floor; FWIW I suspect the May local elections will test out their floor although it’s not at all clear who the beneficiaries will be. Not sure you can count LDs as a major party any more here

  6. Ben Screen

    @Jonathan Harrington – Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party was not included because it’s a fringe organisation without any significant support. Nationally, they received 4.4% of the popular vote. Did the party keep its deposit anywhere? Genuine question.

  7. J.Jones

    Hardly a genuine question Ben when you were gloating on Twitter back on the 8th August that ATWAP lost their deposits everywhere.

    Nevertheless 4.4% at the first outing wasn’t bad; beating an established party like the Greens and not that far off the LibDems.
    Back in 2007 UKIP got 4.0%. In 2011 they got 4.6% and in 2016 they got 13% and 7 seats in the Senedd.
    The question you should always ask is “How many people are fed up with devolved government?” UKIP was the main beneficiary last time but now that they have got the cash and perks they sound like all the rest. Where do their voters go next time around?

  8. Ben Screen

    @J.Jones Do you have a database of everything I’ve ever tweeted then? This is quite creepy. Given that you reject almost anything Welsh, I suppose you need to believe 4.4% was acceptable. It’s out and out abysmal. The Welsh Parliament (as it will be called) s is here to stay. You’re a stickler for statistics, you should know there’s significant support for devolution. Or was there something wrong with those polls too?

    • Jonathon Harrington

      Ben, What a sad individual to have such a narrow mind. Talk about not seing the wood for the trees!
      Particularly as Welsh elections have never managed to attract a turnout over 49.7%! I think I shall write him off as a ‘troll’ as he is not worth the effort of communicating!

  9. Jonathon Harrington

    No it did not retain its deposit anyuwhere but bearing in mind it was started from scratch and received virtually no media support I thoiught it did rather well. Beatong the Greens and Lib Dems was good going for a first attempt!

  10. oldnat

    Chris Johnes

    Thanks for that info on the parties in Wales. Like there, the LDs shouldn’t count as a major party in Scotland either.

  11. oldnat

    Just to flag this up for those in Wales –

    An analysis (along the LSE/Rowntree lines, which are inevitably rather English dominated) has been done on Brexit (& independence) votes in Scotland.

    It includes a little geographic analyses in some of rGB which some might find interesting.

    “The regional effects are interesting: once we’ve controlled for the other factors, there is no real evidence of a distinct ‘London effect’ for Remain, or a north-east of England effect for Leave. But there are pro-Remain Scottish and Welsh effects – although Wales voted for Brexit, in this model the Leave vote was lower than you’d expect given incomes, education and age.”

  12. J.Jones

    “@J.Jones Do you have a database of everything I’ve ever tweeted then? This is quite creepy.”

    Sadly more prosaic Ben; I googled “Abolish the Welsh Assembly party lost deposits” to answer your “genuine question” (above). Your Twitter comment came up on the first page.

    There is a positive dimension to Roger Scully’s WES poll on the Welsh language however. Apparently 32% of the poll were Welsh speakers and these were adults over the age of 18. That means that we have 777,615 Welsh speaking adults. If we include Welsh speaking children (under 18) that’s another 190,301. So according to that we have 967,916 Welsh speakers and have very nearly reached the 1 Million Welsh speakers target that Carwyn has set for 2050.
    Something to celebrate surely.

  13. Ben Screen

    @J Harrington- Im hardly a troll. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a troll. I disagree with J Jones on most of his comments, doesn’t mean he’s a troll. Don’t really see how I can be called narrow-minded either based on the above comment. To beat the Greens is hardly an achievement, and the Lib Dems are as equally dead in the water. To put it another way, pro-devolution parties beat you hands down.

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