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The March Welsh Political Barometer Poll

22 March 2021

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.


Comments

12 comments
  1. Jon Coles

    Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West will both stay Labour.
    In Llanelli, both Plaid and Labour have been through significant upheavals. The selection of Mari Arthur in 2017 sundered Plaid. Labour shed councillors and lost control of the Town Council after Rob James became the Labour Group’s leader on Carmarthenshire County Council. The candidates in the seat for both Plaid and Labour, Helen Mary Jones and Lee Waters respectively, also provoke strong negative reactions among their political opponents. Marmite doesn’t even come close.

  2. Jac Pro-biotic

    Some very mixed messages from this polling. One wonders how much of a bounce the Conservatives are getting from the London media trumpeting the success of the vaccine rollout as being a Tory triumph. Of course, Welsh Labour are trying hard to present the fact that the NHS is doing the rollout so well in Wales as a Labour achievement – the fact that this message has not got through to the sample of voters demonstrates the weakness of the indigenous Welsh media.

    Many things can change between now and polling day. Will the calls to bring the incompetent and corrupt powers-that-be in Westminster to account for their gross negligence manslaughter over the past 12 months bring fruit? Will other threats to our way of life, beyond the pandemic, be on the radar as we go into spring? As well as the challenges caused by Covid we also have the global environmental catastrophe to worry about – will parties that take that issue seriously gain traction as we head towards May?

  3. John R Walker

    If I was a cynic (joke) I would expect Llafur to make some substantial reduction in the seriously unscientific Covid lockdown just before people start to fill in their postal votes. And another in the days before polling day. While telling us it is all because Llafur in Wales has managed the Covid-19 plandemic so well… They can pretend they’re following the science. It would be total garbage but irrational fear has been a powerful weapon for the last 12 months and lifting some of that fear can also be a powerful weapon come election time to induce a Llafur-positive feel-good factor.

    Which begs the question – how can this election be run under what we normally expect from the election purdah convention that the ruling party will not seek to profit from its incumbent position by using that position to make political statements which can have an effect on the way people choose to vote?

    Can we trust Llafur not to abuse their position in the weeks before the election?

  4. nospin

    That would leave us with the worst possible outcome a repeat of the previous disastrous Lab/Plaid coalition, Lord help us.!!

  5. Christian Schmidt

    It seems the polls are certainly more volatile than they used to be?

    And on that point, I wonder if it would be worth trying to gauge the floor and ceiling for various parties? May something like a question ‘would you definitely vote for this party / consider voting for this party / never vote for this party’ (separately for Lab/Plaid/Tories/LibDems/Green/Abolish/UKIP/RUK)?

  6. Huw Meredydd OWEN

    voters still too reflective of London media, do you think? Welsh politics is conducted largely on the doorstep; the Senedd will become more responsive / answerable as that balance is adjusted;

    rise of YesCymru has already elicited a subtle change from London – all we need now is a respective stiffening of political backbone in Wales and a recognition of cross-party policy to stand up to Westminster

  7. Richard Smith

    I don’t think any of this is unusual. Plaid Cymru are receiving a bounce because many on the celtic fringe are waking up to the imminent break up of the UK, post Brexit.

    Meanwhile the demographic changes in rural Wales is now stark. Affluent “White flight” retirees from England now account for a much larger proportion of the population in rural constituencies. The Conservative vote will only increase over time, leaving places like Ceredigion feeling like Surrey. The pandemic will also accelerate home working, and thus a move from cities to the countryside in younger age groups.

    Lets not beat around the bush. All of this is a mortal threat to the Welsh language and culture. It also spells eventual doom for Plaid Cymru, unless they can motivate the young which they look likely to achieve with an able new leader. They have to break into the valleys of South Wales to achieve permanent success. Welsh Labour are however already doing a fine job of painting themselves as “Plaid Light.”

    The Liberal Democrats continue their slow decline into oblivion, and the Green vote in Wales goes to Plaid. It seems straight forward, but ignores what would happen if and when Scotland leave the union. If that happens it will completely upset the apple cart!

  8. Richard Smith

    The success of the Conservatives in the polls is purely down to the ever increasing numbers of “white flight retirees” from England moving into rural constituencies. A mortal threat for both Plaid and the Welsh language.

  9. Ben

    What do you think about Labour being challenged from the left now that TUSC is standing again (tuscwales.org.uk)?

  10. Michael Alan Cridland

    I think Jane Hutt will hang on to the Vale, admittingly a gut feeling, but she is respected by folk across the spectrum, the one thing that would be negative would be the house building with no infrastructure..

  11. Roger Tanner

    Labour’s share of the vote is not that different from 2016 (31-32%) The Conservatives current good showing reflects the disintegration of UKIP, which got 13% of the regional votes in 2016. Some of their votes will have gone to the Abolish the Assembly Party, but most I suspect will have defaulted to the Conservatives – for now. The Right in Wales is now very competitive with Reform, UKIP and Abolish competing with the Conservatives for the outside right vote. On the left it needs only a 5% swing from Labour to Plaid for the latter to become the leading party in the most likely post-election coalition.

    .

  12. david daviesp

    As Plaid will never form an alliance with the Tories, if Labour fails to secure a majority the only result
    will be a Labour/Plaid agreement, in whichever form and this will doom the Conservatives to oblivion
    once again. Surely this would be deserved when their Senedd leader was displaced, their two previous
    Secretaries of State for Wales sacked, all for dishonourable conduct. Further, with sleaze emerging
    again from Tory Westminster and the activism of Labour members here, which the Tories cannot compete
    with, and canvassers now able to take to the streets, I am confident Labour will return to its former
    glory! At every election for Cardiff Bay the Tories shout loudly but perform very modestly. The Tories
    just 3% behind? Tell that to the marines!

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