The Most Important Issue? Part II1 August 2016
In a previous blog post, I explained the format of questions asked by this year’s Welsh Election Study, which asked respondents about the ‘single most important issue’ facing Britain and Wales. In this post I’ll present the first batch of results from those questions.
I’ll start by looking at responses to the first such question that we asked – the ‘most important issue facing Britain’, which was included in the pre-election wave. A small percentage of the WES sample provided no response at all to this question; I have excluded those respondents from the rest of the analysis here. The vast majority did type in something, however. We have coded their free-text responses into various categories (more than thirty distinct ones in total).
Aggregating those responses together, here are the ones mentioned by the greatest number of people. (Note that percentages here are percentages of those respondents who answered this question, not of the entire sample, although the vast majority of people did provide a response).
Economic issues: 23%
EU relations: 14%
All Other issues: 16%
Don’t Know: 10%
A few things should be said about the coding here.
Economic issues covers a pretty vast range – amongst those that I have lumped together here are concerns about the general state of the UK economy; more specific concerns about jobs and unemployment; concerns about cuts, austerity and the budget deficit; mentions of poverty and inequality; and even a few mentions of the banking system.
If we put all of those together as indicating concerns about some aspect or another of the functioning of the economy, and the consequences thereof, then we find nearly a quarter of the WES sample who responded to this question mentioned some form of economic issue as the ‘most important issue’ facing Britain.
Yet what is probably is most striking about the results is that, even if we aggregate together all of these broadly economic concerns, they were still mentioned by fewer people than the single, much more specifically defined, issue of immigration. If we were to disaggregate the various economic issues mentioned, then immigration would stand completely out on its own as by far the most frequently-mentioned issue.
The third most widely-mentioned cluster of issues were to do with the European Union and the UK’s relationship with it. Given that the sampling for this WES wave was done in March, not long after the announcement of the EU referendum in June, this is perhaps not very surprising.
The only other single broad issue area to be mentioned by more than five per cent of the WES sample was health and the NHS. All other issues, including housing, terrorism, environmental concerns, social issues (such as drug and alcohol dependency), education, and the welfare system, were listed by far smaller numbers of people.
Overall, the main thing that stands out from these responses is, I think, the very high salience that immigration had as a political issue as of early spring 2016 in Wales.
I thought it would be a good idea, though, to probe the data a little further. So I’ve done a couple of further bits of analysis. First, I looked at responses to this ‘most important issue’ question across the supporters of the different parties. This following table, therefore, lists the issue areas mentioned by those WES respondents who went on to vote for each of the five largest parties on the constituency vote.
The figures in the table should be read downwards: that is, the table does not show that 63 per cent of those who mentioned immigration as the most important issue voted for UKIP. Rather, it shows that of those who voted UKIP, 63 per cent mentioned immigration as the most important issue.
Immediately obvious from the table are the different issue priorities that supporters of the different parties had. UKIP supporters cared the most, by far, about immigration and about the EU. For them, no other issue was mentioned by even five per cent of supporters. There is a stark contrast with Labour, Plaid and Lib-Dem supporters, amongst whom economic issues were far more commonly mentioned. Yet even among Labour and Plaid supporters, immigration was still the second most commonly-raised concern; while for Conservatives it was also the most commonly-mentioned issue, if not at quite the same level of salience as it was for UKIP voters.
Finally, I thought it would be interesting to look at responses to the follow-up question the WES survey asked immediately after asking people to list the ‘most important issue’, where respondents were asked to name the party best able to deal with whatever issue that they had identified. I’ll list here the parties named by those who listed Immigration, the economy, the EU, and health, as the most important issue. (Parties not listed here were named by fewer than 1% of the relevant respondents.)
So, for those who indicated that immigration was the most important issue, which party did they think was best able to address that concern?
Don’t Know: 30%
And what about those who listed the economy as the most important issue? Which party did they judge best able to deal with that?
Don’t Know: 28%
Plaid Cymru: 10%
For the EU, the responses were like this:
Don’t Know: 25%
Finally, for those who listed health as the most important issue:
Don’t Know: 34%
Plaid Cymru: 8%
Overall, what I think we can draw from this is not only that immigration and the EU were EU of high salience to many Welsh people in spring 2016; but also that, to many of the people concerned with those issues, UKIP were seen as a party that might be effective in addressing their concerns. UKIP were much less highly rated, however, for addressing the more traditional issues of the economy and health.
I think these findings help us to explain some of UKIP’s recent electoral success in Wales, including that in the 2016 Assembly election. But they should also offer a warning to the party that if those issues drop in salience, so also will likely disappear much of UKIP’s relevance and appeal.
Non-partisan thoughts on elections, voting and political representation from Roger Awan-Scully of Cardiff University.