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The new BBC/ICM Poll

1 March 2019

Today sees publication of the second Welsh opinion poll of the week. This one is the annual St David’s Day poll by ICM for BBC Wales. As per usual it covers various topics, including devolution, Brexit and other areas (including, this year, a couple of questions about the royal family). There will be much more about many of the findings across BBC programmes and the BBC website during the next few days.

For the second successive year, however, the poll also asked about voting intentions for Westminster and the National Assembly. When interpreting these results, in particular, it is probably worth noting some things about how the poll was conducted. First, that it was a telephone poll, and not an online survey like the Welsh Political Barometer polls carried out by YouGov. Second, the sampling for this particular poll was conducted by ICM across quite a long period of time – from 7th to 23rd February. (In contrast, the recent Barometer poll sampling occurred between 19-22 February). Given the various political events during this period, the levels of support reported for the parties may well have been affected by when people were spoken to.

Anyway, what did ICM find? First here are their results for a Westminster general election (with, for the purposes of comparison, the figures from this week’s Barometer poll alongside):

Party ICM YouGov
Labour 42% 35%
Conservatives 33% 29%
Plaid Cymru 13% 14%
Liberal Democrats 8% 6%
UKIP 3% 6%
Others 3% 8%

Self-evidently, this poll portrays a less worrying picture for Wales’ dominant party, Labour, than did YouGov’s findings published at the start of the week. That may be, at least in part, because much of the poll was conducted before the defections of MPs from the party began. But while the precise figures reported by the two pollsters clearly differ, they agree on the direction of travel: a year ago ICM were reporting Labour support at 49 percent. So both ICM and YouGov have found that Labour support has fallen significantly; they merely disagree about quite the extent of that fall. The other main differences between ICM and YouGov are that the new poll has the Conservatives a little higher, and ‘Other’ parties rather lower.

Using the standard method of projecting electoral results from poll figures – uniform national swings since the last election – the figures from ICM’s new poll project only two parliamentary seats to change hands at a general election. The two north Wales seats of Vale of Clwyd and Wrexham would be gained by the Conservatives from Labour. That would give the following overall outcome in terms of seats:

Labour: 26 seats
Conservatives: 10 seats
Plaid Cymru: 4 seats

What about the National Assembly? ICM enquired about voting intentions for both the constituency and the regional ballots; here are their findings for the constituency ballot (with the recent YouGov figures once again alongside for comparison):

Party ICM YouGov
Labour 34% 32%
Plaid Cymru 27% 23%
Conservatives 23% 26%
Liberal Democrats 7% 8%
UKIP 5% 7%
Others 4% 5%

Two things are immediately noticeable about these figures. The first is that ICM put Plaid Cymru in a rather better position than YouGov; this repeats the findings from last year, when – as noted here – Plaid did a bit better in polls from ICM and Sky Data than in near-contemporaneous polls from YouGov. Quite why this should be I am unsure. What we can be rather more sure about is that the 27 percent in this poll is Plaid’s highest score for the constituency ballot on any poll since an NOP poll early in the campaign for the 2003 National Assembly election.

The second important thing to note is that these figures for the National Assembly also show a significant Labour decline on the last such ICM poll a year ago. Then Labour was on 40 percent support on the constituency ballot. There seems little doubt that Labour support has fallen, even if we are unsure about the extent of the decline.

Using once again the assumption of uniform national swings from the last election, this poll projects six constituencies to change hands for the National Assembly. Plaid Cymru are projected to pick up Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Cardiff West and Llanelli from Labour, and Aberconwy from the Conservatives; the Tories in turn are projected to gain the Vale of Glamorgan from Labour.

For the regional list vote, ICM found the following:

Party ICM YouGov
Labour 32% 29%
Plaid Cymru 25% 23%
Conservatives 22% 24%
Liberal Democrats 6% 6%
UKIP 6% 6%
Others 9% 12%

These findings also show a Labour decline since the last ICM poll twelve months ago (when Labour was on 36 percent for the list ballot), and again shows rising support for Plaid Cymru.

Allowing for the constituency results already projected, and once more assuming uniform national swings since 2016, our new poll projects the following overall results for the Assembly’s regional list seats:

North Wales: 2 Plaid, 2 Conservative

Mid & West Wales: 3 Labour, 1 Plaid

South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

South Wales East: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 UKIP

These figures thereby generate the following overall result for the National Assembly:

Labour: 25 seats (22 constituency, 3 regional)

Plaid Cymru 19 seats (11 constituency, 8 regional)

Conservatives: 14 seats (6 constituency, 8 regional)

Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)

UKIP: 1 seat (1 regional)

This would, of course. Be Plaid Cymru’s best ever National Assembly election result, and Labour’s worst.

The different methods of YouGov and ICM, and the different times at which they conducted their sampling, may well do much to explain the modest differences in party support that they report. But although the two may not give identical readings on the strength of the political winds, they agree on which way those winds are blowing. Labour support has declined. The party remains ahead of its competitors, who are led by the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. The dominance of Labour has hardly been overturned yet. But we do appear to be moving into a period of more competitive party politics in Wales.

ICM interviewed a sample of 1,000 adults in Wales by telephone between 7-23 February 2019.


  1. J.Jones

    Brexit strikes again I suspect. Neither of the two major UK parties are covering themselves in glory with the main issue of the day which leaves Plaid to sneak through on the inside.

  2. John R Walker

    ‘the sampling for this particular poll was conducted by ICM across quite a long period of time – from 7th to 23rd February.’

    A week is a long time in poll-itics.

  3. Trevor

    A Plaid-Labour coalition, maybe with KIrsty Williams continuing on board as well, would yield a decent centre left coalition. Writing as a Labour voter, I think ending Labour’s hegemony in these circumstances would probably be a good thing. The Assembly needs refreshing every now and again.

  4. J.Jones

    “The Assembly needs refreshing every now and again.”
    I agree but it’s never going to happen with a Plaid/Labour coalition is it? In fact this is the worst of all worlds as we have found before; Plaid will push its true core aims and, as long as there is little cost, Labour will happily acquiesce. What we will see is more “Nation building” on the slow road to independence. Almost certainly we will see more “Welsh Language measures” which, on the face of it, cost nothing but in reality cement the privileged position of first language Welsh speakers within the establishment and restrain the immigration that a country which aims to thrive must attract.

    More Culture and Language nationalism, as espoused by Labour, Plaid and the Lib/Dems is the driving force towards a backward looking isolated Wales. Time for a new voice which will have the courage to stand up to this slow death. I’m not holding my breath.

  5. Christian Schmidt

    Even at these poor Labour and strong Plaid numbers, there is nothing that suggest that Plaid could come first, so it would only be a Labour-Plaid coalition (not Plaid-Labour), which would be nothing new really. And I doubt there would be space for Kirsty Williams nor that she would be interested.

    Much more interesting is that unlike the YouGov survey, the ICM one suggests that a Plaid minority government supported by the Tories would be possible. And that would be refreshing…

  6. Leo Jones

    Wales needs to have a break from Labour, and indeed, Labour need a turn in opposition to renew.
    The only way is a Plaid-Tory coalition government.
    Not natural bed fellows but they could do it in a grown up way, agreeing to share ministries out so that both sides had some control.
    Plaid would likely get the First Ministership, but, with a clear agreement, that could work.
    If they cannot put aside party political rivalries to do this, we are going to have Labour for decades. That helps no one. Not even Labour.

  7. Roger

    There is something pleasingly bizarre about the most logical outcome being a Labour-Conservative coalition (Though Labour-Plaid looks more probable). A Labour Plaid coalition would probably get things moving as far as reforms to the assembly go, but it would be a very dominant government indeed, with little useful opposition of scrutiny.

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