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Wales and Syria

16 December 2015

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, WalesOnline ran several additional questions on the recent Welsh Political Barometer poll.

The first of these questions asked directly about whether people approved or disapproved of the idea of the “RAF taking part in air strike operations against Islamic State/ISIS in Syria?” The poll found 45% saying that they approved compared to 38% who disapproved, and 18% who chose the ‘Don’t Know’ option. There were substantial differences by party on the question. Most supportive of airstrikes (by 69% approving to 15% disapproving) were Conservative voters, although UKIP voters were almost as strongly in favour. Supporters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and, especially, Plaid Cymru, tended to be opposed to air strikes.

How do Wales’ attitudes on air strikes compare with those in the rest of Britain? This is difficult to judge, not least because attitudes on the issue seem to have been shifting – in the direction of greater caution about air strikes – in recent weeks. About the best we can do is to compare the attitudes in Wales revealed in our Barometer poll with those in the YouGov GB-wide poll whose fieldwork was conducted at about the same time: that had a 48%-31% balance in favour of air strikes, compared to the 45%-38% balance in our poll. The substantial majority of the GB sample would, of course, have been those living in England, although just over five percent of the sample should have been Welsh. Looking at the regional sub-samples of YouGov and other polls on the issue (something which should always be done with some caution), Scotland generally seems to stand out as the ‘region’ most cautious about air strikes. Overall, my reading of the data is that England has tended to be the nation in Britain most favourable to air strikes, and Scotland the least favourable, with Wales somewhat in between. But this is only a tentative conclusion: both because we have lacked regular full-scale samples asking questions about Syria air strikes in all three nations, and because opinions have been shifting. Moreover, any differences in public attitudes between the three nations appear to be relatively modest ones: we are not talking about night-and-day contrasts, but about gradations of difference between the nations.

There were two other WalesOnline questions included in the poll. The second was directly related to the first: asking people whether, in the event of the RAF participating in air strikes against IS in Syria, it would “make terrorist attacks in the UK more or less likely, or will it make no difference either way?” Even though a plurality of respondents to this poll had supported air strikes, a majority (54%) chose the ‘more likely’ option, while only 7% apparently believed that air strikes would make attacks on the UK less likely. Some 29% of respondents thought that air strikes would make no differences, while 11% chose the Don’t Know option. Differences by party preference for this question were less stark, although clear majorities of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru voters all chose ‘more likely’.

In addition to these questions about air strikes, WalesOnline also chose to include a question about refugees and migrants:

“Do you think Britain should admit new refugees/migrants in each of the following categories?”

This question was asked about three different types of refugees and migrants; the table below shows the pattern of responses:

Response Refugees fleeing the war in Syria Refugees fleeing conflict or persecution in other countries like Libya, Ira or Eritrea People not fleeing conflict or persecution, but wanting to come here in search of a better life
Britain should admit higher numbers than recently 20% 15% 3%
Britain should keep the numbers coming here about the same 23% 21% 15%
Britain should admit lower numbers than recently 21% 23% 24%
Britain should not let anyone from this group come here at all 29% 33% 49%
Don’t Know 7% 8% 9%


The overall pattern of responses shows, fairly clearly, slightly greater sympathy for refugees from Syria than from other countries, and substantially greater inclination to admit such refugees than those ‘wanting to come here in search of a batter life’. These overall responses, however, mask very considerable differences by party. Unsurprisingly, UKIP supporters are the least sympathetic – fully 61% of them did not believe that any refugees from Syria should be admitted to Britain at all. At the other end of the spectrum, the most liberal in their attitudes were clearly supporters of the Liberal Democrats and, to an even greater extent, supporters of Plaid Cymru.

Comparing Wales’ position on these refugee/migrant questions with that of other nations in Britain is difficult because of the lack of comparable data. However, YouGov did run these three questions to a GB-wide sample about two weeks prior to the Welsh Barometer sampling being conducted. This showed very little difference between attitudes in Wales and elsewhere to refugees and migrants. Indeed, if anything – and perhaps to the chagrin of many on the centre-left in Wales – Welsh attitudes to both refugees and migrants appear to be very slightly harsher than the average across Britain as a whole. However, these minor differences may well reflect simple sampling variation, or indeed the different times at which the surveys were run.

You can find all the detailed data tables on these questions here.


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