Roger Awan-Scully

 

You wait all campaign for a Welsh poll – and then two come along within one week! With only two weeks until the Senedd election, and with some voters now casting postal ballots, today’s Welsh Political Barometer poll provides the very latest guide to the fortunes of the political parties in Wales. Our new poll continues to show a close, three-way fight between the main parties. But their fortunes do seem to have changed in the last month. Meanwhile, a poll published earlier this week by Opinium (for Sky News) paints a rather different picture.

 

As always, the new Barometer poll asked about voting intentions for both the constituency and regional list ballots for the Senedd. And as with all our recent Barometer polls, we included 16- and 17-year-olds in the sampling, given that they will be able to vote next month. Here are results from the new poll for the constituency ballot (with shifts in support for each party since the previous Barometer poll, published last month, indicated in brackets):

 

Labour: 35% (+3)

Conservatives: 24% (-6)

Plaid Cymru: 24% (+1)

Reform UK: 4% (+1)

Liberal Democrats: 3% (-2)

Greens: 3% (+1)

Abolish the Assembly: 3% (no change)

Others: 3% (+1)

 

Our new poll suggests a large rise in Labour’s lead over the past month, and a substantial fall in Conservative support. Labour’s advantage has apparently gone from two points to eleven since the campaign for the Senedd began. As always, we should be cautious about over-interpreting a single poll, and the changes that it suggests. It may be that the previous Barometer poll somewhat over-stated the Conservative position; this one might be under-stating it. But our latest evidence does indicate Labour’s position as the largest party in the Senedd to be rather more secure than did March’s poll. Plaid Cymru will also be encouraged by the our new findings: while their support has not changed significantly over the last month, our results suggest that they remain very much in contention with the Conservatives for second place. That did not look likely in last month’s poll.

 

A uniform swing projection of the changes in party support since May 2016 suggested by this poll indicates that three constituency seats would change hands. Despite Labour’s strengthened position in this poll, all three of those seats are Labour ones: with the Vale of Glamorgan projected to be gained by the Conservatives, and both Llanelli and Blaenau Gwent to be captured by Plaid Cymru. However, as I have emphasised previously, we should be cautious in interpreting these figures: all three projected results (as well as those of other constituencies projected to be retained by Labour) suggest very narrow margins of victory or defeat, while problems in recent years for Plaid’s constituency parties in both Llanelli and Blaenau Gwent may make such gains less likely than the bare arithmetic suggests.

 

Now what about the regional list vote? The new Barometer poll has the following results (with changes since last month’s poll once more indicated in brackets):

 

Labour: 33% (+2)

Plaid Cymru: 23% (+1)

Conservatives: 22% (-6)

Abolish the Assembly: 7% (no change)

Greens: 5% (+2)

Liberal Democrats: 4% (no change)

Others: 6% (+2)

 

Just as for the constituency vote, we see here a modest improvement in the Labour position that – when combined with a larger fall in reported Conservative support – produces a big increase in the apparent Labour lead: from three points to ten in one month. We should again be cautious about such changes, and the rise in Labour support indicated in our new poll is well within the standard ‘margin of error’. But these figures are consistent with those reported above, and indicate a similar picture: with Labour in a clear lead and the Conservatives and Plaid very closely contesting for second.

 

Our new poll is also the third in a row to estimate support for the Abolish the Assembly party at seven percent. This is right at the cusp of the support level that might win them regional list seats in the Senedd. The Greens are also, according to our new figures, not very far away from such a level of support. Taking into account the projected constituency results mentioned above, and once more assuming uniform national swings since 2016, the new Barometer poll projects the following results for the Senedd’s regional list seats:

 

North Wales: 2 Plaid, 1 Conservative, 1 Abolish the Assembly

Mid and West Wales: 2 Labour, 1 Plaid, 1 Abolish the Assembly

South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

South Wales East: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

From these figures we generate the following overall projected result for the Senedd:

Labour: 26 seats (24 constituency, 2 regional)

Plaid Cymru: 17 seats (8 constituency, 9 regional)

Conservatives: 14 seats (7 constituency, 7 regional)

Abolish the Assembly: 2 seats (2 regional)

Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)

 

Such a result would equal Labour’s worst-ever performance in a Senedd election (in 2007) and would also equal Plaid Cymru’s best-ever result (in 1999). But we should be very cautious about such projections. The final list seats in most regions come down to very small numbers of votes, and changes in party support that are well within the standard ‘margin of error’ could generate rather different figures.

 

What we can say with some confidence, as we enter the last two weeks of campaigning for the Senedd election, is that Labour are in the lead. Our new poll also suggests a very close contest for second place between Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives. There continues to be no good news at all from our Barometer polls for the Welsh Liberal Democrats. But for the Abolish the Assembly party, and maybe also the Greens, winning some representation in the next Senedd does now look like a realistic ambition.

 

And what about the Opinium poll? This was published on Tuesday; sampling was conducted online over quite a long period (9-19 April), with quite a large sample (2,005 respondents); unfortunately, 16- and 17-year-olds were not included.

 

Opinium’s results certainly paint a very different picture to those from the Barometer poll. Here are their numbers for the constituency vote (given the lack of previous Opinium polls in Wales I cannot report changes from their previous estimates):

 

Labour: 40%

Conservatives: 30%

Plaid Cymru: 19%

Liberal Democrats: 4%

Others: 7%

 

These numbers are clearly rather different from those produced by YouGov, with Labour and the Conservatives both higher and Plaid Cymru rather lower in support. The one thing that both polling companies agree on is that the Liberal Democrats are performing very poorly. But while Opinium estimate the parties’ support at different levels, they also agree that Labour are roughly ten points ahead of the competition. This does somewhat increase our confidence that the sort of Labour lead suggested by the latest Barometer poll may be approximately correct.

 

Once more applying uniform national swing since May 2016, these figures for the constituency vote project only two seats to change hands: they suggest the Conservatives narrowly gaining the Vale of Glamorgan and Vale of Clwyd from Labour.

 

On the regional list vote, Opinium once more offer a very different picture to YouGov:

 

Labour: 38%

Conservatives: 27%

Plaid Cymru: 19%

Greens: 5%

Liberal Democrats: 4%

UKIP: 2%

Others: 5%

 

As with the constituency vote, Opinium place Labour and the Conservatives about five points higher than do YouGov, and Plaid Cymru about five points lower. That is curious – not least because, as I have discussed before, previous evidence had suggested that YouGov tended to estimate Plaid Cymru support a little lower than did other polling agencies. However, there are once again some points of agreement with YouGov: Labour are about ten points in the lead; the estimate for Green support is exactly the same as YouGov’s, while there is again agreement on the dismal fortunes of the Liberal Democrats. Frustratingly, though, Opinium did not list Abolish the Assembly as an option for their respondents. The inclusion of Abolish as an option would, I suspect, have pushed reported support for both UKIP and the Conservatives somewhat lower. But we have no way of knowing for sure.

 

Taking into account the projected constituency results, and once more using the assumption of uniform national swing since May 2016, the Opinium poll projects the following outcomes for the regional list seats:

 

North Wales: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 Labour

Mid and West Wales: 3 Labour, 1 Conservative

South Wales West: 3 Conservative, 1 Plaid

South Wales Central: 3 Conservative, 1 Plaid

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

This then generates the following overall projected outcome:

Labour: 29 seats (25 constituency, 4 regional)

Conservatives: 19 seats (8 constituency, 11 regional)

Plaid Cymru: 10 seats (6 constituency, 4 regional)

Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)

UKIP: 1 seat (1 regional)

 

Polls apart, indeed! While Opinium are a deservedly respected polling agency, several factors (their lack of previous experience in conducting polls specifically in Wales; the excellent track record of YouGov’s polls in recent Welsh elections; the lack of sampling among 16 and 17 year olds; and the lack of inclusion of Abolish the Assembly as a regional list vote option) all lead me to suspect that this week’s Barometer poll is more likely to be closer to the true picture of party support at present. But we should certainly not ignore the Opinium findings. And the commonalities in findings between the two agencies (the size of the Labour lead; the level of support for the Liberal Democrats; regional list support for the Greens) should increase our confidence in those findings.

 

Author biography

Professor Roger Awan-Scully is the Chair of the Political Studies Association and previously the Head of Politics and International Relations and Professor of Political Science at Cardiff University. This article was first published on Cardiff University's Election in Wales blog and has been reposted with the permission of the author.Image credit: Welsh Assembly/Flickr.

The Welsh Political Barometer poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, had a sample of 1,142 Welsh adults aged 16+ and was carried out online by YouGov from 18-21 April 2021.