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Conservative gains in Wales are in sight, but only just
The second Welsh opinion poll of the general election campaign has arrived. And it serves as an excellent reminder of what has long been a foundational truth about politics in Wales: never under-estimate the resilience of the Welsh Labour party.
Our latest poll once again asked people across Wales, between Friday last week and today, how they would vote in the general election. The standard voting intention question was adjusted to take into account of the fact that nominations have now closed and not all parties are standing in all seats. Specifically, we asked: “There will be a UK general election on 12 December 2019. The following candidates and parties will stand in your constituency. How do you intend to vote in the upcoming election?”
Here are the voting intention figures that the poll produced (with changes on our last Barometer poll, conducted in early November, in brackets):
Labour: 38% (+9)
Conservatives: 32% (+4)
Plaid Cymru: 11% (-1)
Liberal Democrats: 9% (-3)
Brexit Party: 8% (-7)
Greens: 1% (-2)
Others: 1 (no change)
Having won every one of the last twenty-six general elections in Wales, Labour now appear to be resisting the strong Conservative challenge to their dominance. As has been seen in the Britain-wide polls in recent weeks, the two largest parties seem to be squeezing the support of the other main parties: Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, the Brexit Party, and the Greens all see their reported support moving downwards since three weeks ago. That squeeze seems to be particularly strong with regard to the Brexit Party: having emerged from nowhere to win the European Parliament election in Wales in May, they now see their support almost halving in three weeks, pushing them back into fifth place. It looks ever less plausible that the Brexit Party might actually win a seat in Wales in the election.
What might such support levels for the parties mean in terms of parliamentary seats? Using the standard method, of projecting the swings since the last general election indicated by this poll uniformly across Wales, gives us the following outcome in terms of seats (with projected changes from the 2017 result in brackets):
Labour: 24 (-4)
Conservatives: 12 (+4)
Plaid Cymru: 3 (-1)
Liberal Democrats: 1 (+1)
The seats to change hands would be as follows:
Conservative Gains from Labour: Cardiff North, Gower, Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham
Conservative Gain from Liberal Democrats: Brecon and Radnor (recapturing the seat the party won in 2017, but lost in the August by-election; the projection here is assuming uniform swings since June 2017)
Liberal Democrat Gain from Plaid Cymru: Ceredigion
Losing four seats to the Conservatives would hardly be a good result for Labour. But this compares with fully nine such projected seat losses in the equivalent poll only three weeks ago. Moreover, those seats still projected to be gained by the Conservatives from Labour are all very much on a knife-edge: with just a tiny further swing-back to Labour, all of them would be projected to be retained rather than lost. At the same time, this poll would still suggest the Welsh Conservatives making a major contribution to delivering a parliamentary majority for Boris Johnson, delivering the highest number of Welsh Tory MPs since the 1983 Margaret Thatcher landslide. And several further seats might go to them with only marginally greater swings.
One of the main reasons why Labour may be fighting back in Wales is that, just as happened in 2017, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be flourishing on the campaign trail, and his personal ratings are improving markedly. He could not yet be described as popular in Wales, but he is notably less unpopular than he was just a few weeks ago, and has substantially reduced the popularity gap between himself and Boris Johnson. Just three weeks ago, there was a fifteen-point gap between the two men on a ‘best Prime Minister’ question (with Johnson ahead by 41 percent to 26, with the remainder of the sample choosing Don’t Know); now the gap has shrunk to just five points (with Johnson chosen by 38 percent, compared to 33 percent for Corbyn).
Another factor that appears to be working in favour of Welsh Labour is what factors voters seem to be thinking about. Our new poll repeated a question in which voters were asked to choose up to three items (from a long list of political issues) that would be ‘the most important issues for you at the next general election’. Brexit remains the top issue with voters, chosen by 57 percent of the sample, but it has actually fallen by three points since our previous poll. The one issue that has clearly risen in voter salience is health: now chosen by 45 percent of voters compared to 37 percent just three weeks ago. Health has long been considered the Labour party’s strongest issue, and the higher the salience of health in the election the better things probably are for the Labour party.
With less than three weeks to go in the general election, things are very much in the balance. Labour appear to be fighting back hard against the Conservative challenge, just as they did in 2017. The blundering Welsh Conservative campaign cannot have helped either. But it is still all to play for: significant Conservative gains in Wales are still very much within sight. These next two-and-a-half weeks will determine whether or not they are delivered.
Professor Roger Awan-Scully is the a member of the Political Studies Association and 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.
The poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, had a sample of 1,116 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov from 22 to 25 November 2019.