Roger Awan-Scully

 

In these difficult times there is not a great deal of good news around for many people. However, Welsh Conservatives will surely be cheered by the findings of our new Welsh Political Barometer poll. Recent Britain-wide polls have shown support for the Conservative government increasing, with the Tories’ already strong position apparently being boosted by a ‘rally to the flag’ effect similar to what polls in many other countries have found in the current crisis. Our new Barometer poll indicates something similar happening in Wales; already challenging their best ever polling ratings, the Welsh Conservatives have received a further boost.

 

As per usual, our poll examined voter support for both a general and a devolved election. First, Westminster. After the strong Conservative performance in December; the post-election ‘honeymoon’ they had in subsequent polls conducted across Britain; and then a further apparent boost during the current crisis period, it is no surprise to see the Welsh Tories doing well in our latest poll. The level to which Tory support has risen is, nonetheless, striking. Here are the numbers (with changes from our last pre-election Barometer poll, conducted in January, in brackets):

 

Conservatives: 46% (+5)

Labour: 34% (-2)

Plaid Cymru: 11% (-2)

Liberal Democrats: 4% (-1)

Brexit Party: 3% (no change)

Greens: 2% (no change)

Others: 0 (-1)

 

Our previous Barometer poll had produced what I described at the time as “historically good figures for the Conservatives in Wales”.  The Conservatives have now added a further five points onto that figure, putting them at clearly their highest level of support in Wales in any poll published in this century – indeed, in any opinion poll ever conducted in Wales of which I am aware. The twelve-point Conservative lead in Wales is also, to the best of my knowledge, the largest ever recorded – exceeding the ten point lead the Tories briefly had at the start of the 2017 general election campaign. The Conservatives gains appear to have come from all of their main competitors, with support for Labour, Plaid Cymru, and the Liberal Democrats all edging downwards since our last poll.

 

What might this mean in terms of parliamentary seats for the different parties? Using the standard method, of projecting swings since the last general election uniformly across Wales, we generate the following outcome in terms of seats (with projected changes from the December 2019 election result in brackets):

 

Conservatives: 25 (+11)

Labour: 12 (-10)

Plaid Cymru: 3 (-1)

 

In short, this poll projects the Welsh Conservatives to retain all the seats that they won in December’s general election (which was itself the joint-best Conservative performance in terms of seats since the war), and then gain a further eleven seats on top of that! The seats projected to be Conservative gains are: Alyn and Deeside, Cardiff North, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Gower, Llanelli, Islwyn, Neath, Newport East, Newport West, Pontypridd and Torfaen. All but Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (currently held by Jonathan Edwards for Plaid Cymru) would be gained by the Conservatives directly from Labour.

 

But it is not only historic changes at Westminster that are suggested by our new poll. Our new poll also asked about voting intentions on both the constituency and the regional ballots for a devolved election. (Unfortunately, we were not able to repeat this time around the inclusion in our January poll of some 16 and 17 year olds; their inclusion last time lowered the final figure for Conservative support by a single point, and raised Labour’s total by the same amount.) Here are the figures for the Assembly constituency ballot (with changes in support since our January Barometer poll among voters aged 18 and above once again in brackets):

 

Conservatives: 38% (+2)

Labour: 32% (no change)

Plaid Cymru: 19% (-1)

Liberal Democrats: 4% (-1)

Brexit Party: 4% (no change)

Greens: 3% (no change)

Others: 1% (no change)

 

These results emphasise that the current buoyancy in Welsh Conservative fortunes is not just about Westminster. Although we see a smaller rise in Tory support in the devolved context, and one that is within the standard ‘margin of error’, 38 percent for the Conservatives on the constituency vote is another all-time high. 

 

Once again assuming uniform national swings since the last relevant election, this new Barometer poll projects the Tories to capture nine constituency seats from Labour: these are Cardiff North, Cardiff West, Clwyd South, Delyn, Gower, Newport West, the Vale of Clwyd, the Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham. Labour would still, on the figures, win more constituency seats than the Conservatives: 18 to the Tories’ 15, with Plaid retaining six and Kirsty Williams holding on for the Lib-Dems in Brecon and Radnor. But among the projected Labour losses would be First Minister Mark Drakeford.

 

For the regional list vote, the new Barometer poll produced the following results (with changes since our December poll once again in brackets):

 

Conservatives: 37% (+4)

Labour: 29% (-2)

Plaid Cymru: 18% (-1)

Liberal Democrats: 4% (-1)

Brexit Party: 4% (no change)

Greens: 3% (no change)

Abolish the Assembly: 3% (no change)

Others: 2% (no change)

 

These regional vote figures once again put the Welsh Conservatives on their best-ever showing. And as with the Westminster vote, Conservative gains appear to come at the expense of all of the other traditional main parties in Wales. Allowing for the constituency results already projected, and once again assuming uniform national swings since 2016, our new poll projects the following overall results for the Assembly’s regional list seats:

 

North Wales: 3 Labour, 1 Plaid

Mid and West Wales: 3 Conservative, 1 Labour

South Wales West: 3 Conservative, 1 Plaid

South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 Labour

South Wales East: 3 Conservative, 1 Plaid

 

These figures therefore generate the following overall projected result for the National Assembly:

 

Conservatives: 26 seats (15 constituency, 11 regional)

Labour: 23 seats (18 constituency, 5 regional)

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

Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)

 

Such an outcome would of course, be the first time that an election to the National Assembly for Wales had ever produced any party other than Labour winning the largest number of seats.

 

It has been widely noted that many countries have seen the ‘rally around the flag’ effect during the Covid-19 crisis. But which flag should voters rally towards? Recent evidence from Scotland has suggested strong support for the SNP, apparently reflecting positive public reactions to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership in recent weeks, with little sign of a boost in Conservative fortunes. In Wales, just as in Scotland, health is a devolved issue. But as we know, Wales is a very different place politically from Scotland. And although it is a Labour government which is leading the battle against the coronavirus in Wales, it appears to be the Conservatives who are getting most political credit with the Welsh public. The influence of UK level politics on Welsh political preferences remains strong.

 

While the results in this poll are genuinely historic for the Conservatives in Wales, there are at least two reasons why they should be cautious. The first is that while voters have been supportive of their handling of Covid-19 thus far, we do not know if that will continue. If people begin to get frustrated at the restrictions on their lifestyles, or if significant numbers of them start to question the effectiveness of the UK government’s handling of the issue, then any political gains made by the Conservatives could very rapidly move into reverse. The second reason for caution is that much of the sampling for this poll was conducted before Sir Keir Starmer was confirmed as the new Labour party leader. An impressive start by the new Labour leader and his new team could also see the electoral landscape alter very rapidly.

 

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.

The poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, had a sample of 1,008 Welsh adults aged 18+  and was carried out online by YouGov from 3 to 7 April 2020.

Image credit: Number 10/Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 .