Most Yes voters in the referendum wanted to go further

John Osmond reports on a major survey into the Welsh electorate’s constitutional attitudes and aspirations

A large majority of people who voted Yes in the March referendum on legislative powers for the National Assembly either wanted even more powers or independence for Wales. This was a major finding presented yesterday on extensive polling undertaken before and after the 3 March vote by YouGov for the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University and the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University.

The findings also show that a large majority back devolving tax and criminal justice powers to Wales. Taken together these results will weigh heavily with the Commission the London coalition government will be announcing in about three weeks time to re-examine the Welsh devolution settlement. A question is how wide the remit of this Commission will be. If it follows the Calman process in Scotland then it will be wide enough to take in all aspects of the National Assembly and not be limited to just fiscal matters.

Liberal voices in the coalition government are pressing for this to be the case and since the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has his hand on the constitutional policy tiller it seems likely that the remit will be drawn broadly enough to take in aspects such as further powers, legal questions around the case for a Welsh jurisdiction, the voting system, electoral boundaries, and the number of AMs as well as funding and taxation issues. Yesterday the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord German, former leader of the party in the Assembly, told me he believed the remit would be as broad as Calman, though there would have to be a referendum before income tax varying powers were adopted.

Yesterday’s YouGov findings, illustrated in the chart below (please click to enlarge), confirm that there is an appetite amongst Welsh voters for making progress on a wide-ranging constitutional agenda. The chart shows the percentage of each constitutional preference group – from the one wanting no devolution to the one wanting independence – which voted Yes in the referendum. Presenting the data at a seminar in Cardiff Bay Professor Roger Scully, of the Institute of Welsh Politics, emphasised that the wide gap between the relatively few Yes supporters in the survey who were against making further progress on more powers and the large majority who wanted to go further was unprecedented in findings of this kind. He said that in more than a decade of analysing such data he had never come across such a wide divergence.

Professor Richard Wyn Jones, of the Wales Governance Centre, added that a major conclusion of their analysis of the survey was that the way people voted in the referendum was most strongly shaped by their attitudes on how Wales should be governed in future.

There was also a strong correlation between voters’ view of the performance of the Welsh Government and their propensity to vote Yes. Nearly 90 per cent of Yes voters had a positive evaluation of Welsh Government’s performance, while fewer than 20 per cent had a negative  evaluation.

The Yes and No campaigns had limited impact on the voters’ choice, with fewer than 10 per cent of the sample saying they had had any direct contact with either of the campaigns or any of the parties. 61 per cent of the sample said the No campaign had been “completely invisible”, while 32 per cent  agreed with the proposition that “The media coverage of the referendum made it difficult for me to understand what the referendum was really about”.

There was limited influence, as well, on the way people voted on whether they felt more Welsh or more British, their social class, or even their attitude to the UK coalition government. The researchers conclude that because of the strong correlation between those who voted Yes and their aspirations for more powers, the main driver of choice in the referendum was simply the issue at hand, that is whether the National Assembly should acquire further legislative powers.

Party cues were secondary, but nonetheless still important. So, for instance, 52 per cent believed Labour was recommending there should be a Yes vote, with only 3 per cent thinking the opposite, while 31 per cent thought the party was united on the issue against 15 per cent believing it was divided.

On the other hand, despite the leadership of the Conservative’s Nick Bourne in the Assembly, only 23.4 per cent thought the Conservatives were in favour and 18 per cent thought they were against, with 27 per cent regarding it as divided and only 13 per cent perceiving the party to be united (as with Labour the balance in these findings was mainly made up of Don’t Knows). As for the Lib Dems 32 per cent thought they were in favour (6 per cent against) whole 70 per cent accurately described Plaid Cymru as being in favour.

Sampling in the survey was conducted via the internet in two waves, the first through the four weeks prior to the referendum when 3,029 people were contacted, and a second wave immediately following the referendum when 2,569 people were contacted.

Perhaps the most significant underlying finding from the survey was that if turnout in the referendum had been higher than the 35.6 per cent who voted the result would have been at least the same – 63-5 per cent Yes against 36.5 per cent No – and probably an even more emphatic Yes vote.

A full account of the research will be given in Wales Says Yes: the 2011 Welsh Referendum, by Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully to be published by University of Wales Press in February 2011.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

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