Three-way fight for second place in May’s elections?

Roger Scully discusses the results of the latest Wales Barometer poll on voting intention for the Welsh Assembly Elections.

Labour remains well in the lead for May’s National Assembly election, while the continued rise of UKIP threatens a three-way fight for second place. Those are key findings from this week’s new Welsh Political Barometer poll, which provides the first measure of public support for the political parties in 2016.

As we approach the start of the campaign for this year’s National Assembly election, we sought to assess how well each of the main parties are currently doing. As with all our previous Barometer polls, we asked respondents how they intended to vote on both the constituency and regional ballots for the National Assembly election. Here are the figures for the constituency vote (with changes on our previous poll, in December, in brackets):

Labour: 34% (-1)

Conservatives: 22% (-1)

Plaid Cymru: 19% (-1)

UKIP: 18% (+3)

Liberal Democrats: 5% (no change)

Others: 2% (-1)

So here we see only very small downwards changes, all well within the standard ‘margin of error’, for the largest three parties, but a more significant upwards move for UKIP. Having also increased their support in our previous poll, UKIP are now some five points up on where they were in the September Barometer poll.

Applying the changes since 2011 indicated by this poll uniformly across Wales, the figures project three constituency seats to change hands: the Conservatives would gain Cardiff North, Plaid Cymru would take Llanelli, and the Liberal Democrats would capture Cardiff Central. All three gains would be at the expense of Labour.

The figures for the regional vote were like this (with changes from the previous Barometer poll again indicated):

Labour: 31% (-3)

Conservatives: 22% (-1)

Plaid Cymru: 19% (+1)

UKIP: 18% (+2)

Liberal Democrats: 4% (no change)

Greens: 3% (-1)

Others: 3% (+1)

Again assuming uniform swings since the 2011 election across Wales, and after taking into account the distribution of constituency seats, this gives us the following projected distribution of the regional seats:

North Wales: 2 UKIP, 1 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru

Mid & West Wales: 2 Labour, 2 UKIP

South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru, 1 UKIP

South Wales Central: 2 UKIP, 1 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru

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

Combining both sets of figures produces the following overall outcome for the National Assembly:

Labour: 27 seats (25 constituency seats + 2 list seats)

Conservatives: 12 seats (7 constituency seats + 5 list seats)

Plaid Cymru: 10 seats (6 constituency seats + 4 list seats)

UKIP: 9 seats (9 list seats)

Liberal Democrats: 2 seats (2 constituency seats)

Labour thus remain a long way ahead of the field. But after our December poll witnessing the rapid deflation of the ‘Corbyn bounce’ that we saw in September, this poll again has their support slipping a little further. At this point before the 2011 National Assembly election, the most recent poll had put Labour on 45% for the constituency vote and 41% for the list vote; in the following poll they would hit 48% and 45% respectively. So Labour are currently running ten percentage points or more below where they were five years ago, and seemingly heading in the opposite direction.

Labour’s saving grace continues to be the divided nature of the opposition to them. The two main opposition parties in the Assembly are essentially stagnant in this poll, a finding that does not bode well for the chances of either the Conservatives or Plaid Cymru making the large numbers of constituency gains that they would need to challenge Labour’s dominance in the Assembly. Meanwhile, the fourth party in the Assembly, the Liberal Democrats, have made no progress whatsoever – even though the fieldwork for this poll was conducted in the immediate aftermath of their Welsh conference last weekend. Unless the Liberal Democrats can stage some sort of revival by May even holding two seats may be an optimistic prognosis for them.

The clear gainers in this poll are UKIP. This is, in some respects, very strange: the party has been subject to significant internal divisions recently, particularly in Wales, and has attracted substantial negative publicity. For ‘normal’ parties you would expect such developments to generate a loss in public support. But for UKIP this does not appear to be the case. Indeed, the opposite is true – their support continues to grow. The party continues to be on course to enter the Assembly in significant numbers after May’s election.

As we move ever closer to the Assembly election, voter turnout will become increasingly important. Voter participation rates tend to be much lower in devolved elections than general elections; this makes it all the more important which parties are able to mobilise their support to get out on the day. So, as in our previous Barometer poll, we have once again asked people they are to vote in the National Assembly election. Respondents were asked to place themselves on a 0-10 scale, where 0 meant that definitely would not vote in next year’s Assembly election and 10 meant that they definitely would vote. Once again, the overall percentage claiming that they will definitely vote – some 58% – is probably over-stating the likely turnout in May: for various reasons internet polls do tend to give rather inflated estimates of turnout rates. Far more important, I think, are the differences in likelihood to vote between the supporters of the different parties. Here are the average scores out of ten for those indicating they would vote for each party on the constituency vote:

Labour: 9.24

Conservatives: 8.89

Plaid Cymru: 8.89

UKIP: 9.11

Lib-Dems: 8.63

In our previous poll it was supporters of Plaid Cymru and UKIP who appeared the most motivated to take part in the Assembly election, while motivation was to be the lowest for Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. This time around we find Labour and UKIP leading the way in likelihood to vote, while the remaining Liberal Democrat supporters score clearly the lowest. However, the differences remain fairly small, and the parties still have many weeks to more effectively mobilise their support. If we weight the voting intention figures for the National Assembly election by respondents’ stated likelihood to vote, it actually makes almost no difference to the numbers, which now come out as follows:

Constituency Region
Labour 35% 32%
Conservative 22% 21%
Plaid Cymru 19% 19%
UKIP 18% 18%
Liberal Democrats 5% 4%
Others 2% 6%

The poll for ITV and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre had a sample of 1024 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov from 9-11 February 2016.


As has become customary, for the benefit of the cognoscenti who read this blog, I have also computed Ratio Swing projections from our poll.

For the National Assembly, Ratio Swing, as with UNS, projects three constituency seats to change hands. But one of the seats is different. While Ratio Swing still projects Llanelli to be gained by Plaid Cymru from Labour, and Cardiff North to be gained by the Conservatives from Labour, the third seat is now not Cardiff Central but Brecon and Radnor, projected to be gained by the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats.

For the regional list seats, Ratio Swing produces the following projections:

North Wales: 2 UKIP, 1 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru

Mid & West Wales: 2 Labour, 2 UKIP

South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru, 1 UKIP

South Wales Central: 2 UKIP, 1 Conservative, 1 Plaid Cymru

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

In short, for the regional seats Ratio Swing produces exactly the same projections for this poll as does UNS!

Overall, a Ratio Swing projection of this poll therefore generates the following outcome for the Assembly election:

Labour: 28 seats (26 constituency seats + 2 list seats)

Conservatives: 13 seats (8 constituency seats + 5 list seats)

Plaid Cymru: 10 seats (6 constituency seats + 4 list seats)

UKIP: 9 seats (9 list seats)

Professor Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science at Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre. This blog first appeared on his site:

9 thoughts on “Three-way fight for second place in May’s elections?

  1. Although some have characterised the rise and rise of UKIP as the resurgence of the “Right” it looks more like the fragmentation of what used to be the working class Labour vote. It was always the case that amongst shop floor workers there was a group of Labour voters who had a lot in common with the “Baby-Eating” wing of the Tory party; anti immigrant, isolationist, and socially conservative. In England these people could still vote Conservative, they were the “Alf Garnets”. In Wales the Tory brand is so toxic in the post industrial areas that such a vote is unthinkable but the same views under a different name, UKIP, can be supported.

    The Barometer poll on the EU referendum shows that, in Wales, we are exactly following the thinking of the rest of the UK with a majority now inclined to leave the EU. The Welsh self-image is looking increasingly unjustified, we are not a socialist leaning country in fact, even Plaid, in its heartlands, is socially conservative and isolationist. Plaid voters are not necessarily as left leaning as Plaid politicians.

  2. Thank you Roger,

    Can you provide any insight on the difference between the percentage who SAY they will definitely vote and the percentage that actually DO in ASSEMBLY elections. It seems to me that some people say they will vote in a throw-away fashion or if they have “bothered” to answer the poll questions they might say they would be bothered to vote but come voting day, that resolve dissolves….

  3. Interesting comment by J.Jones and I agree with the points he makes regarding the fragmentation of the Labour vote; Labour lost votes to UKIP in many South Wales valley seats including my own constituency. A strong turnout for UKIP in Llanelli could certainly benefit Plaid as Helen Mary Jones lost by a whisker to Keith Davies last time. I would not pay too much attention to the results of the Euro poll though; it’s far too early to tell which way people will vote. The case for staying in is yet to be made and I’m sure the people of Wales will vote the right way and reject the insular politics of ‘Brexit’. Not all Plaid members are Left-learning either; the party is a means to an end. It’s a shame Plaid are seen by him as ‘isolationist’ however. Plaid has always looked beyond Wales for ideas and inspiration. To call the party isolationist is a lazy insult rather than a genuine analysis of the party’s philosophy.

  4. “To call the party isolationist is a lazy insult rather than a genuine analysis of the party’s philosophy.”

    And to misquote my comment in order to disagree with it is equally lazy Ben. I have lived in the Plaid heartlands for 61 of my 66 years and you have lived here precisely none. The Plaid vote comes from amongst farmers, teachers, and Council workers…the comfortable public sector and ultra conservative small businessmen (farmers). When Leanne calls for us to throw open our country to struggling immigrants or calls for greater ties to our continental friends just remember that here in Gwynedd we want homes built ONLY for local people and we have the lowest uptake of modern foreign languages at GCSE in Wales.

    ” even Plaid, in its heartlands, is socially conservative and isolationist. Plaid voters are not necessarily as left leaning as Plaid politicians.”
    You will see that I refer to the “Heartlands” and make the point that Plaid politicians are left leaning.

  5. @J.Jones – Thank you for clearing that up. Thank you also for assuming I have no connections to Gwynedd, despite the fact my partner has family there and we are there for days at a time at least every two months. The concern the local party has for local people is hardly a stick to beat Plaid with; why shouldn’t peope who have no connection to the area have priority over someone who has lived locally and contributed to the local econmy? Surley that is an acceptable (Benthemian) Liberal value which would be supported by mainstream parties too? The majority comes first, which I’m sorry to inform you does not include the English settlement population of Gwynedd.

    What has Plaid’s policies got to do with MFL take up? They are very low in many constituencies. Rather tenuous to suggest that because of the understandable concern a local party has for its local residents that this somehow leads to 14 year olds not choosing French (and French it no doubtledly is as German seems to be an ever more unlikely course to offer).

  6. UKIP mopping up the Welsh Alf Garnett equivalents is probably about right, but it is also touching a lot more people besides and that’s a bit scary. We do need more plurality in our politics, but not parties like UKIP or other BNPesque styles of politicking. I cannot understand why the UKIP brand is not regarded as toxic here in Wales, in the way that the BNP was.

    We have never seen such an openly xenophobic, antisocialist party seriously in the reckoning here in Wales and I really hope it doesn’t unsettle our long ability to live together tolerantly regardless of our divergent opinions. We can see from history across the Irish Sea, what happens when politics becomes severely polarised and it would be a scandal if we become a political test bed for little Britain styled politicians, with ambitions that are really centred on Westminster and have little real concern for the people of Wales.

  7. “To call the party isolationist is a lazy insult rather than a genuine analysis of the party’s philosophy.”

    I agree, to call the UKIP isolationist is just a lazy insult. Let’s get it right, they are isolationists and xenophobic and would undoubtedly agree with Cecil Rhodes “To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life.” – Cecil Rhodes. The EU is about consensus and cooperation, something disliked by most two of the main parties in the UK.

  8. Was that deliberate Philip? The reference to it being a “lazy insult” in relation to “the party” being called isolationist was made by Ben Screen and was in defence of Plaid (the party, or “party party” if you prefer).

    As Aled asks; how on earth did Wales end up with nearly one in 5 voters supporting UKIP? The answer lies in the soporific torpor that consensus politics brings to the Bay of Indolence. As far as I can work out a UKIP vote is a vote against “all of the above” traditional political parties.

  9. A vote for UKIP isn’t a vote against “all of the above” traditional political parties. It is a vote for a right wing party that is (intentionally or not) stirring up xenophobia to further its own agenda. Yes we now live in a world of consensus politics and the UKIP misguided policy (and yes they only have one policy) is to return the UK to its pre-EU era in the mistake belief that once outside the EU we will again be “Great” Britain. I don’t particularly mind if we live in a “Great” Britain or not. I really don’t care that we lost the empire. Actually I think losing the empire was a big step forward. I really don’t care about WWI, I really don’t care about WWII, I really don’t care about 1966. I don’t really care if the UK has a seat on the UN Security Council or not. Treason I know to some posters and I suspect one blogger will be spitting teeth about this on Glasnost. What I do care about is the future. I care about my future prosperity, and that of my children and grandchildren. If that means Polish plumbers can come to the UK and British engineers can go to the EU so what.

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