Election analysis

The Senedd in Cardiff.

The Senedd in Cardiff.

11 October 2011

Was the result of the 2011 National Assembly election a vote in favour of the Labour party, or one against the UK government? This question will be answered in two Breakfast Seminars held this week - in Cardiff on Tuesday morning 11th October, and in Aberystwyth on Wednesday morning 12th October.

In these seminars, Professor Roger Scully from Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Welsh Politics (IWP) and Professor Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre (WGC) will give the first public presentations of data collected by the 2011 Welsh Election Study (WES).

The seminars will be held in Cardiff at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay, and in Aberystwyth at the Welsh Government Buildings, Rhodfa Padarn, and are organised by the IWP and the WGC.
The 2011 Welsh Election Study was conducted by the IWP and WGC in collaboration with the leading polling company YouGov; financial support for the study was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom.

A representative sample of the Welsh electorate, comprising over 2000 respondents, were interviewed via the internet over the course of the four-week election campaign. These respondents were then re-interviewed immediately after the vote.

Professor Scully and Prof Wyn Jones, Wales’ two leading voting analysts, will draw on evidence from WES to address a number of specific questions, including:

• How were both Labour and the Conservatives able to enjoy their most successful ever National Assembly election?

• Why did Plaid Cymru experience their worst-ever result in a devolved election, on the same day that the nationalists in Scotland were winning an amazing victory?

• How much impact did the party leaders and campaigns have on the vote?

• What, after twelve years of devolution and in the wake of the March referendum, do the people of Wales think about how Wales is governed and the prospects of extending devolution further?

Among the major findings from the study to be discussed in the seminars are the following:

• The performance of both Labour and Plaid Cymru Ministers in the One Wales coalition government was generally viewed much more positively than that of either the current UK government or its predecessor under Gordon Brown. Fewer than a quarter of WES respondents rated the performance of either Labour or Plaid Ministers in Cardiff as either ‘Very Bad’ or ‘Fairly Bad’, with 42 percent rating Labour Ministers’ performance as either ‘Very’ or ‘Fairly Good’, and 31 percent giving such ratings to Plaid Ministers. By contrast, 26 percent thought that the previous Labour government had been ‘Very bad’ and another 18 percent ‘Fairly Bad’. Ratings of the current London coalition were even more unfavourable – particularly for the Liberal Democrats. Fully 38 percent of WES respondents rated their performance in government as ‘Very Bad’, with another 23 percent classifying it as ‘Fairly Bad’. However, far more voters in Wales claimed to be voting mainly based on ‘what was going on in Wales’ (52 percent) than ‘what was going on in Britain as a whole’ (20 percent; with 29 percent voting based on what was occurring at both levels, or for other reasons).

• The election campaign met with substantial public indifference: fully 51 percent of voters remained undecided even after the election as to which party had run the best campaign. But of those with a view, Labour fared by far the best. Almost three times as many voters thought that Labour ran the best Assembly election campaign (28 percent) as the Conservatives (11 percent), with Plaid and the LibDems even further behind. Carwyn Jones also out-classed the other party leaders, being rated much the best for performance in the leaders’ television debates, general campaigning and overall popularity.

• Despite having their best ever Assembly election result, the Conservatives remain deeply unpopular with many Welsh voters: some 29 percent of WES respondents scored the Tories at ‘0’ when asked to rate the parties on a 0-10 scale for popularity. Assembly leader Nick Bourne also scored poorly with the voters, while David Cameron remains less popular with Welsh voters than Ed Miliband and only slightly less unpopular than Nick Clegg. The Conservatives’ strong result suggests that they were effective at converting their limited support base in Wales into votes. But it also suggests that their continued unpopularity with many Welsh voters may restrict their potential for further advances.

• WES data suggest that despite their very disappointing election result, there remains considerable goodwill towards Plaid Cymru among much of the Welsh electorate. However, Plaid’s election campaign, and party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, scored poorly with the voters, making the party notably ineffective at converting favourable public attitudes into votes.

• The Liberal Democrats’ worst-ever performance at a National Assembly election reflects a steep rise in hostility to the party over the previous twelve months. A disappointing result for them was saved from being a disaster by two factors: luck and leadership. The Lib-Dems were lucky in just winning two of their regional list AMs by an aggregate of fewer than 250 votes. They were also helped by the leadership of Kirsty Williams. Despite the huge unpopularity of her party, Williams emerged from the campaign as the second most popular party leader in Wales, with voters rating her more highly than Nick Bourne or Ieuan Wyn Jones.

• Support for Welsh independence remains below 10 percent of voters (8%), with those favouring the abolition of devolution only numbering 16% of the WES sample. A clear majority of voters favour devolution, with almost 7 out of 10 (69%) supporting the idea that the Welsh Government should have ‘most influence over the way Wales is run’ compared to only 18 percent thinking that most influence over Wales should lie with the UK government. At the same time, the perceived importance of devolved government is growing: in May 2007 only one-third of voters in a similar study saw Welsh Government as ‘having the most influence over how Wales is run’; by May this year that proportion had risen to 61 percent.

Commenting on the findings, Prof Roger Scully, Director of the Institute of Welsh Politics, observed that “This was the election in which Labour had absolutely everything going for it. Our evidence shows that they were the most popular party in Wales, with by far the most popular Welsh leader. The data also shows that Labour ran the most visible and effective campaign of all the parties. And they were able to campaign against a pretty unpopular UK government. So it’s no surprise that they had their best ever result in an Assembly election. What might worry Labour’s more thoughtful supporters is this: if they can’t win an outright Assembly majority even in these circumstances, when will they ever be able to do so?”

Prof Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Wales Governance Centre, added, “While the party itself will doubtless wish to stress the ‘glass half full’ – and there is certainly evidence of positive attitudes towards it among the Welsh electorate – I would suggest that for Plaid Cymru these data should make deeply depressing reading. Its election campaign must be deemed a failure. In particular, party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones failed to connect with the public at large. With the party now not only out of government but demoted from the position of official opposition, Ieuan Wyn Jones’ successor is going to have her or his work cut out in rebuilding Plaid’s position in Welsh politics.”