Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour voters ‘extraordinarily similar’ academic study finds
Plaid Cymru is struggling to make a breakthrough at elections because their voters and Welsh Labour’s voters are “extraordinarily similar,” an academic study has found.
The study published in Parliamentary Affairs found that even on constitutional issues of devolution and independence, the differences were “less substantial than might be imagined”.
The study found that the biggest difference between the two sets of supporters were the ability to speak Welsh and that this was both “a great strength” to Plaid Cymru in their own electoral stronghold but a weakness beyond it.
The study was carried out by Jac M Larner, Richard Wyn Jones, Daniel Wincott and Ed Gareth Poole of Cardiff University, and Paula Surridge of the University of Bristol.
“Plaid Cymru’s problem is that in almost every way but one, the profile of its support is extraordinarily similar to that of Welsh Labour voters,” the paper says.
“In terms of their relative positions on the left-right and liberal-authoritarian scales as well as in terms of patterns of national identity, the overlap between both sets of supporters is very substantial indeed.
“Even the differences with regards to the desired constitutional future for Wales are less substantial than might be imagined.
“The one thing that most clearly differentiates between supporters of the two parties is ability to speak Welsh, with Plaid Cymru tending to be the party of choice for those who can.
“Paradoxically, this is both a source of great strength for Plaid Cymru as well as a source of serial weakness. In constituencies where Welsh is widely spoken the party’s position is dominant.
“For a relatively minor party operating within an electoral system with an important first-past-the-post dimension, this serves the very valuable function of providing it with a solid, geographically concentrated base of support.”
The paper adds that Plaid Cymru’s problem is its “continuing inability” to persuade non-Welsh speakers to vote for them.
“This challenge is made all the more formidable by the fact that Welsh Labour is so comfortable with its own form of Welsh nationalism,” it says.
“It is therefore perhaps not surprising that Plaid Cymru has struggled to make the fundamental breakthrough that seemed possible after its very strong showing in the first devolved election in 1999.”
Welsh Labour meanwhile has bedded down in a “goldilocks zone” where the party broadly aligns with the national identity of the majority of the population, while the Conservatives tend to attract those who identify as British and Plaid Cymru as Welsh only.
“What remains, then, is a Welsh Labour party that emphasises its Welsh credentials and distinctiveness from the UK party, while remaining, at least for now, committed to the union,” the paper says.
“Maintaining this ‘Goldilocks’ positioning on national identity and Wales’ median constitutional preferences across six devolved elections means that Welsh Labour party is now by some margin the most successful electoral force in the UK.”
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