Opinion

How do we explain the paradox at the heart of the latest Wales YouGov poll?

24 Mar 2021 4 minutes Read
First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture from a Welsh Government video.

Ifan Morgan Jones

There’s something of a paradox at the heart of the latest YouGov poll commissioned by ITV and Cardiff University.

On the one hand, the poll tells us that voters think that the Welsh Government has done a good job of handling the pandemic.

In fact, only 13% of respondents would rather have taken the approach seen in England over that of Wales, which is about as decisive a result as you’ll see in any poll on any subject.

At the same time, however, the poll also suggests that Labour faces big losses at the 2021 Senedd election in a little over a month – losing a third of its constituency seats to Plaid and the Conservatives.

How do we square that circle? Stephen Bush has a go in the New Statesman, suggesting that Mark Drakeford is about to be destroyed by his own success.

By showing that Wales can do things differently, and better, he has inadvertently boosted Plaid Cymru’s call for further Welsh autonomy.

I’m not sure I completely buy this theory, however. For one thing, Plaid Cymru are only up a modest 2% on their 2016 vote in the poll, and their likely gains – in Llanelli, Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West – are far from being sure things due to local constituency party fallings out.

The Conservatives meanwhile are up 9% in the polls and unless things turn markedly between now and 6 May look set to snaffle Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham, Vale of Glamorgan and perhaps a few other marginal seats as well.

More people are aware of and see the potential in devolution than ever before but more people plan to vote Conservative than at any Senedd election, ever – so, what gives?

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I think there are a few different theories that could be posited for this.

The most likely I think however is that the kind of people who give the Welsh Government their seal of approval on Coronavirus are pretty much those voting Labour and Plaid Cymru anyway.

Together the Labour and Plaid Cymru vote make up 55% of the total. Meanwhile, 52%, of Welsh people believe that the Welsh Government should decide on the lockdown rules in Wales.

61% of people in Wales think the Welsh Government has handled the pandemic well, and 53% think that the UK Government has handled it badly.

It seems likely that we’re discussing the same voters here. If you were predisposed to voting Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru before Covid-19 you’re predisposed to like how Wales has handled it in comparison to England.

The Conservatives meanwhile have snaffled up the other 30% of the vote who aren’t keen on how the Welsh Government have handled lockdown or just don’t follow Welsh politics closely enough to care.

In fact, on this latest poll the Labour and Plaid Cymru vote has changed remarkably little since 2016. Labour are down 2% and Plaid Cymru up 3%, changes within the margin of error.

But the Conservative vote is up almost 10% – from 21% in 2016 to 30% today. What accounts for that surge, if not dissatisfaction with Covid response?

Well, it could be argued that it has nothing to do with the Covid-19 pandemic at all and is instead a result of the complete collapse of UKIP, who won 12% of the constituency vote in 2016.

Their spiritual successors are the Abolish the Assembly Party, but they’re hoping to eek out a regional seat or two and won’t have anything near the same coverage as UKIP did in early 2016.

So most of Labour’s losses aren’t really a backlash against their last five years in government but just the result of a major lack of a right-wing populist party splitting the Conservatives’ constituency vote.

Therefore, for all the impact that Covid-19 has had on Wales, its political impact in terms of who people choose to vote for might actually be marginal at best.

Whatever the outcomes in terms of number and deaths and vaccine rollout, people will have decided where they stood on the merits of devolution beforehand and, as the election approaches, have largely stuck fast to or returned to their original assessment.

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