Poll shows growing support for leaving EU

  • by Prof Roger Scully

First, Westminster. After a rather difficult couple of months for the Labour party, has this had any impact on their support in Wales for a general election? Here is what our new poll found:

Labour and Conservative support is unchanged since December. UKIP and Plaid Cymru have each gained 1% and there's no change for the Liberal Democrats.

In short, Labour’s support is not advancing but nor has it – for Westminster at least –sunk any further. That must count, I think, as relatively good news for the party. Overall, there is very little change at all in this poll from the previous one. The Conservatives’ support in a Westminster context remains impressively robust, while both UKIP and Plaid Cymru edge up once more, as they also did in December’s poll. The news remains unremittingly bleak for the Liberal Democrats, who have made no progress at all and continue to be doing worse than in last year’s disastrous general election.

If we apply the changes since the general election implied by this poll uniformly across Wales, then only two seats would be projected to change hands since the general election: Labour would retake Gower from the Conservatives, but would lose Ynys Môn to Plaid Cymru. (However, we should note that those projections are based on the current parliamentary boundaries; all constituency boundaries are due to be re-drawn before the next general election, in a process that could also see a significant cut in the number of Welsh seats.)

What about for the EU Referendum? With the referendum becoming much less of a hypothetical event, there has been something of a move towards Leave in Britain-wide polls in recent weeks. What about in Wales? This is what our new Barometer poll found (with changes from December once more in brackets):

  • Remain a member of the European Union: 37% (-3%)

  • Leave the European Union: 45% (+3%)

  • Would not vote: 3% (-2%)

  • Don’t Know: 16% (+2%)

Our previous poll gave Leave the first lead, albeit a very narrow one, that they had experienced in Wales for two years. They have now extended that advantage to a clear eight percentage points. The only other poll on the EU referendum ever to give Leave such an advantage in Wales was one done by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail almost three years ago (and using a rather different question).

Our new poll thus fits in with the general picture of polls across Britain, which have indicated the momentum moving in the direction of Leave in recent weeks. However, we should be cautious before we conclude that Wales is likely to vote necessarily vote against membership of the EU when the referendum eventually comes. There is still a long time to go to the vote (though we don’t yet know for sure exactly how long). There have also been substantial differences between the different polling companies in their findings on the EU referendum for several months. Internet polls, such as the Barometer poll, have been consistently finding much higher levels of support for Leave than do telephone polls, which have all shown Remain to be in a fairly comfortable lead. Until the referendum actually occurs, we won’t know which method will prove to be the more accurate.

As a follow-up question to that on EU referendum voting intentions, we also asked respondents to the Barometer poll when they thought the vote ought to take place. We gave them several options, and here is how they responded:

  • On the same day as the elections in May: 23%

  • In June 2016: 21%

  • In Autumn 2016: 20%

  • In 2017: 8%

  • There shouldn't be a referendum on Britain’s EU membership: 11%

  • Don’t Know: 18%

It is pretty clear that there was no consensus on this issue! The parties in the Assembly have all agreed that they would prefer to have the referendum delayed until at least the autumn; the respective First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (along with the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland) have formally requested such a delay in a joint letter to the Prime Minister. However, while some of the public clearly agree with them there is no option that commands anywhere close to a majority. Indeed, a plurality actually supports the one option that has definitely been ruled out, of having the referendum at the same time as the devolved elections in May! Although the symbolism of the UK government disregarding the views of all the devolved governments could well be problematic, our findings here might help David Cameron and his colleagues if they decide to push ahead with a June vote; they would not be going against determined public opposition, at least in Wales.

  • More detailed analysis of the poll will be provided in several posts over the next few weeks on my blog, Elections inWales (http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/).

  • Professor Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science at Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre.

  • 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.