Poll shows Welsh voters now support EU membership

The poll suggests that opinion has swung back in favour of remaining in the European Union Credit: ITV News Cymru Wales
  • by Prof Roger Scully

For our new Welsh Political Barometer poll, we asked voters about the recent EU Referendum.

First of all, we checked with our respondents how they had voted in the referendum. Our weighted sample is not an exact representation of the Welsh public; of those members of our sample who indicated that they had voted in the referendum the balance was 53% - 47% for Leave, which is fractionally more pro-leave than the actual result. But this is still very close to the actual outcome.

We then asked them a follow-up question:

“Imagine that there was another referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union tomorrow. How would you vote?”

This time we got the following response:

  • Remain: 46%

  • Leave: 41%

  • Would Not Vote: 8%

  • Don’t Know: 5%

If we take out the undecideds and those who wouldn’t vote, these results equate to 53% to 47% balance in favour of Remain.

In short, there is not much overall change. But that which has occurred is in the direction of growing support for the idea of the UK remaining in the EU - roughly a six percentage point swing in this direction since the referendum. The key words there, though, are “since the referendum”. Unless those supporting continued EU membership can find some way of over-turning or re-running the vote, their views may now count for very little.

When we look at the details of the results, we find that while nearly all those (fully 97%) of those who indicate that they voted Remain in the referendum still hold to this position, only 86% of those who voted for Leave do so. There appears to be a small cohort of voters who voted to Leave, but who may now be experienced what some in the media have termed ‘Bregret’.

More generally, looking at the details of the results, we see in Wales many of the patterns that were common elsewhere in the UK during the referendum. Support for Remain continues to be strongest among younger voters, among the more affluent, and among supporters of Labour and Plaid Cymru. Support for Leave is stronger amongst older voters, the less affluent, and supporters of the Conservatives and (especially, and unsurprisingly) UKIP.

Among the issues that has been placed onto the political agenda since the referendum, by some people at least, has been Welsh independence. There were, for instance, two public demonstrations in support of this over the weekend. We thought that it might therefore be a good idea to see whether such calls have resonated with the people of Wales.

There are various ways of trying to explore the attitudes of people in Wales towards independence. Independence has sometimes been included in survey questions as one option among several plausible constitutional options. Alternatively, one can ask more of a Yes/No question on independence itself. The latter type of question tends to produce higher levels of support for independence than a question which includes several options.

The question we asked was one last used in a Barometer poll shortly before the 2014 Scottish referendum:

“If there was a referendum tomorrow on Wales becoming an independent country and this was the question, how would you vote? Should Wales be an independent country?”

  • Yes: 15%

  • No: 65%

  • Would Not Vote/Don’t Know: 20%

This is a clear majority against Welsh independence. If we take out the undecideds and those who suggest that they wouldn’t vote, the margin is 81% - 19% against independence. This is almost exactly the same as it was when the question was asked in September 2014. In short, there has been no rise at all in support for independence. Even a (narrow) majority of Plaid Cymru supporters are actually opposed to the idea.

However, rather than just leave things there, we decided to run a couple of additional questions. These questions asked our respondents about even more hypothetical situations; that probably means that their results should be interpreted with particular caution, as they required our respondents to make significant leaps of the imagination. But with those qualifiers entered, here is what we found.

First, we asked people “Suppose that Scotland voted to become an independent country and a referendum was then held in Wales about becoming an independent country. If this was the question, how would you vote? Should Wales be an independent country?”

Did this make a great difference? Not very much. Here were the results we obtained:

  • Yes: 19%

  • No: 61%

  • Would Not Vote/Don’t Know: 21%

If we take out the undecideds and those who suggest that they wouldn’t vote, the margin is now 76% - 24% against independence. This is still a very heavy majority against independence. About the only encouraging thing for supporters of independence here is that the equivalent majority was even higher (at 80% - 20%) in September 2014.

Finally, we asked a question which we haven’t run before, and which followed directly on from the EU Referendum:

“And please imagine a scenario where the rest of the UK left the European Union but Wales could remain a member of the European Union if it became an independent country. If a referendum was then held in Wales about becoming an independent country and this was the question, how would you vote? Should Wales be an independent country?”

The results to this question were:

  • Yes: 28%

  • No: 53%

  • Would Not Vote/Don’t Know: 20%

So now we have things appearing a little more evenly-balanced. But note that opposition to independence for Wales still leads by almost two to one: if we take out non-committed voters, then things balance out at 65% - 35% against independence. This is still a very clear margin, although now we do at least see a majority of Plaid Cymru voters supporting independence in this scenario; we also see a narrow plurality of Labour voters also endorsing independence here.The overall message appears to be that while Brexit might re-open the discussion on Welsh independence, there is little sign that the Leave vote in the EU referendum would lead to a Leave vote in a referendum on Welsh independence from the UK.

  • Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science at Cardiff University's Wales Governance Centre and the Principal Investigator for the 2016 Welsh Election Study

  • The poll, for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, had a sample of 1010 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov from 30 June – 4 July 2016.