By Prof. Roger Awan-Scully
The Brexit Party is on course for a huge European election victory in Wales – while both Labour and the Conservatives face historic defeats. These are the headline findings that come from the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll.
Among those indicating that they would vote, and giving a party preference, these are the levels of support for each party that YouGov found (with changes from our previous Barometer poll, in April, indicated in brackets):
Brexit Party: 36% (+26)
Plaid Cymru: 19% (+4)
Labour: 15% (-15)
Liberal Democrats: 10% (+4)
Greens: 8% (+5)
Conservative: 7% (-9)
UKIP: 2% (-9)
Change UK: 2% (-6)
If these results were to be replicated in the election itself, then Wales’ four seats in the European Parliament would be allocated as follows:
Brexit Party: 2 seats
Labour: 1 seat:
Plaid Cymru: 1 seat
These new polling figures clearly show huge changes from our previous poll. That was conducted before the Brexit party had even officially launched. A great deal has changed in the political landscape in just a few weeks.
The most obvious change is in the fortunes of the Brexit Party. Just a few weeks old, they are now apparently well in the lead in Wales, up from fifth place in our previous poll. Part of this success has come from the marginalisation of UKIP, whose support has largely disappeared. But much has also come from former Conservative supporters. The detailed findings of our poll shows the Brexit party winning 68% of the support of those who voted Leave in 2016, and also 68% of those who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election.
If our new poll is great news for the Brexit Party, it is the very opposite for both Labour and, to an even greater extent, the Conservatives. Labour have long been our dominant party, but now face the realistic prospect not only of being defeated in Wales but even potentially finishing in third place!
Meanwhile, according to our poll the Welsh Conservatives are very likely to lose their current seat in the European Parliament, and may actually be on course to finishing in sixth! These would be truly unprecedented results for both the traditionally dominant parties.
Compared to both Labour and the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru’s performance in our new poll is much stronger. Plaid now have a very realistic chance of finishing ahead of Labour for the first time ever in a Wales-wide election. However, even on their most optimistic interpretation of this poll, Plaid are a long way short of winning two MEPs.
The Liberal Democrats have made some progress since our last poll. However, their progress has been more limited than many other polls have indicated has been happening recently in England: perhaps reflecting the fact that, with Plaid Cymru in the race, the pro-Remain section of the electoral marketplace is more crowded in Wales. As in previous European elections in Wales (such as 1999, 2004 and 2009), the Liberal Democrats may poll very respectably but still fall some way sort of the votes required to win a seat.
Of course, Plaid and the Lib-Dems are not the only explicitly pro-Remain parties in Wales. Our new poll shows a relatively strong performance from the Greens. However, they look very unlikely to return one of the four MEPs – even if they might conceivably finish ahead of the Conservatives in vote share. Nor do Change UK look to have much chance of winning a seat in Wales: indeed, their brief moment in the political sun may already be coming towards and end.
Overall, if we compare support for the ‘hard Brexit’ parties (Brexit Party plus UKIP) and the unambiguously pro-Remain parties (Plaid, the Lib-Dems, Change UK and the Greens), then our new poll suggests the two sides are very evenly balanced in Wales: some 38 percent are planning to vote for parties endorsing a hard Brexit, and 39 percent for those favouring the UK remaining in the EU.
But given the way European elections operate in Wales, the figures in this poll suggest that there could be two seats for the Brexit Party and only one for all those parties supporting Remain.
These poll results clearly have immediate potential implications for Thursday’s election. But there is a broader historical context here. Since Lloyd George’s victory in the December 1918 general election, there have been 39 Wales-wide electoral contests. The Labour party have come first in 38 of those 39 contests – the sole exception being the 2009 European election when, at the absolute lowest point of Gordon Brown’s unhappy period as Prime Minister, Labour finished narrowly behind the Conservatives in Wales.
Unless our poll is horribly inaccurate, or Labour stage an astonishing resurgence in the last few days of the European election campaign, we are going to see Labour defeated in Wales for only the second time in the last one hundred years. Mark Drakeford’s first electoral test as Welsh Labour leader will have been failed. We don’t yet know what political implications might follow from such an outcome, but this result in itself would be truly historic.
YouGov interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,009 adults in Wales online between 16-20 May 2019. The poll was conducted for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University.