Welsh Conservative support at record high

  • By Prof Roger Awan-Scully

In these difficult times there is little good news around for many people. However, Welsh Conservatives will surely be cheered by the findings of the new Welsh Political Barometer poll. Recent Britain-wide polls have shown a ‘rally to the flag’ effect, with support for the Conservative government increasing (with polls in many other countries generating very similar findings for their respective governments). Our new Barometer poll indicates something similar happening in Wales, with the recent strong Conservative showing receiving a further boost.

First, Westminster. After the strong Conservative performance in December; the post-election ‘honeymoon’ they had in subsequent polls conducted across Britain; and then a further apparent boost during the current crisis period, it is no surprise to see the Welsh Tories doing well in our latest poll. Here are the numbers (with changes on our last pre-election Barometer poll, conducted in January, in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 46% (+5)

  • Labour: 34% (-2)

  • Plaid Cymru: 11% (-2)

  • Liberal Democrats: 4% (-1)

  • Brexit Party: 3% (no change)

  • Greens: 2% (no change)

  • Others: 0 (-1)

Our previous Barometer poll had produced what I described at the time as "historically good figures for the Conservatives in Wales". The Conservatives have now aded a further five points onto that figure, putting them at clearly their highest level of support in Wales in any poll published in this century – and, indeed, in any opinion poll ever conducted in Wales of which I am aware. The twelve-point Conservative lead in Wales is also, to the best of my knowledge, the largest ever recorded – exceeding the ten point lead the Tories briefly had at the start of the 2017 general election campaign.

What might this mean in terms of parliamentary seats for the different parties? Using the standard method, of projecting swings since the last general election uniformly across Wales, we generate the following outcome in terms of seats (with projected changes from the December 2019 election result in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 25 (+11)

  • Labour: 12 (-10)

  • Plaid Cymru: 3 (-1)

In short, this poll projects the Welsh Conservatives to retain all the seats that they won in December’s general election (which was itself the joint best Conservative performance in terms of seats since 1945), and then gain a further eleven seats on top of that! The seats projected to be Conservative gains are: Alyn and Deeside, Cardiff North, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Gower, Llanelli, Islwyn, Neath, Newport East, Newport West, Pontypridd and Torfaen. All but Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (currently held by Jonathan Edwards for Plaid Cymru) would be gained by the Conservatives directly from Labour.

But it is not only historic changes at Westminster that are suggested by our new poll. As per usual, our new poll also asked about voting intentions on both the constituency and the regional ballots for a devolved election. Unfortunately, we were not able to repeat this time around the inclusion in our January poll of some 16 and 17 year olds; their inclusion last time lowered the final figure for Conservative support by a single point, and raised Labour’s total by the same amount. Here are the figures for the constituency ballot (with changes in support since our January Barometer poll among voters aged 18 and above in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 38% (+2)

  • Labour: 32% (no change)

  • Plaid Cymru: 19% (-1)

  • Liberal Democrats: 4% (-1)

  • Brexit Party: 4% (no change)

  • Greens: 3% (no change)

  • Others: 1% (no change)

These results emphasise that the current buoyancy in Welsh Conservative fortunes is not just about Westminster. This 38 percent support on the constituency vote is another all-time high. Once again assuming uniform national swings since the last relevant election, this new Barometer poll projects the Tories to capture nine constituency seats from Labour: these are Cardiff North, Cardiff West, Clwyd South, Delyn, Gower, Newport West, the Vale of Clwyd, the Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham. Labour would still, on the figures, win more constituency seats than the Conservatives: 18 to the Tories’ 15, with Plaid holding six and Kirsty Williams holding on for the Lib-Dems in Brecon and Radnor. But among the projected Labour losses would be First Minister Mark Drakeford.

There was also 3% support for the Abolish the Assembly party and 2% for others

For the regional list vote, the new Barometer poll produced the following results (with changes since our December poll once again in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 37% (+4)

  • Labour: 29% (-2)

  • Plaid Cymru: 18% (-1)

  • Liberal Democrats: 4% (-1)

  • Brexit Party: 4% (no change)

  • Greens: 3% (no change)

  • Abolish the Assembly: 3% (no change)

  • Others: 2% (no change)

These regional vote figures once again put the Welsh Conservatives on their best-ever showing. Allowing for the constituency results already projected, and once again assuming uniform national swings since 2016, our new poll projects the following overall results for the Assembly’s regional list seats:

  • North Wales: 3 Labour, 1 Plaid

  • Mid and West Wales: 3 Conservative, 1 Labour

  • South Wales West: 3 Conservative, 1 Plaid

  • South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 1 Plaid, 1 Labour

  • South Wales East: 3 Conservative, 1 Plaid

These figures therefore generate the following overall projected result for the National Assembly:

  • Conservatives: 26 seats (15 constituency, 11 regional)

  • Labour: 23 seats (18 constituency, 5 regional)

  • Plaid Cymru: 10 seats (6 constituency, 4 regional)

  • Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)

Such an outcome would of course, be the first time that an election to the National Assembly for Wales had ever produced any party other than Labour winning the largest number of seats.

It has been widely noted that many countries have seen a ‘rally around the flag’ effect during the Covid-19 crisis. But which flag should voters rally towards? Recent evidence from Scotland has suggested strong support for the SNP, apparently reflecting positive public reactions to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership in recent weeks.

In Wales, just as in Scotland, health is a devolved issue. But as we know, Wales is a very different place politically from Scotland. And even though it is a Labour government which is leading the battle against the coronavirus in Wales, it appears to be the Conservatives in London who are getting most political credit.

But while the results in this poll are genuinely historic for the Conservatives in Wales, there are at least two reasons why they should be cautious. The first is that while voters have been supportive of their handling of Covid-19 thus far, we do not know if that will continue. If people begin to get frustrated at the restrictions on their lifestyles, or if significant numbers of them start to question the effectiveness of the UK government’s handling of the issue, then any political gains made by the Conservatives could very rapidly move into reverse.

The second reason for caution is that much of the sampling for this poll was conducted before Sir Keir Starmer was confirmed as the new Labour party leader. An impressive start by the new Labour leader and his new team could also see the electoral landscape alter very rapidly.

Poll shows Welsh support for UK Govt's handling of coronavirus crisis

  • Prof Roger Awan-Scully is Professor of Political Science at the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University.

  • The poll, for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, had a sample of 1,008 Welsh adults aged 18+ and was carried out by YouGov from 3 to 7 April 2020.