Poll shows boost for Labour and Plaid Cymru as Tories slip from record high

  • The latest Wales Barometer Poll for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University shows just how quickly political fortunes are changing in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Prof Roger Awan-Scully of Cardiff University, who's chair of the UK Political Studies Association, has been analysing the latest figures.

If the last few years in politics have taught us nothing else, they should surely have made us aware that political fortunes can change very rapidly. In a context where a far lower proportion of voters are life-long supporters of one party than was once the case, what goes up can also go down - and sometimes very rapidly and to a very substantial extent. And if anyone had not yet learned this, our new Welsh Political Barometer poll should drive the lesson home rather effectively.

Our most recent Barometer poll, in April, was quite literally the best opinion poll ever for the Welsh Conservatives. For both Westminster and the Senedd, the Tories were at their highest ever rating, and in clear leads: twelve percentage points ahead of Labour for a general election; and six points ahead for the Senedd on the constituency vote and nine points ahead for the regional list vote.

This exceptionally strong Welsh Conservative position was in line with the trends observed in Britain-wide polls, where a post general election boost in the Conservative position had been further enhanced by a ‘rally to the flag’ effect in the first weeks of the Covid-19 crisis.

Things have changed. Recent weeks have seen increasing public scepticism in Britain-wide polls about the Johnson government’s handling of Covid-19. We have also seen steadily improving ratings for the new UK Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer. More recently, the Dominic Cummings saga appears to have had substantial public cut-through, and caused significant damage to public evaluations of the Johnson government and the Conservative party.

All of these factors are reflected in the new Barometer poll. There have been significant changes in the standing of the parties. As always, our poll examined voter preferences for both a general and a devolved election. First, Westminster: here are the voting intention figures for a general election (with changes from the April Barometer poll in brackets):

Polls suggest that the UK is growing sceptical on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: ITV Wales
  • Labour: 39% (+5)

  • Conservatives: 35% (-11)

  • Plaid Cymru: 15% (+4)

  • Liberal Democrats: 5% (+1)

  • Greens: 3% (+1)

  • Brexit Party: 2% (-1)

  • Others: 1% (+1)

These figures demonstrate a substantial turnaround in party fortunes since April. Labour are back in the lead. But while they have improved their position in the last two months, the change is primarily about Conservative decline from the extraordinarily strong position they had last time. >While the Welsh Tories’ position in Wales remains strong by all historic standards - and is only just below their vote-share in last December’s general election - to fall eleven points between two polls is highly unusual. Of the other parties, Plaid Cymru will be most cheered, with the Conservative decline benefitting them almost to the same extent as it does Labour.>What might this mean in terms of parliamentary seats? Using the standard method, of projecting uniformly across Wales swings since the last general election, we generate the following projected outcome in terms of seats (with changes from the December 2019 election result in brackets):

  • Labour: 21 (-1)

  • Conservatives: 15 (+1)

  • Plaid Cymru: 4 (no change)

Our previous poll had seen the Conservatives projected to gain eleven parliamentary seats, on top of the fourteen they won in the December 2019 general election. Those eleven projected gains have now been cut to one: the Alyn and Deeside seat that the Tories very nearly won in December is now projected to be very narrowly gained by them.

The changed political landscape can be seen every bit as well by looking at devolved voting intentions. The April Barometer poll saw the Conservatives in unprecedented leads on both votes, and projected to be the largest party in the Senedd. None of that is any longer the case. Here are the figures for the constituency ballot (with changes in support since April once again indicated in brackets):

  • Labour: 34% (+2)

  • Conservatives: 31% (-7)

  • Plaid Cymru: 22% (+3)

  • Liberal Democrats: 5% (+1)

  • Brexit Party: 3% (-1)

  • Greens: 3% (+1)

  • Others: 3% (+2)

Our previous Welsh poll showed that the surge in Conservative fortunes in Wales was not limited to Westminster. But the strong influence of British-wide political tides on the electoral fortunes of parties in Wales - an influence is these days very much weaker in Scotland - can hurt as well as help a party.

Mark Drakeford has regularly held conferences during the pandemic to discuss potential lockdown changes in Wales. Credit: ITV Wales.

Our new poll demonstrates that the setbacks the Tories have experienced in recent times are impacting them at the devolved level as well. And as at Westminster, this appears to have worked to the benefit of both Labour and Plaid Cymru.>The April Barometer poll had projected (under uniform national swings) the Conservatives to capture nine constituency seats from Labour. Now those gains have been cut to five seats: in current order of marginality, those are Vale of Glamorgan, Vale of Clwyd, Gower, Wrexham, and Cardiff North. Meanwhile, Plaid are projected to gain Llanelli.>For the regional list vote, the new Barometer poll generated the following results (with changes since the April Barometer poll once again in brackets):

  • Labour: 32% (+3)

  • Conservatives: 28% (-9)

  • Plaid Cymru: 24% (+6)

  • Liberal Democrats: 5% (+1)

  • Abolish the Assembly: 4% (no change)

  • Brexit Party: 3% (-1)

  • Greens: 3% (no change)

  • Others: 1% (-1)

These results reinforce the picture of Conservative decline putting Labour once more in the lead, but also benefitting Plaid Cymru to a significant extent.>Allowing for the constituency results already projected, and once more assuming uniform national swings since 2016, our new poll projects the following overall results for the Senedd’s regional list seats:

  • North Wales: 2 Plaid, 1 Labour, 1 Conservative

  • Mid and West Wales: 3 Labour, 1 Conservative

  • South Wales West: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

  • South Wales Central: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

  • South Wales East: 2 Conservative, 2 Plaid

Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

From all these figures we can thereby generate the following overall projected result for the Senedd:

  • Labour: 25 seats (21 constituency, 4 regional)

  • Conservatives: 19 seats (11 constituency, 8 regional)

  • Plaid Cymru: 15 seats (7 constituency, 8 regional)

  • Liberal Democrats: 1 seat (1 constituency)

The last few weeks have seen the greatest public health crisis for many years. In that context, with suffering and deaths having been widespread, the polling fortunes of our political parties may seem of little concern. But what people think of those who lead our governments, and our political parties, does matter for many reasons. >In Wales we are less than a year away from the next Senedd election, and the political fallout of the current crisis is likely to play a big part in shaping the fortunes of all the parties in the run up to that campaign.>Our previous Welsh Political Barometer poll produced historically good results for the Conservatives. But I said at the time that the electoral landscape could alter very rapidly - and so it has.

  • The poll, for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, had a sample of 1,021 Welsh adults aged 18+ and was carried out online by YouGov from 29 May to 1 June 2020.