Catching up…

Whatever else they have been, the last couple of months have not been dull. Things have been fairly ‘lively’ with my day job; hence, it has only been in the last few days that I have been able to catch up with some things. One of those is some of the April Welsh Political Barometer poll. This poll was conducted about three weeks into the ‘lockdown’; as I discussed at the time, the context appeared to go some of the way to explaining the voting intention numbers, which for both Westminster and the Senedd were the best figures ever recorded by the Welsh Conservatives.

Given the immediate context in which the April Barometer poll was conducted, understandably most of the questions focussed on the Covid-19 crisis. However, one more ‘normal’ set of questions asked concerned party leaders. The April Barometer included our long-standing format of asking people to rate a set of politicians on a 0-10 scale, where 0 means ‘strongly dislike’ and 10 means ‘strongly like’, with a Don’t Know option also available. This question was asked about the main Britain-wide leaders for the Conservatives and Labour, plus the Welsh leaders of both parties plus Plaid Cymru. With sampling for the poll starting just before the Labour leadership announcement, the poll was sadly unable to give an initial voter reaction to Sir Keir Starmer; however, it did enable our sample of Welsh voters to pass a final verdict on Jeremy Corbyn.

As I have commented many times before on the blog, a first interesting thing in such findings is the proportion of people who answer Don’t Know for each leader. Although some might choose this option because they are genuinely undecided – while others might bluff about a leader about of whom they know nothing – in the aggregate the percentage of people who say Don’t Know for a particular leader is a good proxy measure of their public visibility. The main UK-wide leaders nearly always attract low proportions of respondents saying Don’t Know about them; with others we often find most respondents choosing this option.

Here is what the Barometer poll found in this regard:

Leader% Don’t Know
Boris Johnson7
Jeremy Corbyn9
Mark Drakeford40
Adam Price54
Paul Davies64

As has often been found before, this most recent evidence shows a continued gulf between the two main UK party leaders and those at the devolved level. However, there is some positive news with regard to the latter: all three Welsh level figures have seen declines in the proportion of Don’t Knows since we last asked such a question in various polls during 2019. Some eighteen months into the job of First Minister, Mark Drakeford has at least reached the point where a clear majority of our samples feel able to offer a view on him. And there has been an even greater growth in the number of respondents feeling able to give a view on the Plaid leader Adam Price.

But what about the answers given by those respondents who did have a view? Here are the average ratings of those who did offer an opinion about each one of the five leaders.

LeaderAverage /10
Boris Johnson5.3
Jeremy Corbyn3.3
Mark Drakeford4.0
Adam Price4.9
Paul Davies4.0

The sampling for this poll was done at probably the height of the ‘rally to the flag’ effect, observed in many democracies, that seems to have been prompted by the Covid-19 crisis. Nonetheless, it is still striking to see Boris Johnson as the most popular party leader in Wales. Few politicians in recent years have ever managed an average rating above 5.0 on the 0-10 scale, but in this poll the Prime Minister managed it. These strong ratings are largely driven by Conservative voters. It is hardly new to see a political leader much more liked by supporters of their own party than by those of others, but Mr Johnson divides opinions particularly starkly. Even in this poll he remained deeply unpopular among supporters of the other parties (even more so than Jeremy Corbyn with Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru supporters), but scored extraordinarily highly with the (increased) group of Conservative voters – averaging 8.4 out of ten with those indicating they would vote Conservative in a general election.

It is also striking to see Mr Johnson a full two points ahead of the then Leader of the Opposition; the previous table made clear that most Welsh voters knew who Jeremy Corbyn was, but it is also clear that by the end of his leadership most of them had also decided that they did not much like him. This even applied to some Labour supporters, where Mr Corbyn’s average rating (6.5 out of ten) was much lower than Boris Johnson’s among Conservatives.

Mark Drakeford’s ratings have improved somewhat since polls conducted last year, as have those for Paul Davies. Nonetheless, and as had become the pattern by the end of the general election campaign last year, Adam Price’s average rating is well ahead of those with whom he will compete next year to become First Minister. This does suggest some potential for leadership to play well for Plaid Cymru in next year’s devolved election.

The April Barometer poll also asked about how well a number of leading UK and Welsh political figures were handling the coronavirus crisis. The table below summarises responses into ‘well’, ‘badly’ and ‘Don’t Know’ for each politician about whom the question was asked:

Leader % Well % Badly % Dont Know
Johnson 63 29 9
Sunak 55 14 31
Hancock 50 22 28
Drakeford 30 23 47
Gething 29 18 53

At this point in the crisis, public reaction in Wales to the leadership of Boris Johnson was strongly positive. Responses to the other UK government ministers mentioned in the poll – Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock – was similar, with far more positive than negative evaluations.

The pattern of evaluations was clearly less positive for the Welsh First Minister, and for Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething. (The poll, by the way, was conducted prior to Mr Gething’s profile being raised after his somewhat unfortunate failure to mute his microphone during one of the Senedd’s Zoom session). There are two features notable about the results for the Welsh Government ministers. The first is the much higher proportion of Don’t Know responses. This may well be understandable, with much public attention focussing on the coverage of the crisis put out by London-based new media. Nonetheless, given that health is a devolved subject matter it is still striking – and appalling – that in the midst of the largest public health crisis in decades, around half of a representative sample of people were simply unable to offer a view on the performance of those leading the government response here in Wales.

The second striking feature of the results for Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething, though, is that even among those able to offer a view on their handling of Covid-19, the ratio of positive to negative evaluations was significantly worse than with the UK government leaders. At that point in the crisis, at least, those who had developed a view of the Welsh Labour government’s response were, on average, less impressed than they were with that of the Conservative UK government.

Amidst steadily rising Covid-19 case and death totals, the politics of the crisis are hardly the most important thing. But a major social trauma like the current crisis will likely have profound political implications, and it is the duty of those measuring the public mood to try to gather and assess evidence on this. About a month ago, when the April Barometer poll was conducted, the politics of the current crisis were playing well for Conservatives, and in particular their UK leader. It is much less clear that it was doing so for Welsh Labour and their leadership. But much water has flowed under various bridges since then. I will be back soon with more recent Welsh evidence on the handling of Covid-19.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2020/05/12/catching-up/