As many blog readers may just have noticed, the politics of party leadership have become highly topical in Wales in recent weeks. The four official parties in the National Assembly are all facing actual or potential leadership contests.
Fortunately, the new Welsh Political Barometer poll was able to include some relevant questions. Most of our polls in recent years have run a question on the general popularity of party leaders. We normally ask people to rate the main UK and Welsh party leaders, and occasionally other political figures, on a 0â€“10 scale â€“ where 0 means â€˜strongly dislikeâ€™ and 10 means â€˜strongly likeâ€™. As regular readers of the blog will be aware, it is fairly uncommon for anyone to average over five on this scale.
However, with the recent turmoil surrounding party leadership in the National Assembly, we decided to ask a rather different set of questions this time around. We decided to focus directly on the main possible contenders for the leadership of each party in the Assembly, and ask people who they saw as the best potential leader.
So for Labour we asked the following question:
â€œCarwyn Jones has announced that we will stand down this autumn as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister of Wales. Which of the following do you think would make the best First Minister of Wales?â€�
With the final shape of the Welsh Labour leadership contest still uncertain, the team finalising the poll debated as to whom exactly we should include in the list of choices for our survey respondents. In the end, we included everyone we had seen publicly mentioned as a possible candidate.
The following table summarises responses for our overall sample, and then in the next column among those respondents who indicated that they would support Labour in the National Assembly constituency ballot:
|Name||Overall Sample||Labour Supporters|
|None of these||17%||7%|
It would be fair to say that none of the potential candidates have exactly captured the public imagination, nor even that of Labour supporters. More than eighty percent of the public, and more than three-quarters of Labour Assembly voters, were unable to indicate a preference. Yet one of these individuals is surely going to be Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister within a few months. At least whoever assumes the top job will not have peaked too early in public affections. The differences between the candidates are all tiny, and well within any polling â€˜margin of errorâ€™. Our poll does not indicate a clear lead for any candidate.
For the Conservatives we asked the following, slightly different, question:
â€œAndrew RT Davies has resigned as the leader of the Welsh Conservative Party. Which of the following Conservative Assembly Members do you think would make the best leader of the Welsh Conservative Party?â€�
Our poll went live only a few hours after Andrew RT Davies announced his resignation, and before some of those who appeared to us to be potential leadership candidates had indicated their intentions. We therefore included the names seen in the table below. This table summarises responses for our overall sample, and then in the next column among those respondents who indicated that they would support the Conservatives in the National Assembly constituency ballot:
|Name||Overall Sample||Conservative Supporters|
|None of these||17%||12%|
As with the possible Labour candidates, we see very large proportions of people unable to give a preference â€“ and a very similar situation prevailing even when we restrict our gaze simply to Conservative Assembly supporters. None of these possible candidates could win the backing of even one in ten of those who vote for their party. This once again shows the extent to which Assembly politicians struggle to get through to the wider public.
For Plaid Cymru we asked the following question:
â€œThe leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, has said she would welcome a contest this summer for the leadership of her party, allowing members to choose between her and any opponents. Which of the following Plaid Cymru Assembly Members do you think would make the best leader of Plaid Cymru?â€�
The next table summarises responses for our overall sample, and then in the next column among those respondents who indicated that they would support Plaid in the National Assembly constituency ballot:
|Name||Overall Sample||Plaid Supporters|
|Rhun ap Iorwerth||6%||14%|
|None of these||13%||5%|
Here things are a little different. It is still the case that, among the public as a whole, the majority simply plump for a â€˜Donâ€™t knowâ€™ response. But of those with a view, Leanne Wood clearly leads the field. This picture is even more emphatic when we look only at those who support Plaid for the Assembly. Now a plurality support Leanne Wood â€“ more than both of her putative challengers put together.
These results may, of course, reflect at least in part the fairly high public profile that Leanne Wood has been able to establish in recent years. She has taken part in UK-wide general election debates, and also led the party in the last National Assembly election. But the overall message from the poll is that, whatever the partyâ€™s elected politicians or members may think, among the public there is no clear mood to see her replaced as leader. In recent years, of course, Leanne Wood has consistently been ranked in Barometer polls as one of the most popular political leaders in Wales.
And for UKIP, we asked the following:
â€œUKIP has announced that it will ballots its members in Wales to choose who should lead the party in the National Assembly for Wales. Which of the following UKIP Assembly Members do you think would make the best leader of UKIP Wales?â€�
This final table summarises responses for our overall sample. We are unable to offer a separate column with figures for UKIP constituency vote supporters, because there simply were not enough of them in the sample.
|None of these||27%|
After spending the last two years consistently coming bottom of the rankings on our 0-10 leader popularity question, Neil Hamilton actually tops the poll this time! However, once again these are small differences, and the main message is that no candidate wins the support of many people.
But what goes for UKIP applies, to a fair extent to all the parties â€“ with the partial exception of Plaid Cymru and Leanne Wood. Unless they have the platform of being First Minister, or appearing in major UK-wide political events like general election leadersâ€™ debates, most senior Assembly politicians struggle to win significant public recognition.