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National Assembly for Wales: Public Attitudes 2008

3. Public Attitudes towards the National Assembly and Devolution

Schedule 2 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 notes that the Assembly Commission may promote public awareness of:

(a) The current or any pending system for the election of Assembly members, and

(b) The current or any pending system of devolved government in Wales.

On this basis, the survey explores basic public attitudes towards the system of government in Wales, gauged through a question asking respondents how they would most prefer Wales to be governed. The wording of the question used here was very similar to that used consistently in major academic surveys of the public, and other polls conducted in Wales over the last decade. The question has thus been extensively 'road-tested’ in previous work. It asks people to choose between four broad constitutional options:

  • 'Wales should become Independent, separate from the UK’

  • 'Wales should remain part of the UK, with its own elected Parliament which has law making and taxation powers’

  • 'Wales should remain part of the UK, with its own elected Assembly which has limited law making powers only’; and

  • 'Wales should remain part of the UK, without an elected Assembly’

The following table lists the results for the Assembly Commission survey alongside those for those other surveys conducted over the last decade that have asked a similar or identical question. We can see clearly that the results are very much in line with the patterns and trends established in other recent work. Support for Independence remains very limited, while support for returning to the constitutional status quo ante of No Devolution continues to decline - from well over one-third of people in 1997 to well under one in six now. And of the substantial majority that favour devolution, a clear plurality prefer the Parliament option.

Table 1: Constitutional Preferences in Wales (%), 1997-2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

Constitutional preference

1997

1999

2001

2003

2006

2007

2008

Independence

13.2

9.6

11.8

13.4

11.0

11.5

10.0

Parliament

18.3

28.3

36.8

35.9

40.2

41.5

38.8

Assembly

25.1

32.9

24.5

25.3

23.9

26.1

30.7

No Devolution

36.9

24.3

23.1

20.3

20.4

15.7

15.0

Don’t Know/Refused

6.5

5.0

3.7

5.2

4.6

5.3

5.5

Number of respondents

686

1256

1085

988

1000

884

2538

Q. 'Which of these statements comes closest to your view?’

In addition to these general trends in public attitudes on how Wales should be governed, some previous work has indicated a gradual homogenization of opinion occurring over the last decade. That is, while there were clear differences across Wales (for example, by region) at the time of the 1997 referendum, those differences have been diminishing in magnitude. The current research certainly supports such findings for constitutional preferences. Table 2 displays the percentages choosing each of the main options across the five Welsh electoral regions, and across different age groups. As can readily be observed, differences across the regions are small, and the Parliament option is the most preferred of a plurality in all five regions. There are, however, some rather more prominent differences according to age. In line with the findings of some previous surveys, younger respondents are found to be rather more favourable towards stronger measures of self-government than their older counterparts. Among older age cohorts, support for the No Devolution option is higher, and among the oldest three groups - those aged 55 and older - the Assembly option is more popular, or at least as popular, as the Parliament one.

Table 2a: Constitutional Preferences by Welsh Electoral Region (%), 2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

CONSTITUTIONAL PREFERENCE

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

Independence

9

12

11

10

8

Parliament

40

40

40

37

38

Assembly

30

30

31

29

33

No Devolution

15

14

12

18

16

Don’t Know/Refused

7

4

6

6

5

Number of respondents

537

505

432

543

522

Table 2b: Constitutional Preferences by Age Group in Wales (%), 2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

CONSTITUTIONAL PREFERENCE

18-24

25-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65-74

75+

Independence

18

11

10

8

10

8

8

Parliament

49

44

43

37

33

33

30

Assembly

19

29

29

31

37

33

35

No Devolution

6

11

12

18

17

23

18

Don’t Know/Refused

8

6

6

6

2

4

10

Number of respondents

271

412

462

446

372

298

271

The Assembly Commission survey also included a measure of the party identification of surveys respondents. Table 3 reports Constitutional Preferences grouped by supporters of the major political parties, as well as those who identify with no political party. Although there are differences here, and in the broadly expected directions, they are probably rather smaller than many observers would expect. It is particularly notable that neither the Independence nor No Devolution options are the plurality preference for identifiers with any of the parties. It is also notable that those without any stable party identification do not appear to form some distinct group of the politically disengaged or disaffected: while they are a little less likely than identifiers to give a definite answer to this question, the pattern of their answers is little different from that of the rest of the population.

Table 3: Constitutional Preferences by Party Identification (%), 2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

CONSTITUTIONAL PREFERENCE

LABOUR

CONS.

LIBDEM

PLAID

NO PARTY ID

Independence

6

3

7

27

12

Parliament

44

30

50

50

38

Assembly

37

34

32

18

28

No Devolution

11

30

10

2

14

Don’t Know/Refused

3

3

1

3

9

Number of respondents

577

343

140

177

1087

The survey also asked respondents about their voting intention in the potential future referendum on greater powers for the National Assembly for Wales. This was the third survey to ask about such matters: the wording of the questions and findings of all three are contained in Table 4.

The most notable differences between the Assembly Commission’s survey and previous ones is the lower level of putative 'No’ supporters, and the higher proportion of respondents choosing the 'Don’t Know’ or 'Refuse to Answer’ options. These differences plausibly reflect in part genuine shifts of opinion in Wales. But the higher proportion of Don’t Know/Refused responses in our survey may also be the result of the slightly different question wording used here. The main difference between the question asked here and previous surveys was the explicit comparison with Scotland in an attempt to make the nature of change being proposed more concrete. This line of inquiry did not appear problematic during the piloting exercise, but this formulation may have proven difficult for a small proportion of survey respondents.

Table 4: Referendum Voting Intentions (%) Wales 2007/08

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

POLL

% IN FAVOUR

% AGAINST

% DON’T KNOW/REFUSED/WOULDN’T VOTE

BBC/ICM, June 2007a

47

44

9

BBC/ICM, Feb 2008b

49

42

9

National Assembly/GfK NOP,

June-July 2008c

46

32

22

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

a Telephone poll conducted by ICM for BBC Wales. Number of respondents = 1001. Question asked: "If there were to be a referendum on turning the National Assembly for Wales into a full law making Welsh Parliament with tax-raising powers, how would you vote?”

b Telephone poll conducted by ICM for BBC Wales. Number of respondents = 1210. Question asked: "If there were to be a referendum on turning the National Assembly for Wales into a full law making Welsh Parliament, how would you vote?”

c Telephone poll conducted by GfK NOP for the National Assembly Commission. Number of respondents = 2538. Question asked: "If there were to be a referendum tomorrow on giving the National Assembly for Wales full law-making powers (similar to those held by the Scottish Parliament) how would you vote?”

Comparisons of reported referendum voting intention by electoral region are given in Table 5. Although there are differences in levels of support across the regions - and in the expected directions, given the patterns of voting in the 1997 referendum - these differences are relatively minor: all regions produce the same referendum 'result’.

Table 5: Referendum Voting Intention by Welsh Electoral Region (%) 2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

VOTING INTENTION

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

In Favour

46

52

45

41

44

Against

31

29

33

34

35

Don’t Know/Refused/Wouldn’t Vote

23

19

22

24

21

Number of respondents

537

505

432

543

522

We also examined referendum voting intentions by party identification: these findings are reported in Table 6. Once again there are differences across the different parties, and in the broadly expected directions: Conservative identifiers are much the most likely to oppose further powers for the National Assembly, Plaid Cymru identifiers are much the most likely group to support such a development. But once again, we can also observe that attitudes have to some extent homogenised in Wales. The academic survey conducted after the 1997 referendum found that Conservative identifiers voted against devolution by a margin of 9 to 1: now, their margin of opposition to extending it is a little more than 2 to 1. But there has also been something of a movement in the opposite direction among Plaid identifiers: in 1997 they voted in favour of devolution by a margin of 12 to 1; now, they support extending devolution by a margin of slightly more than 7 to 1. It is also notable that by far the greatest pool of undecided potential voters exists among those without any fixed partisan identity.

Table 6: Referendum Voting Intention by Party Identification (%) 2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

VOTING INTENTION

LABOUR

CONS.

LIBDEM

PLAID

NO PARTY ID

In Favour

49

28

55

74

45

Against

33

62

32

10

24

Don’t Know/Refused/Wouldn’t Vote

18

9

13

16

32

Number of respondents

575

342

141

179

1085

Overall, the evidence from this part of the survey shows that there is broad majority support for devolution within Wales, and across the different regions of Wales.

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Other Sections

Executive Summary

1. Scope of the Research

2. Conduct of the Survey

4. Levels of Public Interest in, and Knowledge of, the National Assembly and Devolution

5. Sources of Public Knowledge and Information

6. Conclusions

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