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The National Assembly for Wales: Public Attitudes 2008

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

The survey included a number of questions designed to measure respondents’ levels of interest in and knowledge of politics in Wales, including the scope of the current legislative powers of the National Assembly for Wales.

An initial question gauged general levels of interest in politics, as reported in Table 7. As can be seen, overall levels of interest are moderate, with rather few respondents claiming to have either 'a great deal’ of interest or 'none at all’. Politics is not at the forefront of the minds of most people most of the time; at the same time, few of them declaim all interest in the subject. Levels of interest across Wales are fairly uniform; North Wales and South Central Wales (the electoral home of the Senedd building) produce the lowest levels of reported interest, and Mid and West Wales the highest, but these are fairly modest (not statistically significant) differences. The differences by age group are again rather stark. In line with typical findings in survey research across almost all advanced democracies, we find greater levels of reported interest in older age cohorts and self-reported political apathy is most heavily concentrated in the young.

Table 7a: General Levels of Interest in Politics in Wales (%)

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

RESPONSE

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

ALL WALES

A great deal

12

11

11

10

11

11

A fair amount

35

43

35

36

39

38

A little

36

34

38

36

35

36

None at all

17

11

16

18

14

15

Table 7b: General Levels of Interest in Politics in Wales by Age Group (%)

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

RESPONSE

18-24

25-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65-74

75+

A great deal

8

7

7

12

13

16

17

A fair amount

23

32

36

39

44

45

48

A little

39

42

40

35

33

29

26

None at all

29

20

17

14

10

10

7

Q. 'How much interest would you say you have in politics in general?’

As a measure of the interest taken in the National Assembly specifically, two questions were asked concerning the institution. First, respondents were asked whether they had ever 'been into the National Assembly for Wales building in Cardiff Bay?’ As expected perhaps, only a minority of respondents had done so; wholly unsurprisingly, differences between the main regions of Wales are very closely correlated with geographical proximity to Cardiff.

Table 8: Previously Visited National Assembly in Cardiff? (%)

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

RESPONSE

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

ALL WALES

More than once

3

7

10

18

13

10

Once

4

12

14

17

14

12

Never

93

82

75

64

74

78

Q. 'Have you ever been into the National Assembly for Wales building in Cardiff Bay?’

The majority of respondents (1926 out of the sample of 2538) who reported that they had not visited the National Assembly building were then asked whether they would be interested in doing so.  Results from this question are reported in Table 9. Generally, there is a fairly substantial degree of interest: a majority of respondents in all Assembly regions who had not previously visited the Assembly report that they would be at least 'possibly’ interested in doing so. There are again some modest regional differences here, which broadly correlate with levels of political interest: the proportion of respondents with a definite interest in visiting the Assembly is lowest in North Wales.

Table 9: Interested in Visiting National Assembly? (%)

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

RESPONSE

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

ALL WALES

Definitely

19

28

23

24

30

25

Possibly

33

30

28

28

27

29

Probably not

16

15

16

14

18

16

Definitely not

31

26

32

31

24

29

Q. 'If given the opportunity, would you be interested in visiting the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff?’

A number of questions were also asked probing respondents’ levels of knowledge about the National Assembly and its work. First, respondents’ level of perceived knowledge was assessed. As can be seen in Table 10, a majority of respondents across Wales, including at least half in all of the five electoral regions, assess their own level of knowledge at 'a little’. In general, there are fairly minimal differences, except for the somewhat greater degree of knowledge claimed in Mid and West Wales. The results here do not suggest that any specific problems relating to geographic distance from the Assembly shape perceptions of knowledge, at the very least. Differences by age group are again somewhat greater. In line with the evidence presented above on interest, older age cohorts are those with greater self-reported knowledge, and younger members of the voting age-population are by far the most likely to admit to having little or no knowledge.

Table 10a: Perceived Knowledge of the National Assembly by Region

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

RESPONSE

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

ALL WALES

A great deal

4

3

3

4

2

3

A fair amount

17

30

22

24

25

24

A little

56

50

50

50

50

52

None at all

22

16

24

22

22

21

Table 10b: Perceived Knowledge of the National Assembly by Age Group*

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

RESPONSE

18-24

25-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65-74

75+

A great deal

2

2

3

3

5

5

5

A fair amount

10

14

20

23

30

35

36

A little

46

57

51

59

50

48

43

None at all

41

27

26

14

15

12

14

Q.'How much would you say you know about the National Assembly for Wales? By this I mean the elected Assembly itself, rather than the government departments’

Following on from perceptions of knowledge, a number of questions then sought to gauge respondents’ actual levels of knowledge. First, one question offered respondents several alternative characterisations of the current devolution settlement and asked them to identify which one is true: as can be seen in Table 11, more than three-quarters of respondents chose the correct option.

Table 11: Understanding of Devolution Settlement (%) 2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

'WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS IS TRUE? THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES…’

%

'Can pass any laws on any subjects it wishes’

3

'Has no powers to make laws’

9

'Has powers to make laws in a number of areas, and these can be expanded with the agreement of the UK parliament’

77

Don’t Know

11

Answers to this question did show some modest regional differences, which are broadly in line with the differences in political interest identified earlier. The percentage giving the correct response was lowest in North Wales (72%), compared to the highest in South East of 83%. Age differences are rather more modest than one might expect given differences by age cohort in self-reported levels of knowledge and interest. Those respondents aged 18-24 were only very slightly less likely (73%) to answer this question correctly than those in most other age groups; and those 75 and older, notwithstanding their high levels of self-reported knowledge and interest, were actually the least likely to answer the question correctly (69% correct). Overall, these results do suggest that a substantial majority of people in all parts of Wales have a fairly accurate understanding of the broad shape of the devolution settlement.

To probe further into public knowledge of devolution, including their specific knowledge of the National Assembly, respondents were also given a five-item 'knowledge quiz’. The items used, as well as the distribution of responses, are given in Table 12.

Table 12: Political Knowledge Quiz, (%) 2008

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

ITEM

% RIGHT ANSWER

% WRONG ANSWER

% DON’T KNOW

'The National Assembly for Wales cannot change the basic rate of income tax in Wales’

57

32

11

'The National Assembly for Wales can take decisions about defence policy’

71

14

15

'The National Assembly for Wales can decide how much of its budget is spent on schools’

89

4

7

'The National Assembly for Wales has about 100 elected members’

16

49

35

'The Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales is Rhodri Morgan’

14

70

15

The findings reported in this table reinforce the idea that a majority of people have a fairly clear idea of the broad parameters of the devolution settlement. Nearly three out of four correctly answer, for instance, that defence policy decisions remain reserved to the UK government. And, impressively, nearly 90% correctly state that the National Assembly can decide how much of its budget is spent on schools: suggesting that in policy areas that directly impact on the lives of people (or their families), public awareness of devolution is substantial. However, only a small proportion of respondents are aware of the approximate size of the National Assembly. And the results on the final item in the knowledge quiz indicate that there is very limited understanding or appreciation of the distinction between the National Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government, and the roles and responsibilities of the Presiding Officer and First Minister (despite the Government of Wales Act 2006 having clarified the separation of executive and legislative functions.)

Finally, in Table 13 we report the percentage of correct knowledge quiz answers by electoral region and by age group. As before, we find here only insignificant, inconsistent differences by region. In line with previous results on self-reported knowledge and interest levels eg the Poll Position report, we find that that younger respondents generally score least well on the knowledge quiz.

Table 13a: % of Correct Knowledge Quiz Answers by Region

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

ITEM

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

Income Tax

57

59

59

52

60

Defence

72

73

72

70

70

Schools

88

90

90

87

89

100 AMs

10

21

20

17

13

Presiding Officer

9

16

16

17

13

Table 13b: % of Correct Knowledge Quiz Answers by Age Group

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

ITEM

18-24

25-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65-74

75+

Income Tax

36

57

58

63

63

60

58

Defence

44

63

74

79

81

79

73

Schools

82

91

92

90

92

91

89

100 AMs

11

9

12

13

21

24

27

Presiding Officer

7

8

12

14

23

18

17

Overall, the results here show that the majority of people in Wales have a broad understanding of devolution; they also have some more detailed understanding when it comes to responsibilities for 'bread and butter’ issues. But the differences between the executive and legislative functions of Welsh government are not as well understood.

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Other Sections

Executive Summary

1. Scope of the Research

2. Conduct of the Survey

3. Public Attitudes towards the National Assembly and Devolution

5. Sources of Public Knowledge and Information

6. Conclusions

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