The 2016 Welsh Election Study: a study of the 2016 election to the National Assembly for Wales

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Cardiff Law School

Abstract

We propose a detailed study of the May 2016 National Assembly for Wales election.

The study will have significant continuity with the studies conducted of previous such elections. There is considerable continuity in the research team - either Scully or Wyn Jones have been Principal Investigator for all previous Welsh election studies since 1999. There will also be substantive continuity, with a continuing focus on the attitudes and behaviours of the Welsh electorate, and specific survey questions replicated from previous studies to maximise the time-series value of the data generated. However, significant innovation is also proposed. We intend to conduct the first ever detailed study of local campaigning in a devolved election; the first ever detailed study of the social media dynamics of a devolved election; and for the first time ever to produce a data-set on a devolved election that integrates information on individual voters with contextual information about campaigning and social media activity in their locality.

The data generated by the study will make a major contribution to helping scholars understand the main factors shaping voting decisions and the outcome of the 2016 NAW election. Detailed surveys of voter attitudes will be conducted before the start of the official campaign, during the campaign period, and immediately after the election, with respondents interviewed at all three stages to explore individual-level changes in attitudes and intended/actual voting behaviours.

Information on voters will be supplemented by a detailed study of the local campaigning activity of the main political parties. Data will be gathered on party campaign spending in individual constituencies; from a survey of local campaign agents for each party; and via interviews with central party campaign managers. This will provide a detailed picture of local campaign activity; linking this to information from voters, and with the election results, will allow us to see the impact of local campaigning efforts. The study will offer the first detailed picture of local campaigning in a devolved election, and also the first of local campaigning in the UK under the mixed-member electoral system used for such elections where parties stand candidates in both constituencies and broader regions.

The study will also provide the first ever detailed analysis of the use of social media in a devolved election. Twitter messages will be gathered over a 12-month period. The study will explore how the parties themselves use social media to disseminate key messages; explore changing on-line sentiments to the parties, their leaders, and over key political issues, over time; and examine the extent to which localised social media activity is related both to measures of local campaign activity and the electoral support received by parties in those localities.

The study will also provide the most detailed assessment yet of public attitudes to devolution in Wales since the 2011 referendum which substantially enhanced the powers of the Assembly. The study will present an important opportunity to measure public opinion on the issues raised by the Silk Commission, and thus provide a firm foundation for the study of any future referendums on devolution (such as that on income tax devolution proposed by Silk). It will also explore the implications of the 2014 Scottish referendum, and its aftermath, for constitutional attitudes in Wales.

The study will seek to achieve all of these goals in a timely and cost-effective manner, to disseminate findings widely to both academic and non-academic audiences, and to make the data generated speedily available to other potential users.

Planned Impact

Who Will Benefit? Experience from previous Welsh election and referendum studies makes us confident that findings from the study will have substantial impact beyond academia:
- Among all concerned with understanding the dynamics of devolved elections;
- Among those with a practical interest in the impact of local campaigning and the developing role of social media in elections;
- Within the substantial community interested in how Wales is governed; and
- Among those concerned more broadly about devolution and constitutional change in the UK.

In short, we can expect WES findings to be of substantial interest to:
- Members and staff of the National Assembly for Wales
- Ministers and civil servants in the Welsh Government, and those within the UK Government concerned with devolution;
- The news media in Wales, and those elements of the news media in the UK interested in devolution and elections;
- Political parties, in Wales and across the UK;
- The many organisations within civil society interested in understanding attitudes towards devolution in Wales; and
- Many members of the general public.

How Will They Benefit? The main benefit will derive from these actors being presented with a body of high-quality information directly relevant to some of their major concerns:
- Finding out what types of people did and did not vote in the NAW election, and why, will be of direct concern to Assembly Members, political parties, the news media and other actors (including the Electoral Commission) concerned with issues of political (dis)engagement.
- Finding out why people voted the way they did, and the impact of the campaign period and local campaigning activities, will be of interest to politicians and political parties; it should also be of interest to the news media in reviewing coverage of devolved elections.
- Finding out more about the social media dynamics of the election should be of great interest to politicians and parties, as well as to the news media (both old and new)
- Information on public attitudes to devolution and how Wales should be governed will be of direct concern to politicians, political parties, government officials, the news media, and any others involved in on-going debates about constitutional change.

As detailed in the Pathways to Impact document, the project team have developed a programme of activities to maximise non-academic awareness of the project and its findings. This includes:
- A major consultation event (Cardiff, December 2015): A public consultation event will be held in Cardiff in late 2015. This will raise the profile of the study among both the academic and non-academic communities, and provide potential users with an opportunity to feed ideas into the main components of the study.

- Two major dissemination seminars: at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff, and the Institute for Government in London, in September/October 2016. Both events will present major findings on all the main components of the study.

- Briefings to the Political Parties (September-November 2016): Our past work - both election studies in Wales and work on local campaigning - has attracted considerable interest from political parties. We will offer to all the main political parties in Wales to give dedicated briefings of our main findings - covering the voter surveys, local campaigning and social media components of the study.

- The PI's Elections in Wales Blog will be used extensively. Prior to the conduct of the voter studies, a forum will be provided on the blog for the suggestion of questions/revision of question wordings. The blog will provide an outlet for the early release of data generated by the project, and dissemination of presentations given by the project team. A series of blog posts will also disseminate and explain major WES findings.

Publications

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Description The 2016 Welsh Election Study (WES) had multiple original aims.

First, it aimed to examine the principal factors shaping individual voting behaviour in the NAW election. This was explored in conference papers presented in 2016 and 2017, and in a paper published in Parliamentary Affairs in 2017. It was also touched upon in the PI's forthcoming book on The End of British Party Politics? (Biteback, 2018). This issue will also be explored much further in the PI's forthcoming book, Elections in Wales: Democracy in a Semi-Sovereign Nation (University of Wales Press, 2018). In line with previous research, factors generally associated with 'valence politics' models of voting have been found to explain voting choices much better than the social markers traditionally linked with vote choice in Wales. However, the nature of valence politics in devolved elections differs from that in UK general elections; while valence politics in Welsh devolved elections is rather different from that in Scottish ones. In Wales, devolved electoral behaviour strongly reflects attitudes to both UK-level and devolved-level political actors and issues.

Second, WES sought to explain the overall election outcome, and the impact of local campaigning on that outcome. Data on both voters and the campaigning efforts of parties showed a more active campaign in 2016 than in 2011, and more evidence of that campaigning activity having an influence on voting decisions. These findings were presented in a conference paper in 2017, and are currently being written up for publication.

Third, WES contributed to developing knowledge about the growing role of social media in elections. A large volume of Twitter data was gathered over the months preceding, during and following the election campaign. This data has shown the great difficulties in gathering accurate evidence (that captures all the material of interest while avoiding 'false positives') from social media on relatively low-profile events such as devolved elections (with data on mentions of 'Plaid', for instance, at one point being heavily contaminated by social media activity around a popular fabrics convention.) It has also revealed the very high proportion of activity contributed by a small number of actors. This data is currently being analysed further for public presentation and publication.

Fourth, WES provided a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of attitudes to devolution and constitutional change in Wales. The performance of devolved government in Wales was found to be mediocre in the main. However, devolved politicians and institutions were more trusted than those at the UK level: and not only more trusted to be focussed on the specific interests of Wales, but also more trusted to act in public affairs with honesty and integrity. There remains consistent majority public support in Wales for substantial devolution, but despite the 2014 Scottish referendum there has been no evident increase in support for Scottish independence. This evidence has been published in one book chapter, included in several conference papers, and it currently being written up for further publication.

Fifth, WES further extended the valuable time-series of election and referendum studies conducted in Wales since 1997; replication of questions from earlier studies will facilitate the tracking of changes over time in important public attitudes and political behaviours in Wales.

Finally, through the various academic and wider activities associated with the study, we sought to maximise the impact of WES among both academic and non-academic communities.
Exploitation Route The multiple findings from this study are potentially of interest in a myriad of ways to elected politicians and government ministers, government officials, the news media, political parties, as well as the numerous academics who study devolved politics, politics in the UK, elections and public attitudes.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Data from the 2016 Welsh Election Study were used by Prof Scully and Jac Larner to model the potential impact of alternative electoral systems for National Assembly for Wales elections, This data included a question, deployed in the 2016 post-election wave voter study, that asked respondents how they would have voted if given a single ballot paper asking them to vote in order of preferences. This data, and the estimates thereby generated of the electoral impact of alternative electoral systems, was central to the report published in December 2017 by the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform - a panel, chaired by Prof Laura McAllister, that was appointed by the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly. Details of the panel's report, which extensively cites the estimates produced by Scully and Larner, is available at: http://www.assembly.wales/en/abthome/about_us-commission_assembly_administration/panel-elec-reform/Pages/Assembly-Electoral-Reform.aspx
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Use of data from the study to inform report by Expert Panel on National Assembly Electoral Reform
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL http://www.assembly.wales/en/abthome/about_us-commission_assembly_administration/panel-elec-reform/P...
 
Description Internal Funding By Cardiff University to run another survey wave
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Cardiff University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 03/2017 
End 11/2017
 
Description 'Explaining the 2016 National Assembly Election', Presentation to the Federation of Small Businesses Cymru, Cardiff, 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A post-election presentation, drawing on data from the election study, to members of the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, at their Cardiff HQ.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 'Profile: Welsh Assembly Election', Political Insight (April 2016) pp.22-23 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article for the Political Studies Association's Political Insight magazine.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 'The 2016 National Assembly Election', Post-Election Public Seminar, Cardiff 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A presentation to a public seminar, with an audience of more than 100 people, of initial results from the 2016 Welsh Election Study. The seminar was filmed, and a video posted online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/wgc/2016/05/27/video-election-2016-what-happened-and-why/
 
Description 'The 2016 National Assembly Election', Public Seminar, Aberystwyth University, 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A post-election presentation, drawing on data from the study, to an audience of approximately 40 people, at Aberystwyth University in June 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description 'The 2016 National Assembly Election: Pre-Election Briefing', Public Seminar, Cardiff, 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A pubic seminar held at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay. Data from the pre-election wave of the study was included in a preview of the forthcoming Assembly election. The audience included politicians, party staff, media representatives and interested members of the general public. A video of the event was also posted online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2016/03/23/scully-live/
 
Description 'Why Study Elections in Wales?', Keynote Lecture to Annual Conference of the Association of Welsh Writing in English, Gregynog, 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Plenary Lecture to a diverse professional association of academic and other writers about Wales.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description (with Stephen Cushion) 'British media is failing to give voters the full picture ahead of elections', The Conversation (4th April 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article (co-authored by study PI and a Cardiff University colleague) on public awareness of devolution in Wales. The article was shared well over 200 times on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://theconversation.com/british-media-is-failing-to-give-voters-the-full-picture-ahead-of-electio...
 
Description Academic Consultant and Programme Contributor, ITV Cymru-Wales coverage of 2016 National Assembly for Wales Election 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The study PI was the main expert contributor to ITV-Wales' coverage of the 2016 National Assembly for Wales election. Scully worked with ITV-Wales (and YouGov) in conducting polls through the campaign period, as well as the first-ever 'on the day' poll conducted for a devolved election in the UK. Scully's advice was also sought by ITV-Wales in planning their live results show, and Scully made numerous contributions to this show on screen through the night as their main expert in studio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Do you know what your government is responsible for?' The Conversation (3rd May 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article for The Conversation website, drawing on data generated by the study. Article was shared multiple times on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://theconversation.com/do-you-know-what-your-government-is-responsible-for-57153
 
Description Elections in Wales Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Use of data from the study to inform numerous posts on the PI's well-established Election in Wales blog, which attracts an international audience and averages around 10,000 page views per month.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/
 
Description Numerous media interviews around the 2016 National Assembly election 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Numerous media interviews conducted by the PI around the election, for outlets including Radio 4, Radio 5Live, Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, Real Radio, Heart FM, BBC Wales Television, ITV-Wales & S4C.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Scotland and Wales Vote 2016: Understanding the Devolved Elections: a joint MOOC by Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A joint MOCC run by Cardiff and Edinburgh universities; much of the MOOC's content drew on data from the study and its parallel study in Scotland. The MOOC attracted several thousand participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/moocs/subjects/humanities-social-sciences/scotland-and-wales-elections...