How will the Welsh Labour Party perform in the Senedd election?

Two polls tell two different stories about how Mark Drakeford and his party will do in the Welsh parliament election in May – but they’re not as different as you’d think. 

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Happy St David’s Day, Mark! ICM Unlimited's annual St David's Day poll for BBC Wales shows Mark Drakeford’s Welsh Labour Party on course to equal its best ever performance in the Senedd (Welsh parliament), with 30 seats: enough to continue to govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, albeit without the experienced presence of Kirsty Williams at the helm. 

Unhappy St David's Day, Mark! YouGov's annual St David's Day poll for Wales Online shows the Welsh Labour Party on course to slump to its worst ever performance in the Senedd with just 24 seats: still comfortably the largest party, but no longer the indispensable partner in any coalition government. If he so chose, Plaid Cymru's Adam Price could on these numbers support a Welsh Conservative First Minister – and he would in any case be a much more influential figure in a coalition government as a result of his party’s greater flexibility. 

Which is right? Well, you pays your money and you takes your choice. In some ways, the two polls are more alike than they look: a significant minority favour Welsh independence, a significant minority favour abolishing devolution altogether, and Welsh politics remains a three-cornered fight between Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. 

One thing we can say with confidence right now is that across the democratic world voters are inclined to give their incumbents the benefit of the doubt – whether you are Mark Rutte in the Netherlands, Angela Merkel in Germany, Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Greece, Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand or Boris Johnson in the UK, regardless of how effective your coronavirus performance is or isn’t, it is likely you’re doing better in the polls than you were before the outbreak.

What’s less clear is who Welsh voters regard as the incumbent. Is it primarily the Welsh Labour government in Cardiff or the Conservative one in London? It seems likely that the vaccine bounce has a little while left to run and will still be going at full pelt during the local and devolved elections in May. We can have a pretty good grasp about what that means for the local elections in England. What is less clear is whether the beneficiary of that bounce in the devolved elections will be the Conservatives – or their opponents. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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