After a May march on the streets of Cardiff, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price AM claimed:
Support for independence in Wales is rising like never before.
Additionally, Vice UK asserted that support for Welsh independence was ‘mainstream’.
Questions arise: how popular is Welsh independence, and is that support increasing?
Dywed yr arolwg
A long-running question on Welsh independence has been run by the social research company ICM Unlimited, on behalf of BBC Wales. The question is asked by telephone, offering five affirmative responses:
Which of these statements comes closest to your view?
Wales should become independent, separate from the UK;
The Welsh Assembly should have more powers than it currently has;
The powers that the Welsh Assembly has are sufficient and should remain as it is now;
The Welsh Assembly should have fewer powers than it currently has;
The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales directly governed by Westminster.
The latest reading, surveying 1,000 Welsh adults between 7th and 23rd February 2019, shows support for Welsh independence at an estimated 7%. Greater powers for the Welsh Assembly is the most popular choice, backed by an estimated 46% of Welsh adults.
The independence share was unchanged from ICM’s 2018 poll — beneath its estimated support in 2011 (11%), but higher than the 2014 polls (3% and 5%). In each of the 11 polls, independence has been less popular than abolishing the Welsh assembly.
There is a regular polling series called the Welsh Barometer, undertaken by YouGov through their internet panel. This polling is on behalf of the Welsh Governance Centre at Cardiff University and ITV Cymru Wales.
In this polling series, the independence question is asked as a binary choice in a hypothetical referendum: yes or no to Welsh independence? Different questions may provide different estimates of public support.
If there was a referendum held tomorrow on Wales becoming an independent country and this was the question, how would you vote?
Should Wales be an independent country?
In September 2014, including non-affirmative responses, ‘Yes’ had an estimated share of 17%. The reading for July 2016 was 15%. (Excluding people who say they would not vote or don’t know, these shares are approximately 20% and 19%.)
‘Future of England’ sponsored a similar binary question by YouGov in June 2018, albeit with the wording:
Do you agree that Wales should become an independent country?
19% agreed — this is a higher estimate, but could be a facet of sampling variability, the different question wording or question order.
Sky Data surveyed 1,014 Sky customers in Wales by text in December 2018, estimating 17% would “vote in favour of Wales of becoming an independent country”. (Again, if we exclude undecided voters and non-voters, that figure is around 20%).
There appears to be little movement in hypothetical referendum questions.
Ar raddfa o sero i ddeg…
Welsh adults have also been asked by YouGov, on two occasions, about how they feel about Welsh independence:
On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is very strongly against and 10 is very strongly in favour, how do you feel about Welsh independence?
On its first reading in May 2017, sponsored by YesCymru (and asked in both Welsh and English), 28% of respondents scored ‘0’. In contrast, 9% answered ‘10’, with 11% saying they did not know.
On its second reading in May 2019, this time paid for by Plaid Cymru, 23% said ‘0’, 12% responded ‘10’, and people saying they don’t know rose to 15%.
We can only see net movements, but the largest change between the two polls was for people being ‘very strongly against’ Welsh independence. Not knowing made the biggest net gain in the two readings.
Dr Dafydd Trystan states in his Nation Cymru article that the “direction of travel is clear”, citing only this single survey instrument. However, there are only two polls of Welsh adults asking about Welsh independence in this way. Outright opposition to Welsh independence appears to have dropped, but we need more surveys to be more confident.
The main evidence of an increase in support for Welsh independence is using an eleven-point scale question.
Other survey instruments do not show this: ICM’s long-running telephony poll estimates support for independence somewhat lower than earlier in the decade. Hypothetical binary referendum questions show support for Welsh independence holding around 20% (when non-affirmative responses are excluded).
When communicating survey research, it is important to convey the uncertainties involved — from the survey modes, question wordings, response options, and sampling variability. Surveys provide estimates, subject to multiple sources of potential error.