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


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.


10 25 50