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13 November 2018

Uncertain Times

Uncertain Times
If we’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that you cannot believe the polls. People change their minds in the ballot box and polling isn’t as accurate as we might like to believe. But last week’s polls ahead of the US midterms ended up being fairly accurate, allowing Democrats to breathe a sigh of relief and relax slightly, knowing that they have regained control of the House of Representatives and can make it harder for the President to pass legislation.

Many Democrats barely dared to hope that these midterms might actually go their way and there were still a lot of disappointments. It wasn’t the “blue wave” that some had expected, and the Democrats didn’t win some races that they had high hopes for, including the governor race in Florida, which saw Andrew Gillum lose by half a percentage point.

I know that a lot of people are sick of the amount of coverage that we get of events in the US and I don’t mean to add to that, but the midterm elections are the major indicator that the events of 2016, a year that divided citizens of countries both sides of the Atlantic, are not yet resolved. The United States is still fragmented; President Trump still has significant support and the results of the midterms mean that the US is in a bit of a political stalemate. Things are pretty uncertain and the Democrats definitely have a lot of work to do in deciding who to put forward as their presidential candidate in 2020.

This political uncertainty is not isolated to the US; the UK is in a fairly similar situation in many ways with regard to the insecurity surrounding Brexit – whether there will be a deal, what it will entail, whether there will be a people’s vote or whether Brexit will actually happen after all.

Last week the results of a Survation poll on Brexit were published, showing that 54% of those surveyed supported remaining in the EU (when those who responded “don’t know” are taken out of the results). This was commissioned by Channel Four for a programme about the UK’s current views of Brexit and is one of the biggest public opinion polls on the topic since the referendum itself. This change of opinion isn’t only in isolated areas of the UK either, as a separate YouGov survey showed that 51% of Welsh voters are now in favour of remaining in the European Union. This is in contrast to 52.5% who voted to leave in the referendum in 2016. Although this isn’t an enormous change in some ways, it is still a large enough swing to be significant, causing further uncertainty about whether there is still a public mandate for leaving the EU.

With everything else going on it may have passed you by that Welsh Labour is currently in the throngs of a leadership election; the last party of the Assembly to elect their new leader this year. At the offset, the leadership seemed pretty clear cut; Mark Drakeford received overwhelming support from his Assembly colleagues, gaining seventeen nominations to Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan’s six. However, recent polling for ITV has shown Eluned Morgan in poll position and Mark Drakeford in last, albeit very, very slightly (taking 9% of the vote to Vaughan Gething’s 8% and Mark Drakeford’s 5%). The largest proportion of the votes in this survey went to “Don’t Know”, which was chosen by 57% of respondents.

Although Assembly elections generally achieve a lower voting turn out than general elections, this leadership race seems beleaguered with apathy from Welsh voters. Although only Labour members have a vote on who will become the leader (and thus the likely First Minister), this election will impact on all people in Wales, so the lack of interest and enthusiasm for the vote is probably disappointing for the candidates. Unless the next few weeks of campaigning trigger a surge of enthusiasm the future First Minister will be chosen by a very small proportion of people, with very little engagement from the viewing public.

The USA will vote on its next President before the Welsh public has the opportunity to give its view of the new Welsh Labour leader at the ballot box; it remains to be seen whether the polls on Brexit lead us down the track to another major vote before then.