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The Red and the Green: Patterns of Partisan Choice in Wales

  • Denis Balsom, P. J. Madgwick and Denis Van Mechelen

The distinguishing features of recent electoral politics in Wales have been the continued predominance of the Labour party and the failure of the nationalist party, Plaid Cymru. Since 1945 Labour has taken between twenty-one and thirty-two of the thirty-six seats at each general election and not less than 47 per cent of the vote. There has been some weakening of Labour's position since the high point of 60·6 per cent in 1966, but the party still secured 46·9 per cent of the vote in 1979, and rode out the Conservative victory in Britain as a whole with the loss of only two seats in Wales. Some variation in the Labour vote can be explained in terms of general shifts in British politics. However the enduring weight of Labour support in Wales in unpropitious times requires further explanation.

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1 The principal sources adopting a ‘British’ perspective include: Butler, David and Stokes, Donald, Political Change in Britain (London: Macmillan, 1974); Blondel, J., Voters, Parties and Leaders (London: Penguin, 1974); Pulzer, Peter, Political Representation and Elections in Britain (London: Allen and Unwin, 1975); Kellas, J. G., The Scottish Political System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); Miller, W. L., ‘Social Class and Party Choice: A New Analysis’, British Journal of Political Science, VIII (1978), 257–84.

2 Examples of the ‘Welsh’ perspective include: Cox, K., ‘Geography, Social Contexts and Voting Behaviour in Wales, 1861–1951’, in Allardt, E. and Rokkan, S., Mass Politics (New York: Free Press, 1969); Hechter, M., Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1536–1966 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975); Osmond, J., Creative Conflict: The Politics of Welsh Devolution (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978); Rees, I. Bowen, The Welsh Political Tradition (Plaid Cymru: Cardiff, 1975).

3 The Welsh Election Study (SSRC project HR4732/1) commissioned Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Ltd to conduct a two-stage random sample survey of the Welsh electorate as of 3 May 1979. Between May and September 1979 858 interviews were successfully completed, which represented a response rate of 70 per cent.

4 Crewe, Ivor, Särlvik, Bo and Alt, James, ‘Partisan Dealignment in Britain, 1964–1974’, British Journal of Political Science, VII (1977), 129–90. Also see Rose, Richard, Class Does Not Equal Party: the Decline of a Model of British Voting (Glasgow: Studies in Public Policy, No. 74, University of Strathclyde, 1980).

5 Data relating to Britain as a whole has kindly been made available by I. Crewe, B. Särlvik and D. Robertson, Directors of the British Election Study at the University of Essex. The 1979 WES survey was planned and executed in close collaboration with the 1979 BES survey.

6 See Fitton, Martin, ‘Neighbourhood and Voting: a Sociometric Examination’, British Journal of Political Science, III (1973), 445–72; Garrahan, Philip, ‘Housing, the Class Milieu and Middle-Class Conservatism’, British Journal of Political Science, VII (1977), 126–7.

7 Response to the question ‘What is your religion?’ Scottish data from the Scottish Election Study 1979, made available by W. Miller and J. Brand of the University of Strathclyde.

8 The percentage difference between Labour and Liberal/Plaid Cymru support for each group of attenders declines by a factor of five (55 to 11 per cent). For this purpose the classification of chapel attendance used by Butler and Stokes was adopted. See Butler, and Stokes, , Political Change in Britain, p. 158.

9 Especially relevant for the nineteenth-century period of Liberal ascendency, see Morgan, K. O., Wales in British Politics, 1868–1922 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1972). For a specific example of the interaction of religion and politics see Madgwick, P. J., The Politics of Rural Wales (London: Hutchinson, 1973).

10 Each item in the scale was coded as a dummy variable: value 1 for possession of the attribute, value o in its absence.

11 See Rose, Richard, ‘Britain: Simple Abstractions and Complex Realities’, in Rose, Richard, Electoral Behavior: A Comparative Handbook (New York: Free Press, 1974); Abrams, M., ‘Some Measurements of Social Stratification in Britain’, in Jackson, J. A., Social Stratification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968); Halsey, A. H., Heath, A. F. and Ridge, J. M., Origins and Destinations: Family, Class and Education in Modern Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980).

12 Garrahan, , ‘Housing, the Class Milieu and Middle-class Conservatism.’

13 The regions are made up of the following Parliamentary constituencies: North East and Mid Wales: Flint East, Flint West, Denbigh, Wrexham, Montgomery, Brecon and Radnor; North West and West Wales: Anglesey, Caernarvon, Conway, Merioneth, Cardigan, Pembroke, Carmarthen, Llanelli; Upper South Wales: Gower, Neath, Rhondda, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Caerphilly, Bedwellty, Ebbw Vale, Abertillery, Pontypool; Lower South Wales: Swansea West, Swansea East, Aberavon, Ogmore, Pontypridd, Barry, Cardiff West, Cardiff South East, Cardiff North West, Cardiff North, Newport, Monmouth.

14 Ragin, C., ‘Ethnic Political Mobilization: The Welsh Case’, American Sociological Review, XLIV (1979), 619–35.

15 The methodological dangers of inferring cohort data from a cross-sectional synchronic study are acknowledged.

16 Miller, , ‘Social Class and Party Choice’, p. 263.

17 Crewe, Ivor, ‘Party Identification Theory and Political Change in Britain’, in Budge, Ian, Crewe, Ivor and Farlie, Dennis, eds. Party Identification and Beyond: Representations of Voting and Party Competition (London: Wiley, 1976), p. 52.

18 The coding frame used adopted the conventions employed by the British Election Study. It should be noted however that a large proportion of the sample did not respond to the Plaid Cymru like/dislike questions.

19 See Miller, William L., with Särlvik, Bo, Crewe, Ivor and Alt, James, ‘The Connection between SNP Voting and the Demand for Scottish Self-Government’, European Journal of Political Research, V (1977), 83102.

20 Ragin, , ‘Ethnic Political Mobilization: The Welsh Case’, p. 633.

21 Balsom, Denis, Madgwick, P. J. and van Mechelen, Denis, The Political Consequences of Welsh Identity (Glasgow: Studies in Public Policy, No. 97, University of Strathclyde, 1982).

22 Rose, , ‘Britain: Simple Abstractions and Complex Realities’, p. 515.

23 The weakly attached were twice as likely as the strongly attached middle-class respondents in our sample to have had a working-class background.

24 Osmond, , Creative Conflict, p. 94.

* Department of Political Science, University College, Aberystwyth; Department of Law, Politics and Economics, Oxford Polytechnic; Centre for Studies in Public Policy, Strathclyde. The research on which this paper is based was supported by a grant from the Social Science Research Council. The Welsh Election Study was based at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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