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  • The Youth Vote UK

Welsh Parliamentary Elections: A Breakdown

With the Welsh 2021 parliamentary elections soon approaching, we’re taking a look at the voting data from 2016, drawing some predictions for the coming election. The election will be held on the 6th May 2021, and currently many questions surround it. COVID-19 is set to be a great issue, both logistically, in terms of whether the election will face being delayed, and politically, given Labour’s controversial handling of the pandemic. Voter participation, and particularly participation amongst younger voters will also be interesting to follow.

The election will certainly be an important one for young people, as it will be the first time 16- and 17-year-olds are able to cast a vote after the Wales Act of 2017. This is a significant extension of the franchise, and therefore there is potential for a greater youth turnout, and for the first time we will be able to analyse voting trends of much younger voters. There is concern however, as researchers have suggested Welsh teenagers have little understanding of the Welsh Parliament and its role, as opposed to the British Parliament. Despite this, researchers found that 72% of 16- to 17-year-olds did want the right to vote, which is encouraging news, and suggests the chance to cast their vote will help engage many younger voters.

There are a total of 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament, which is commonly referred to as “the Senedd”. Wales, like Scotland, uses an Additional Member System (AMS) for their election. Voters are given two votes: one to elect a member to represent their constituency, this vote uses first past the post (same as the U.K General Election) and elects 40 Members of the Senedd (MSs). The second vote is a closed-party list where voters vote for a party in their region, with seats assigned to each party based on the proportionate votes for each party in each region. Wales is split up into five regions, with each region having four representatives; this constitutes the remaining 20 seats in the Senedd.

In 2016, overall turnout was 46.1% in the constituency election and 46% in the regional election. This is a fairly low turnout; however, Welsh voters tend to turn out in higher numbers for UK-wide general elections. This election could see a higher turnout for the Welsh Parliament however, as more people have become politically engaged during the pandemic after seeing the Welsh government in action on more occasions.

Figure 1: BBC News, 2016 election results compared to 2011

In 2016 UKIP won 7 regional seats, more than any other party. However, the party is unlikely to perform well in 2021, given that their surge in support was connected to the Brexit referendum. The party also won no constituency seats in 2016, indicating their support was not concentrated in any specific area. In 2016, Labour won the greatest share of seats in the 60-member Welsh Assembly, with their 29 seats falling just short of a majority. Wales contains many Labour heartlands; therefore, the party traditionally does better than others. In 2021 then, it is likely Labour will remain the largest party, however some polls suggest a drop-in support for First Minister Mark Drakeford after unpopular coronavirus restrictions, meaning Plaid Cymru or the Conservatives have the potential to gain seats. One poll predicts a five-seat gain for the Conservatives in 2021, and a three-seat gain for Plaid Cymru. However, this poll suggests Labour will hold the 29 seats it currently has, and rather these gained seats for the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru will come from UKIP losses.

Overall, the 2021 Welsh parliamentary elections are set to be interesting and will offer a judgement of the Welsh government’s handling of the pandemic, as well as offering 16- and 17-year-olds democratic representation and a political voice for the first time. We hope the youth turnout will be strong and young people get out and get their voices heard.

Fran Robson (Policy & News Analysis Associate)

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