A RECENT poll revealed that UKIP’s new Senedd leader Neil Hamilton is by some distance the least popular leader of any Welsh political party in the history of the Senedd.
The Welsh Political Barometer poll, as is standard, included a question asking respondents to rate political leaders on a dislikelike scale of 1-10. Although they are not the leaders of their parties in Wales, Senedd leaders Kirsty Williams and Neil Hamilton were included this time. Neil Hamilton’s average score among respondents was 2.1 out of 10, on a scale where zero indicates strong dislike and 10 represents strong like. To put this in perspective, while Welsh party leaders generally score less than five out of ten, the most popular leader, Leanne Wood, scored 4.8, and was closely followed by Carwyn Jones on 4.7. Kirsty Williams, the last remaining Lib Dem in the Senedd, scored 4.4, while Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies, in spite of losing his party’s status as the official opposition in the Assembly elections, showed a slightly improved showing on 3.6.
Wales’ Green Party leader Alice Hooker-Stroud, despite failing by some margin to win the party’s first Senedd seat, got an average score of 3.4. Professor Roger Scully described Mr Hamilton’s approval rating as ‘quite extraordinarily poor’. “I’ve looked back through the full run of past YouGov polls in Wales that have asked this form of question (and also asked my colleagues at YouGov to doublecheck), and cannot find any other leader ever scoring as low as an average of 2.1 out of 10,” he said. “Indeed, no-one has ever scored nearly as badly as Mr Hamilton.
Nor have I yet been able to find any other example anywhere in the world where, on this form of question, a political leader has been so poorly rated,” he added, suggesting that Mr Hamilton has reached a nadir of popularity as yet unsurpassed in democratic society. The question also includes a ‘don’t know’ option, which although it is used by some people because they are genuinely undecided about a leader, generally functions effectively as a way of measuring their public visibility.
Given that the poll was taken less than a month after the Assembly elections, it is perhaps unsurprising that First Minister Carwyn Jones received the least ‘don’t knows’ with 25%, closely followed by Leanne Wood on 30%. However, a mere 35% of people were unable to express an opinion about Neil Hamilton, compared to 47% for Andrew RT Davies who has led the Welsh Conservatives for five years. “Indeed, it is striking that Neil Hamilton appears to have greater public visibility than Davies, Williams, Farron or Bennett, and far greater recognition levels than were ever managed by Nathan Gill,” Prof Scully remarked. However, he quantified this by pointing out that ‘recognition is only generally a good thing if it is accompanied by a fair level of popularity’.
Unfortunately for Mr Hamilton, it appears that his unpopularity is not confined to non-UKIP voters. Prof Scully admitted that 2.1 was an average rating, and that it has been suggested that what matters for parties like UKIP is less the views of the whole public, but those of the 20-25% who may consider voting for them. As an example, he pointed out that among current UKIP supporters on the Assembly constituency vote Nigel Farage averages 7.8 out of 10. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Mr Hamilton, whose average score with the same group is a mere 3.4 out of 10.
To reiterate, supporters of UKIP in Wales, on average, dislike their Assembly leader more than they like him – something that is sure to be a cause for concern in the party. Prof Scully added that “literally 0% of them score him as a 9 or 10 out of 10. “It is d i f f i c u l t to place a positive interpretation on these findings,” Prof Scully remarked. “ P r o b a b l y the worst combination a political leader can manage it to be both visible and disliked. This, however, is what Neil Hamilton appears to have managed. The best thing I can say is that at least he hasn’t peaked too early in public popularity.”