Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ashcroft poll backfires as support for independence climbs two points

I have to put a caveat on the above headline, because it's based on the assumption that the Ashcroft poll was conducted by YouGov. However, I completed a YouGov survey a few days ago that used one of the three precise questions put forward by Ashcroft, so it seems too much of a coincidence. If so, here are the full figures for the Scottish government's proposed question, with the percentage changes from the last time YouGov asked the same question...

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

Yes 41% (+2)
No 59% (-2)

Of course, the Belle of Belize's sole purpose in bankrolling the poll was to build the case for a more 'No-friendly' question, but that backfired as well. To his evident dismay adding the words "or disagree" to the question doesn't make a statistically significant difference - indeed the outcome is identical to YouGov's last poll using the Scottish government's question, ie. 61%-39%. Not much evidence there of the Telegraph's hysterical claim based on an 'analysis' of its own self-selecting voodoo polls that the proposed question makes a 10% difference.

Thanks to Marcia for alerting me to Ipsos-Mori's voting intention figures for Holyrood - I'll try to write a post on that when I'm less pushed for time!


  1. Out of curiosity, and the fact I have no knowledge of how bias is gauged in questions, do you know if there is the potential for some bias one way or the other when a question is broken into two parts (as in Ashcroft's grand finale)?
    "Should Scotland become an independent country, or should it remain part of the United Kingdom?"

    Does flipping those round to -"Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom, or should it become an independent country?"
    change anything?

    We should, of course, be flattered that Lord Ashcroft is prepared to spend himself on keeping a deadweight like Scotland in the union.

  2. I'm not qualified to answer your question, although intuitively it seems likely that the latter option in a two-part question would be more likely to be favoured. But there are a lot of other problems with it as well - the words "become" and "remain" draw a qualitative distinction between the two options, and therefore are subtly biased. It's also mealy-mouthed - whatever happened to "simple and direct"? Most of all, though, the words 'United Kingdom' confuse the issue, because it would lead some voters to the false conclusion that independence would mean leaving the monarchical union.

  3. At the end of the day are we not splitting hairs? The voters are not daft, they really know that it is a vote to be independent or not. After nearly 3 years of campaigning until it happens, the actual wording won't really matter. Just my tuppence worth.

  4. I agree that the significance of the wording will diminish after three years of campaigning, but I do think it matters a bit. In any election or referendum, there are some people who go into the polling station still not entirely sure what they are going to do, and they could be susceptible to biased wording such as Ashcroft is evidently keen on.

  5. Thanks for the reply to my earlier comment James.
    I agree to a limited extent with what you say regarding some people at the polls being unsure, and that this necessitates an appropriately worded question. Only to a point though, I think the numbers of such individuals would be very small - out of all proportion to the attention given to the question itself particualrly at this stage. I tend to agree with Marcia's comment.

    The other aspect that this teases out though is that all of a sudden after ignoring and ridiculing it for so long, the unionist parties are now insistent that the process of moving to a referendum become a politically consensual act. This transforms quickly to "ok, then but you'll have to do it our way". That's what all this guff about the question is, same too for the timing, legality, cross-party talks, etc...

    My gut feeling is that the unionist bluster will die down significantly as the SNP continue to bat these things away and continue to govern for now.