It was fairly obvious from the hints being dropped on Twitter last night that a new Panelbase poll on the independence referendum was on its way, and that it was far more favourable for Yes than yesterday's YouGov poll (which we now know was indeed tainted by using a leading question that painted independence in a pejorative light). However, I couldn't have imagined quite how favourable it would prove to be -
Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 44% (+7)
No 43% (-3)
This is the first time that the pro-independence camp have been in the lead with any pollster since a TNS-BMRB poll in the late summer of 2011 put Yes ahead by one point.
So what can possibly explain the extraordinary divergence between two polls published in successive days, one which puts Yes one point ahead, and another which puts No thirty points ahead? Methodology, obviously, but what in particular? It's easy to home in on the outrageously leading preamble that YouGov use when posing the referendum question, but as I've said on previous occasions that's unlikely to be anything more than a small part of the explanation - if I was going to hazard a guess, I'd say that it probably doesn't make more than 2% of a difference. Nevertheless, as a matter of principle it's extremely bad practice for YouGov to continue behaving in this way, and it's high time that greater pressure was brought to bear on them, both from their peers and from psephologists. In case you're wondering, the Devoplus campaign that commissioned the poll almost certainly aren't to blame in this particular regard - as far as I can see, the preamble is identical to the one YouGov have used on several previous occasions. Peter Kellner just seems to have a bee in his bonnet that he can 'improve' on the actual, Electoral Commission-approved referendum question.
If Professor John Curtice was prepared to go out of his way to criticise the recent WoS poll for using leading wording in one particular question, then he really has no excuse left for not issuing a warning to YouGov that their polls will have a question mark hanging over them for as long as they continue to steer their respondents in such a blatant way towards giving an anti-independence response on the headline question.
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Undoubtedly the daftest comment about today's poll was made by former "senior Labour MSP" George Foulkes - but did he do it deliberately? He claimed that it was "astonishing" that the Courier had led on the results of a poll conducted by an organisation that pays its online panel for responses - apparently unaware that all online pollsters use a paid panel, including YouGov, who carried out the poll that George's campaign were quite content to see Scotland on Sunday lead with yesterday. When this rather obvious double-standard was pointed out to him, George mumbled something about YouGov being an "established" pollster. Oh-kaaay. So the difference in credibility is that YouGov merely pay their respondents in an "established" way? How does that work?
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A quick appeal - does anyone reading this have an account at Political Betting? If so, I'd be grateful if you could write a quick comment there about the sensational news from the Panelbase poll - I can't see any reference to it so far, and I'm obviously not in a position to put that right. The reason it might be important to do so is that some London journalists still seem to take their cue from PB when summarising the lie of the land in polling terms. Inexplicable, but there it is.
Even if you don't have an account, it would only take a minute or two to set one up (although your first comment might have to go through pre-moderation).
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UPDATE (6.30pm) : At last - John Curtice speaks out on YouGov's dodgy preamble...
"Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum YouGov’s poll for Devo Plus described the referendum as a ballot on ‘Scotland leaving the United Kingdom and being an independent country’ a description that might have been thought capable of discouraging some respondents from saying Yes."