Friday, December 20, 2013

Considering the state of play among young voters

It always used to baffle me that politicians and journalists alike seemed to take it as read that the female vote is more important than the male vote. I wondered if that mindset simply boiled down to political correctness, until someone patiently explained to me that women tend to be considerably less partisan than men, and are therefore more important in the sense that their votes are more likely to be up for grabs. But I'm still not so sure that the fetishisation of the youth vote has a similar rational basis. There are two ways of looking at it - on the one hand, young people are the least important section of the electorate in that they are the least likely to actually turn out to vote, but on the other hand they are the greatest prize of all because they have (on average!) a greater number of voting years ahead of them than anyone else. In normal circumstances the two factors might be thought to offset each other, but given that the Yes campaign are aiming to win the independence referendum outright (and given that practically no country has ever willingly surrendered its independence after winning it), securing the hearts and minds of the younger generation for the decades to come is not such an obvious consideration this time around. It's also worth bearing in mind that nobody of any age has ever voted in an independence referendum before (unless they did it in another country), so neither is it the case on this occasion that young people are unique in lacking hard-to-break voting habits established over a period of years.

In spite of all that, the youth vote is undoubtedly regarded as special, perhaps because many commentators are determined to believe that the SNP gave 16 and 17 year olds the vote for tactical rather than principled reasons, and would be all-too-delighted to have a little gloat about how the whole thing had 'backfired'. A few months back, it was practically being stated as fact that this had already happened, and that younger voters were breaking disproportionately against independence. But the evidence for that claim was never particularly strong, and has become weaker still after the latest batch of polls. We now have datasets from three polls that were wholly conducted after the publication of the White Paper, and although they present a decidedly mixed picture, none of the polls suggest that young people are the most anti-independence group, while one of the polls suggest that they are in fact the most pro-independence group. Let's take the three in turn -

YouGov unambiguously suggest that 18-24 year olds are the most pro-independence age group, with 42% of them planning to vote Yes and 50% planning to vote No. By contrast, the Yes vote in the three older age groups falls within a narrow band between 30% and 32%, with the No vote ranging between 50% and 55%. Incidentally, YouGov are still failing to poll under-18s, which is astonishingly bad practice in a referendum that has a minimum voting age of 16.

Ipsos-Mori suggest that 16-24 year olds are the second most favourable of the four age groups for the Yes campaign. Paradoxically, though, the Yes vote among young people is very slightly lower than among the overall sample - this apparent contradiction is brought about by the particularly heavy support for Yes among 35-54 year olds, which pulls the overall figure up.

TNS-BMRB are the only pollster that offer any real succour for those who believe that young people represent some kind of problem for the Yes campaign, but even here the picture is far from clear-cut. It's true that out of the six age groups that are listed, 16-24 year olds are less likely to be Yes voters than anyone other than the over-65s. But they're also the third least likely to be No voters, after 25-34 year olds and 35-44 year olds. In a nutshell, if TNS are right there are simply an awful lot of undecided young voters out there.

Probably the best way of summarising the totality of the available evidence is "we don't actually have a scooby whether young people are more likely than their elders to vote for independence or not", but for what it's worth my own gut feeling is that they will indeed ultimately break slightly more for Yes - and that includes the symbolically important 16-17 year old group.

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Scottish Skier mentioned in a comment on Wings over Scotland that he felt that TNS-BMRB are severely underestimating the Yes vote due to shy voter syndrome - ie. since they are the only pollster that interviews people face-to-face, Yes voters are less willing to admit their true intentions to them. As evidence, he points out that TNS are reporting a much lower percentage for Yes among the 2011 SNP support than other pollsters are. This theory certainly has the ring of plausibility to it, but the problem is that TNS are similarly finding a lower No vote among 2011 Labour voters. So it could be that 'shy Yes voters' are one of two factors at play here, with the other more obvious one being the relatively new TNS practice of asking how people think they will vote on the actual referendum date, rather than in a hypothetical referendum 'tomorrow'. The latter factor probably lowers the Yes and No figures by a more or less equal amount.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dramatic new TNS-BMRB poll shows the pro-independence campaign closing the gap for the FOURTH time in a row

Just as I was about to go to bed safe in the apparent knowledge that the day's only polling "news" was the Herald's farcical attempts to portray the vastly inferior popularity ratings of the No campaign's leaders as some kind of bad news story for the Yes side (!), I heard the exciting news on Twitter of a new TNS-BMRB poll of referendum voting intentions in tomorrow's edition of the paper.  Here are the full headline figures (not excluding Don't Knows) -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 27% (+1)
No 41% (-1)

The No lead with TNS-BMRB has now almost halved since it stood at a peak of 25 points in the autumn of last year.  This is also the fourth successive poll from the company to show a drop in the No lead - in the late September/early October poll the lead fell from 22 points to 19, in the late October poll it fell from 19 points to 18, in late November it fell from 18 points to 16, and now it has fallen from 16 points to 14.  It's the second TNS-BMRB poll in a row to find the Yes campaign increasing its raw level of support.  And it's the fifth poll out of five published by all polling companies since the publication of the White Paper to show a drop in the No lead.  Over to you, oh wise London media - try spinning that little lot as "essentially a no change position"!

The significance of the Yes campaign's advance becomes even more stark when the Don't Knows are stripped out of the equation, with the lead closing by a full 4%, and with Yes reaching the psychological 40% mark...

Yes 40% (+2)
No 60% (-2)

Remarkably, TNS-BMRB have just jumped from fifth place to third in the rankings for the most favourable pollster for the Yes campaign when Don't Knows are excluded, although that's largely because the figures from ICM, YouGov and TNS-BMRB are all tightly bunched together.

Hopefully I'll have more to say about this poll when the full datasets are made available.

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Now we turn to the fourth update of this blog's Poll of Polls - and I'm delighted to say that it's the fourth out of four to show an increase in support for the pro-independence campaign!  Just to reiterate, the Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of six polls - the most recent one from each of the six referendum pollsters that adhere to the British Polling Council's rules (Panelbase, YouGov, Ipsos-Mori, ICM, Angus Reid and TNS-BMRB). If any other BPC pollsters enter the fray at some point, they'll be taken into account as well. This update simply replaces the last TNS-BMRB poll with the new one, and therefore only one-sixth of the sample has changed.

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 33.0% (+0.2)
No 48.8% (-0.2)

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 40.3% (+0.2)
No 59.7% (-0.2)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 39.6% (+0.4)
No 60.4% (-0.4)

Those of you who have been following the Poll of Polls closely from the start will have noticed that the Yes vote has now increased by a full 1% on the headline figures since the publication of the White Paper - and that's in spite of the fact that only three of the six pollsters have updated their numbers since then. Over the same period, the overall No lead has slipped from 17.5% to 15.8%.

The median average is the most affected by the new TNS-BMRB poll. Last time around, the median was calculated as the mid-point between ICM and YouGov, as the third and fourth most favourable pollsters for the Yes campaign. This time it's the mid-point between TNS-BMRB and ICM, with the latter having slipped from third to fourth.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wisdom on Wednesday : The relationship between trust and expectation

CALLY : My people have a saying. 'A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.'

AVON : Life expectancy must be fairly short among your people...

Dialogue from the Blake's 7 episode 'Mission to Destiny'. They could almost have been talking about us Scots - forever putting our trust in others (ie. Westminster politicians) to solve our problems with their 'jam tomorrow' pledges, and ending up with the lowest life expectancy in western Europe as our reward.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Green Yes

I must admit that, until I saw the mention of it on Wings over Scotland yesterday, I wasn't aware that the Green Yes campaign was running a fundraiser on Indiegogo.  I've decided to do my ecumenical deed for the morning by making a modest donation.  It doesn't feel like such an unnatural thing to do - although as things stand I would always vote for the SNP over the Greens, it's probably fair to say that the Greens are somewhat closer to my own views on some constitutional matters relating to an independent Scotland, such as opposition to NATO membership and support for an elected Head of State.  It's not inconceivable, therefore, that if independence is achieved next year, I might then switch to voting Green in an attempt to 'complete the journey'.  (Admittedly I discovered a few months ago that at least some high-profile Green members have a chillingly intolerant attitude towards any dissent on gender politics, so that's one factor that might put me off.)  I certainly wouldn't switch to voting Green if there was a No vote, because there's not much point in arguing the toss over NATO membership or the monarchy unless you're taking the fastest possible route to independence.  Scotland sure as hell won't be leaving NATO or abolishing the monarchy as part of the United Kingdom, and although independence would revert to being a longer-term objective in the event of a No vote, the timescale would only get longer still if natural supporters desert the SNP.

My only slight doubt about donating was that I knew I'd be contributing to a campaign that will be somewhat critical of the SNP government on certain issues (as we saw from Patrick Harvie on Question Time, for instance), and indeed will be diverging sharply from my own views at times.  But when I reflected on it, I realised that was no bad thing, because a high-profile and sincere Green Yes campaign will drive home the message to voters that the independence movement is genuinely cross-party and diverse.  And I don't think there's any danger at all of a 1979-style 'Berlin Wall' being erected between two rival Yes campaigns who dislike each other more than the real opposition - it looks like Green Yes sees itself as very much a complement to Yes Scotland, rather than a competitor.

I've no doubt that the Greens' support for independence is founded on principle, but it has to be said it's tactically savvy as well.  Win or lose, Patrick Harvie is guaranteed to emerge from the campaign as one of Scotland's highest profile politicians, because he will be appearing constantly on TV as the most senior non-SNP parliamentarian supporting independence (unless of course an MP or MSP from Labour, the Lib Dems or the Tories is smart enough to seize that mantle from him, which is perfectly possible).

To read more about the Green Yes fundraising drive or to donate to it, click HERE.

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There was a provocative article on the BBC website a few years ago that characterised the division on the island of Cyprus as being almost 'autistic' in nature, with each side seemingly finding it utterly impossible to perceive the situation through the other's eyes, even as an idle thought-experiment.  For some reason, that analogy popped into my head when I heard about the nature of John Major's latest thrilling foray into the Scottish constitutional debate.  He described Scottish independence as "folly on a grand scale", which he elaborated on by setting out a number of reasons why he felt it would be a terrible idea from the point of view of the London political class, such as the likelihood of diminished influence for the UK overseas, and a possible loss of permanent member status on the UN Security Council.  As an argument against Scottish independence, that's the rough equivalent of a husband trying to persuade his wife to stay in the following manner -

HUSBAND : If you leave it'll be a disaster!  I'll lose access to your income!  I'll have no-one on my arm at parties!  I'll have to do all my own cooking!  My mother will lose all respect for me!

WIFE : OK, and what will I lose?

HUSBAND : Sorry?  I don't quite follow?

In any case, I've always felt that the 'concern' about rUK's Security Council status is a massive red herring.  When Russia replaced the Soviet Union at the UN in the early 1990s, it had effectively lost 40% of the population of the old state, and a huge chunk of the territory - and yet its assumption of the permanent seat on the Security Council was seamless.  Let's face it, if membership of the Security Council was determined on a fair basis by population size or global influence, the UK would have been booted off decades ago - but it doesn't work like that, and unfortunately there's no particular reason to suppose that it will suddenly start working like that just because Scotland has become an independent country.  It's a colonial relic, not a representative body.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Clues from YouGov about undecided voters

Just one final (probably!) dip into the details of last week's YouGov referendum poll. Unlike the recent Ipsos-Mori poll or the second Panelbase poll commissioned by Wings over Scotland, there doesn't seem to have been any direct attempt made to discover how the Don't Knows are more inclined to vote.  However, there was one question on the economy which produced responses that correlated extraordinarily closely to actual voting intentions - just 2% of Yes voters thought that an independent Scotland would be economically worse off, while 0% of No voters thought it would be economically better off.  So it struck me that the responses of undecided voters to that question might furnish us with a very useful indirect way of detecting which way those people may be leaning. Irritatingly, YouGov haven't provided that particular cross-break, but it's still possible to get a rough idea by extrapolating from the percentages elsewhere in the datasets.  These numbers won't be absolutely dead-on accurate, but they'll be reasonably close.


14% think an independent Scotland would be economically better off.
9% think an independent Scotland would be economically worse off.
12% think independence would make no difference to Scotland's economic prospects.
65% don't know how independence would affect Scotland's economic prospects.

(Note : Technically the above numbers include 'won't votes' as well, but they're a relatively small percentage.)

Now I'm not pretending for a moment that these numbers represent some kind of slam-dunk for the Yes campaign.  But one thing that is self-evident is that this section of the electorate bears very little resemblance to the No camp's current constituency of support.  (For comparison, the figures for No supporters are : Better off - 0%, Worse off - 88%, No difference - 7%, Don't Know - 5%.)  So at the very least it would appear that the undecideds are wide open to persuasion by either campaign.  And interestingly, it may not be quite enough for the No campaign to fight their opponents to a stalemate on the economic arguments, because the poll also seems to suggest that people who think that independence would make no difference to our economic prospects are at the moment breaking disproportionately for Yes.  Again, this is based on an extrapolation, because the relevant raw numbers haven't been provided.


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 55%
No 30%

So it's just possible that the bar is slightly higher for the No campaign on the economy - to win new converts, they may need to persuade undecided voters that Scotland's economic prospects would actually be worse under independence, rather than merely no better.

Either way, it's worth bearing in mind that if YouGov's headline figures are accurate (admittedly a big if), it wouldn't be sufficient for the Yes campaign to win over a lion's share of the Don't Knows - they would also need a chunk of the No camp's current support.  But it wouldn't necessarily have to be that big a chunk.