Well, that's the last time I take anything the Political Editor of the Daily Record says on Twitter at face value. Last night, he teased us with the observation that his paper's new Survation poll was "fascinating". Combined with the fact that the anti-independence campaign went out of their way to retweet Survation's own poll alert, I took that to mean that No finally had something to cheer about after a relentless series of polling setbacks. But no, it didn't. When the numbers finally came through after an interminable wait, they turned out to be very similar to the previous two Survation referendum polls, with a No lead that is way down on the firm's first contribution to the campaign early in the year.
In the referendum, voters will be asked, "Should Scotland be an independent country". If this referendum were held today, do you think you would vote "Yes"? or "No"?
Yes 44% (-1)
No 56% (+1)
And on the headline numbers including Don't Knows, it's -
Yes 37% (-2)
No 47% (-1)
In characteristically broken record style, the No camp's embarrassment of a campaign chief Blair McDougall responded to the statistically insignificant changes from last month's poll with a peculiar line he's used several times before : "No complacency but credit to our volunteers." I don't want to be unkind to anti-independence volunteers, but given that they're widely accepted to be incredibly small in number, does anyone seriously think they're capable of being directly responsible for a margin-of-error 1% drop in the No vote in a Survation poll? No complacency, Blair, but I really don't think they are.
Just in case anyone needed comfirmation that Blair was deluding himself about his campaign making some kind of recovery, along came yet another Panelbase poll right on cue, showing support for independence at the record-breaking high of 47% for a third time in a row...
There will be a referendum on an independent Scotland on the 18th of September. How do you intend to vote in response to the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?
Yes 47% (n/c)
No 53% (n/c)
With Don't Knows included, it's -
Yes 40% (-1)
No 45% (-1)
The fieldwork dates for the two polls were near-enough identical, with both getting underway on the 4th of April. However, the Panelbase poll can technically be regarded as the most up-to-date, because respondents had until yesterday to respond, while the Survation poll closed on Monday.
No-one should mistake the significance of the recent run of findings from Panelbase. Until a few short weeks ago, every Panelbase poll conducted during the campaign had shown a No lead of between 8% and 13%. (That excludes only the famous poll last summer which used a different question sequence and found Yes in a 1% lead.) The firm made a small methodological adjustment a few months ago to correct the under-representation of No-friendly older voters in their sample, so taking that into consideration it seems likely that the true 'normal range' was no lower than 9-14%. Even if we're ultra-conservative and assume that the average No lead tended to be about 10%, that would mean that there has been a recent slump of about 5% - and with three successive polls replicating the same findings, there's no way we're being misled by normal sampling variation. This is real progress for the Yes campaign, and it's substantial.
It's harder to make a similar judgement about the trend shown by Survation, because they don't have such a long track record. However, their first poll this year showed a No lead that was 10% higher than in today's poll. It's not possible to make a direct comparison between those two polls because there has been a huge methodological change in the intervening period, but a rough extrapolation suggests that the No lead in the first poll would have been about 4% higher than now had the current methodology been used. So unless the first poll was a bit of a rogue (which is admittedly perfectly possible), it looks as if Survation have found a very similar drop in the No lead to the one suggested by Panelbase.
As John Curtice points out, the flip-side of this good news is that the picture over the last few weeks now appears to have been one of the Yes campaign consolidating its recent gains, rather than making even further gains. But whether that's any great cause for disappointment depends on how far back you actually think Yes are at the moment. If Panelbase are correct and the pro-independence campaign are just 3% short of the winning post, they don't actually need to be making relentless progress week on week - they're already in an enviable position with more than five months still to go, and consolidation is more than enough for now. But obviously if No-friendly pollsters such as Ipsos-Mori are closer to the money, it would be a different story.
Since Survation made a very sensible revision to their weighting procedure a couple of months ago, they've suggested a number of times that their polls can now be considered directly comparable to ICM's and Panelbase's due to methodological convergence. As today's numbers may testify, though, that's close to the truth but not the whole truth. The big remaining difference between Survation and the other two is that they ask respondents how they would vote in a hypothetical referendum today, rather than how they plan to vote on the actual referendum date. It's assumed that wording is likely to make people respond with at least a tad more caution.
Incidentally, something which puzzles me about this new Survation monthly series is the fact that James Mackenzie's blog Better Nation is listed as one of the three commissioning clients, alongside the Daily Record and the 5 Million Questions project. Admittedly, there's no longer anything unusual about alternative media commissioning opinion polls - both Wings Over Scotland and Newsnet Scotland have done it. But the difference is that both of those sites have run a high-profile fundraiser, which as far as I'm aware Better Nation hasn't. So it's a bit of a mystery where the funding is coming from. It seems to me there are four logical possibilities -
1) James Mackenzie is funding it himself (but given that it's an ongoing monthly series it's hard to believe he would go to those lengths).
2) Better Nation has one or more private benefactors (although that would be surprising, given that the site isn't as active as it was in its heyday when Mackenzie was a co-editor alongside Jeff Breslin, Malcolm Harvey and Kate Higgins).
3) Survation are for some reason providing the service for free. There's a precedent for that, because in the run-up to the 2010 general election Angus Reid provided regular polls to Political Betting without charge. But they only did it to raise their raise their profile in the UK, and it's very hard to see what Survation's motivation would be.
4) Another organisation is funding the polls and using Better Nation as a proxy. The Green Party would be one obvious suspect, given that James Mackenzie used to be their press officer. The fact that Survation recently changed their methodology to make it easier for respondents to give their backing to small parties would be consistent with that theory.
Number 4 seems the most likely possibility to me, but who knows?
* * *
SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS
With two polls today showing a slight drop in support for both Yes and No, that is obviously reflected in the Poll of Polls, but the gap between the two sides remains pretty much where it was in both of the last two updates.
MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :
Yes 35.3% (-0.4)
No 48.0% (-0.3)
MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :
Yes 42.4% (-0.1)
No 57.6% (+0.1)
MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :
Yes 42.0% (n/c)
No 58.0% (n/c)
(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are seven - YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Angus Reid, Survation, Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori and ICM. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample. Changes in the Poll of Polls are generally glacial in nature due to the fact that only a small portion of the sample is updated each time.)
Here are the updated long-term trend figures -
The No campaign's lead in the Poll of Polls headline figures :
Sep 2013 - 20.2%
Sep 2013 - 20.0%
Sep 2013 - 18.4%
Oct 2013 - 17.9%
Oct 2013 - 17.5%
Oct 2013 - 17.4%
Nov 2013 - 17.5%
Dec 2013 - 17.1%
Dec 2013 - 16.3%
Dec 2013 - 16.2%
Dec 2013 - 15.8%
Jan 2014 - 14.2%
Jan 2014 - 14.8%
Feb 2014 - 14.8%
Feb 2014 - 14.7%
Feb 2014 - 15.1%
Feb 2014 - 13.6%
Feb 2014 - 14.0%
Mar 2014 - 14.0%
Mar 2014 - 14.3%
Mar 2014 - 14.3%
Mar 2014 - 13.6%
Mar 2014 - 12.9%
Mar 2014 - 13.0%
Mar 2014 - 12.5%
Apr 2014 - 12.6%
Apr 2014 - 12.7%
And as Panelbase and Survation are both online pollsters, it's also time for an update of the averages for the four online pollsters that have reported so far this year. These figures exclude Angus Reid, who are an online pollster but haven't reported since last summer.
MEAN AVERAGE OF ONLINE POLLSTERS (not excluding Don't Knows) :
Yes 38.3% (-0.7)
No 47.5% (-0.5)
MEAN AVERAGE OF ONLINE POLLSTERS (excluding Don't Knows) :
Yes 44.6% (-0.2)
No 55.4% (+0.2)
MEDIAN AVERAGE OF ONLINE POLLSTERS (excluding Don't Knows) :
Yes 45.0% (-0.4)
No 55.0% (+0.4)