Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pro-independence campaign make spectacular breakthrough in new poll from traditionally No-friendly firm TNS-BMRB

TNS-BMRB have on average been the third most No-friendly out of the six BPC-affiliated firms.  Their last poll showed Yes on a new high watermark for the campaign - but even that was only 41.4% with Don't Knows excluded, as compared to the highs reported by ICM, Panelbase and Survation of between 47.1% and 48.3%.  It was also only fractionally higher than the figure that Yes had been hovering around in the firm's polls for several months.  However, just when we were beginning to wonder if Yes were ever going to make a telling breakthrough with TNS, it's finally happened tonight - and in quite some style, with the No lead slumping by 6% after Don't Knows are excluded.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 44% (+3)
No 56% (-3)

With Don't Knows left in, these are the figures -

Yes 32% (n/c)
No 41% (-5)

On the latter measure, Yes remain on the new high watermark for the campaign that they reached in the previous TNS poll - before that poll, they'd never been higher than 30%, or at least not since TNS introduced a major methodological change.  By complete contrast, the No campaign's 4% increase in the last poll (which was partly an illusion caused by rounding) has been more than wiped out, and they're now back down to a vote share that equals their all-time low.  Although on face value this looks like a straight swing from No to Don't Know, it's more likely that the last poll was simply an outlier in showing a big decrease in the undecideds.  That would mean there has been genuine movement from No to Yes at some point over the last few weeks.

As you'll doubtless have spotted already, the headline No lead is just 9% - the first time it has hit single figures with TNS in the campaign so far.  That's a 5% drop on the last TNS poll, and is 3% lower than the previous record low shown by the firm.

I've pointed out before that swings to Yes reported by Ipsos-Mori and TNS are considerably more important than swings reported by other firms, for the simple reason that they're the only two active referendum pollsters that actually seek out a fresh 'real world' sample in every poll, rather than rely on volunteer online panels.  Until now, both have tended to be firmly on the No-friendly end of the spectrum.  That isn't to say they're necessarily more accurate than others, because there are plenty of advantages to the online approach as well - it's more anonymous, for starters, and respondents are more likely to give honest answers.  But it's nevertheless highly encouraging to see an old-fashioned face-to-face pollster like TNS produce the kind of numbers that have previously only been reported by online firms.  Indeed, as things stand TNS are showing a slightly higher Yes vote than ICM (after Don't Knows are excluded), which is quite a turn-up for the books.

On the other hand, the perennial problem with TNS is that there's always quite a long gap between fieldwork and publication, meaning that their figures are slightly out-of-date by the time that we see them.  In this case, that will complicate any attempts to use this new poll to resolve the mystery of the contradictory trends we've been seeing recently from different firms.  The TNS fieldwork took place between the 25th of June and the 9th of July, meaning that it had the same start-date as the most recent YouGov poll, but a much later end-date.  So it certainly adds to the weight of evidence that the slight drift towards No reported by YouGov recently has probably just been margin of error "noise", and it leaves open the possibility that there has been movement to Yes since YouGov's fieldwork concluded.  The fieldwork for last week's Survation poll overlapped with the tail-end of the TNS dates, which is useful, because both firms are in agreement that Yes have reached a new high.  However, the most up-to-date poll remains the ICM poll published at the weekend, which finished a couple of days after TNS had stopped interviewing.  Confusingly, that poll showed a small increase in the No lead - but the changes were consistent with margin of error noise, and the headline figures remained well within ICM's normal range.

So although the TNS findings dramatically increase the chances that there has been real and substantial movement to Yes recently, they still don't constitute absolute proof.  As ever, we'll just have to await the next poll for more information.  One thing we can certainly say, though, is that there's no credible evidence at all of a swing against Yes - shouldn't that be happening by now, if the predictions made last year by certain "experts" (and Ian Dunt) have any validity?

*  *  *

UPDATE : Even better news - the STV website is reporting that the TNS figures for respondents who say they are certain to vote are as follows...

Yes 37% (+2)
No 46% (-3)

No word yet on the figures with Don't Knows excluded, but a rough calculation suggests that they're most likely to be Yes 45% (+4), No 55% (-4).  That would certainly explain why Yes Scotland tweeted that this poll showed Yes at 45%, rather than 44%!

*  *  *


Although I'm going to persevere with the Poll of Polls, I'm coming round to the idea that it may not be the best way of summarising the state of play, given the huge ongoing disparity between the figures produced by different firms - it's just providing an "imaginary middle".  So I'm going to start giving the swings that would be required for a certain number of pollsters to either show Yes in the lead, or a dead-heat.  For simplicity, these are based on the rounded numbers used for publication, and with Don't Knows not excluded.  (It wouldn't be possible to use unrounded numbers across the board anyway, because the notoriously secretive firm YouGov never reveal their unrounded results.)

Swing required for 1 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 1.5%

Swing required for 2 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 2.5%

Swing required for 3 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 4.5%

Swing required for 4 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 5.5%

*  *  *


This update of the Poll of Polls essentially reverses the small boost for No that was seen last time round - the No lead with Don't Knows taken into account is now back below 11%.

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 43.6% (+0.5)
No 56.4% (-0.5)

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 36.8% (n/c)
No 47.7% (-0.8)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 43.4% (+1.3)
No 56.6% (-1.3)

(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 since September 2013, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are six - YouGov, TNS-BMRB, 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.)

And here are the long-term trend figures, with updates prior to Easter recalculated to remove the inactive pollster Angus Reid ...

The No campaign's lead in the Poll of Polls mean average (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Sep 2013 - 21.6%
Sep 2013 - 21.4%
Sep 2013 - 19.4%
Oct 2013 - 18.8%
Oct 2013 - 18.4%
Oct 2013 - 18.2%
Nov 2013 - 18.4%
Nov 2013 - 18.0%
Dec 2013 - 17.0%
Dec 2013 - 16.8%
Dec 2013 - 16.4%
Jan 2014 - 14.4%
Jan 2014 - 14.2%
Jan 2014 - 14.2%
Jan 2014 - 15.2%
Feb 2014 - 15.0%
Feb 2014 - 15.5%
Feb 2014 - 15.5%
Feb 2014 - 13.7%
Feb 2014 - 13.3%
Feb 2014 - 14.2%
Mar 2014 - 14.2%
Mar 2014 - 14.5%
Mar 2014 - 14.5%
Mar 2014 - 14.7%
Mar 2014 - 13.8%
Mar 2014 - 13.0%
Mar 2014 - 12.5%
Apr 2014 - 12.5%
Apr 2014 - 12.7%
Apr 2014 - 12.7%
Apr 2014 - 12.3%
Apr 2014 - 11.4%
May 2014 - 11.2%
May 2014 - 11.2%
May 2014 - 11.5%
May 2014 - 13.3%
Jun 2014 - 12.1%
Jun 2014 - 12.1%
Jun 2014 - 11.3%
Jun 2014 - 9.9%
Jun 2014 - 10.3%
Jun 2014 - 10.7%
Jul 2014 - 11.0%
Jul 2014 - 11.0%
Jul 2014 - 11.7%
Jul 2014 - 10.9%


  1. Good news, missing all the news back home. The Labour vote has always been the key to a Yes victory and this poll is encouraging.

  2. Yes Scotland are saying Yes got 45% in this poll?!

  3. That's odd - the Herald are definitely saying 44%. (Unless 45% is the figure for definite voters only, but Yes Scotland's tweet doesn't say that.)

  4. James and Scottish Skier are the "expert" witnesses on here, but those like me who take an interest in pollster methodology will appreciate that this poll is immensely significant given from TNS, who usually conduct face to face and telephone interviews as opposed to on line surveys. The tables / demographic weightings will be key points to analyse here, but that's TNS, Survation and Panelbase tending in a similar direction. Indeed, free from unionist/ right wing interface in methodology and sample demographics as James here has detailed on previous occasions. ICM are trending in a similar direction, and have been since the turn of the year, notability in January, April and June polls.

    Look forward to a full expert analysis on the tables when they surface, and to John Curtis spinning frantically for some straws to clutch aka last Friday when Survation came out in the Record.

    Keep up the good work James, this blog is absolutely first class mate.

  5. I suppose BT will have a No-friendly poll up their sleeves to "supersede" this one. They always seem to do that.

  6. From Catalonia: C’mon Scots!

  7. In less significant news. PLato has returned to Political Racism(tm)
    Still sponging off the state while being a UKIPping Cameroon.

  8. i can see the headlines now:

    "Another Blow to Alex Salmond's Independence Dream As Polls Show Continuing Unionist Lead"

    But more seriously, this is encouraging and seems to reflect what I've found when talking to people on the street.

  9. They'll probably compare it to the recent Survation poll and announce that the Yes vote is collapsing.

  10. Nothing's happening.

  11. Anon : I had a quick look at PB, and I didn't see Plato, but I did see ChristinaD/Fitalass rubbishing the TNS poll on the grounds that (wait for it) "Scotland is on holiday".

    She really is an unwitting comedy genius. I remember her once dismissing a bad poll for the Tories in November because "it's Christmas". Presumably bad polls in the spring can also be ignored because "it's Easter", and as for late winter, forget it - lovers are too busy looking into each other's eyes for Valentine's Day.

  12. That supports the slightly higher No in the last TNS being rogue; simply random sampling error. Record high Yes repeated.

    All good.

  13. James, have you had a chance to look at the poll in today's Herald which shows a definite shift of Labour voters to the Yes position?

  14. I have reread your article and in line with the Herald one liner it suggests a shift directly from No to yes?

  15. If we look at Y vs N, Y vs DK and DK vs Y going all the way back to 1998, we see the following:

    - There is a strong correlation between Yes and No

    - There is a strong correlation between Yes and DK

    - There is no correlation between No and DK

    This implies the following:

    - Yes gains directly from No to a considerable extent

    - When the DKs shift, it is first and foremost to Yes

    - No only gains from Yes

    Taking the DKs first... If you say DK it means you have already rejected the union in principle. Hence it is not a surprise that Yes is where you are more likely to head if pushed.

    Given that Yes was comfortably ahead of No (50% at least vs 40% N) until 2007, then ahead again in 2011...

    It seems we have a large group of people who sometimes tell pollsters Yes, and sometimes No.

    So, are there people who supported Yes for years, then genuinely moved to No post 2007, then moved to Yes again in 2011. Then moved to No again. Now are moving to Yes again?

    That all seems a bit odd.

    The alternative is that they are not actually changing in their support for independence in principle, but are changing their response to pollsters.

    When we look at more anonymous polls (panelbase), we find that far less people are doing this back and forth swing than do so in non-anonymous telephone and face to face polls. The huge No lead seen in 2013 for TNS and MORI isn't seen in panelabse for example.

    If we then consider the fact that some people who say No to Y/N then go on to put themselves as a Yes on 1-10 scale (ICM), we might conclude that rather than people swinging from Yes to No, instead they are saying one thing then another depending on who is asking and how acceptable they feel it is to say Yes.

    They did the same with Labour and the SNP ahead of 2011.

    In 2009 they said SNP. In 2010-early 2011 they said Labour. Then they started saying SNP again in the weeks ahead of the election and finally voted SNP.

    Did they really feel they were going to vote Labour? No, not in their hearts if at all.

    So, where have our up to 56% Yes (vs 35% No) people who consistently wanted indy up to 2007 go?

    Well, they're still walking around. Some of the Nos have passed away too.

    Why did 60-74% say they say they wanted an indyref, 50% or more say they planned to vote Yes, give 40% to pro-indy parties in 2007, then start saying high 30's Y / low 40's No to indy but still asking at 60 vs 30 for an indy ref all the way up to 2011?

    If they were going off the idea of indy, why then elect the SNP in a massive landslide in 2011 and start saying Yes again?

    Well, what happened in 2007 was Britain turned its guns on Scotland and started firing. 'Anti-English nazis who want to break up wonderful Britain' etc.

    This caused polls to got from 51-52Y / 35-39 N to the opposite just after 2007.

    Then, as the dust settled and it became obvious the SNP couldn't pass a referendum bil, the rate of fire decreased and Yes vs No evened out to not dissimilar values to what we have now.

    In the aftermath of 2011, the shock to the system meant the British guns fell silent briefly. This, combined with the historic SNP win, had people admitting Yes again.

    Then Britain shook itself out of shock and turned every gun it had on Scotland.

    And so our shyer types put heads below the the parapet again.

    Now they are starting to stick their heads up more and more.

    Not only that, they are seemingly being joined by new recruits who say with conviction that they were not one of the 50%+ who said Yes back pre-2007.

    We shall see anyway.

  16. One of the things that has struck me quite forcefully about the whole debate is the behaviour of the unionist parties. For 60 years (at least) they have been behaving as if Scotland was a pressure cooker about to blow.

    NOTHING that is done to or for Scotland is done for its own sake, because it will benefit the country or its people. Every move is made in a calculating fashion, with an eye to whether it will damp down or thwart the independence movement - even at times when the independence movement was little more than a couple of guys in kilts carrying a flag at a Bannockburn rally.

    The infamous McCrone report is a case in point. The actual thrust of the recommendations is that a good chunk of the oil money should be spent on improving Scotland - not because that is the right or the fair thing to do, but because if that is not done, and Scotland sees no benefit from the oil discovery, there might be renewed calls for independence. (Yes, McCrone was right, but they didn't take his advice.)

    That has also been the entire impetus for the devolution debate. Not whether devolution is a good thing in itself, or represents justice for Scottish aspirations, but in which direction it might influence the independence debate. The Tories and Labour were on opposite sides, but only as regards the solution to the dilemma. Both parties were acting for the same outcome - to thwart a perceived desire for independence. Labour thought the pressure needed to be vented by way of devolution, the Tories thought a devolved parliament would be a slippery slope.

    All through the 2007-11 parliament the opposition parties' main aim was to prevent an independence referendum. The democratic LibDems wouldn't even talk to the SNP unless the idea of a referendum was off the table in advance. Only Wendy seemed to get it - maybe - and she was overruled and sidelined. I don't think we could have won a referendum in 2010, but by golly you'd never imagine that from observing the other parties tying themselves in knots to prevent it from happening.

    Is Scotland really a pressure cooker with >50% of people well up for a Yes vote if only they get the chance to exercise it? Observation of the behaviour of the Tories, the LibDems and Labour since at least the 1970s tends to suggest that it is.

  17. @Rolfe

    I was digging out old ICM tables from late 90's polls as I discovered some of the tabulated results from Y/N polls on e.g. UKPR were wrong.

    It made me smile. Here I am looking at data from up to 16 years ago and all the same issues are being asked about. Whether people wanted more devo or independence, whether they'd vote Y or No to indy. Which parliament they trusted more.. All the same issues.

    And here we are with a referendum on our hands. Things have not been moving backwards certainly.

    'Pressure cooker'. Hmm. For me that wouldn't maybe be the right word.

    Rather, if Scotland does this - which I believe it will - it will do it quite quietly, only starting to show its full hand very close to the day when there's nothing that can be done to stop it any more.

    At that point the end of the anti-Scottish abuse will be just days away and so people can suffer it knowing that it will end in an abrupt, shocked silence soon enough.

    That's what seemed to happen in 2011. A large section of the Scots electorate, whatever their exact motives, successfully reduced the heat on Scotland ahead of it giving Britain one hell of a shock. The did this by saying Labour instead of SNP.

    Are people doing something similar now, consciously or not?

    There is a lot of evidence that's what they are doing. After all, people are just humans.

    People respond to polls as humans. They think carefully about their answers, what position it might put them in / who may see the answers they've given, whether they can justify a view, how acceptable that view is... How the press may interpret the results and what that means. All done to varying extents.

    It's why interpreting polls is something of an art. What people say is often not what they really feel, particularly on sensitive matters which they could be attacked for.

    People who are strong willed and informed are much more likely to admit Yes because they feel they can back up that position. Someone quieter who doesn't like confrontation and isn't a political nerd with all the answers is much more likely to keep their head down less they be called up on it.

    Trying to work out what's likely to happen is tricky as a result.

    Hence my preference for looking at the bigger picture.

    Independence is a big thing. It's not a fancy that comes and goes. Hence looking all the way back to the beginning of devolution - even back to the peak of Britishness in Scotland during the post-war consensus - is important. After all, there are voters alive that remember this and it affects their perceptions too.

    Explode? If you call the quiet 2011 landslide an explosion, then potentially Yes. >51% of the electorate were not driving around in cars with SNP, Margo, Green stickers and 'Aye to a referendum badges' on lapels. Nope, they just went out and marked Yes and what they did was huge; it shock Britain to its core and potentially will lead to its end.

  18. I mentioned this before, but I'll tell the story again. On Monday night I went to a friend's house to begin planning a Women for Independence meeting in the village. My friend and her husband are both SNP, and her husband stuck some old 1987 Yes/Yes posters in their window the day after the 2011 landslide. I've been in the SNP for over 20 years and my house is not exactly a shrinking violet either. (Yes saltire being erected this morning by my Yes-supporting gardening service.)

    One of the other two women at the meeting was someone who sings in the same choir as myself and my friend. I actually had no idea she was a Yes, but my friend had told me she was. She's arguing Yes on the village Facebook page, but Monday was the first time I ever saw her in a badge.

    And then there was the fourth person. My over-the-back-fence neighbour. Duh? I believe she's over seventy. Gobsmacked is putting it mildly. She showed up with a folder of seminal articles she'd printed out, and a long list of web sites she visits every day. Not just the official ones either but NNS and Wings and Wee Ginger Dug and so on.

    But there's not a sign on her house. Even the badge she was wearing looked as if it would be off her cardigan the minute the meeting was over. She said she would not canvass because she herself didn't like being canvassed. It's none of their business. I got the impression she probably wouldn't say she was a Yes if a pollster showed up at her door. She spoke very eloquently about Scots being private people who don't wear their hearts on their sleeves.

    The other choir member was pessimistic about the number of Yes voters in the village. It's just us, she said. We're on our own. But we just don't know. In particular we don't know how many more Elsies there are sitting at home voraciously reading indie web sites but without the slightest intention of even putting a sign in the window.

    And I've now spotted two Yes cars and one Women for Independence car, regularly parked in the village, and I have more or less no idea who they belong to.

    I think we're going to do it. But then, the SNP only got 45% even in the landslide, so maybe I'm kidding myself. A lot of people are certainly keeping their cards close to their chests though.

  19. "James, have you had a chance to look at the poll in today's Herald which shows a definite shift of Labour voters to the Yes position?"

    Yes, it's the same poll.