Sunday, June 2, 2013

The youth of today and the youth of yesterday

Those delightful chaps over at the No campaign's official Twitter feed seem terribly excited about a new poll of the referendum voting intentions of 14-17 year olds. It does seem to have been an honestly conducted poll, but a number of points need to be borne in mind about it -

1) It sits rather oddly with the results of the last two Ipsos-Mori polls, which clearly showed that 18-24 year olds were the most likely to vote Yes to independence. There isn't a direct contradiction because we're talking about two different age groups, but it does seem somewhat improbable that 14-17 year olds would be the most conservative age group, while 18-24 year olds are the most radical. After all, 18-24 year olds are the 14-17 year olds of yesterday. Are the two cohorts really so different, and if so, what factor or factors can possibly explain that? Or does something magical happen to people around the date of their 18th birthday? Or is this polling evidence failing to tell the whole story?

2) The poll was conducted by telephone, and it may well be that young people aged 14-17 are more susceptible to a feeling of obligation to give the 'expected' answer to an authority figure down the line. A similar survey conducted online would be interesting for the purposes of comparison.

3) Perhaps most importantly of all, the poll was conducted by Market Research UK. This is presumably the same MRUK that became notorious for their inaccurate polls during the 2007 Holyrood campaign. Because they were the Herald's official pollster, this led to a number of comical articles which earnestly reported that Labour were sailing to victory, ignoring the fact that virtually every other pollster had the SNP in the lead.

4) Regardless of the true state of play among the youngest voters, we need to keep a sense of perspective about the overall significance of the youth vote. 16 and 17 year olds will make up only a very small percentage of the electorate next September, and will probably turn out to vote in lower numbers than older age groups. (I expect the turnout to be unusually high across all age groups given the importance of the vote, but it will be proportionately lower in the youngest groups.) Thus, the decision to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote will only swing the balance if the result is incredibly close.

The No campaign also tweeted this comment from 17-year-old Michaella -

"I like the fact that we are part of something bigger and staying united makes sense to me."

I also like being part of something bigger, Michaella, and staying united with the rest of the EU makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, Scotland's status as part of the parochial, right-wing UK is imperilling our continued membership of the European family of nations.

Luckily, we have a unique opportunity to do something about that.


  1. I can't imagine why you expect a high turnout. The two devolution referendums barely squeezed pst 60% turnout. I think that 55-60% turnout much more likely. Key to the result will be whether the Yes campaign can achieve a differential turnout of independence supporters. If so, I expect a narrow Yes victory (albeit with only approximately 1/3 of the total electorate voting in favour of independence). If not a narrow No victory.

  2. I expect a higher turnout than at the devolution referendum for the simple reason that this is a much more important vote. There won't just be saturation media coverage, there will be coverage on a galactic scale, greater than a Westminster general election.

    I think there's a good chance of a Yes vote, but anyone expecting that to come about as a result of differential turnout is barking up the wrong tree. No voters will on the whole be just as highly motivated.

  3. Remember that Lamont and many of her fiends were teachers.
    Just saying.

  4. And that wasn't a Freudian slip. :-)

  5. I agree that there is a correlation between the level of media coverage and turnout, but low/lower levels of voter registration West/Central Scotland are an effective limit to the extent that media coverage can boost turnout. Moreover, while I think that the referendum will receive more coverage than a Scottish election, I doubt that it will receive UK coverage on anything like a galactic scale. Accordingly, I remain persuaded that 55-60% is the likely range for turnout.

  6. I too think that there will be a high turnout.

    I don't know that that is necessarily good for the YES side. A low turnout in bad weather would have still get the Yes side out in force, but I'm less confident that the No campaign would so fastidious.

    The importance of the situation though, surely won't be lost on people, given the blanket coverage that it will receive in the days and weeks leading up to the referendum. The naysayers foretelling of disaster if we leave the UK; the yaysayers predicting even more disaster if we miss the chance to break free.

    (I can only hope that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne come to lecture us on what is best for us in these dying days of the campaign.)

    Unlike a Holyrood election, the result will be with us for the foreseeable future. It won't be overturnable in 4 years' time.

    Hopefully the recent articles in the Herald are the foretaste of journalists realising that they must provide the public with the facts, whether their London-based proprietors like them or not.

    I'm relatively confident that a yes vote will be secured, but none of us must ease up in our campaign until it is won.

    Too much is at stake.

    I hope that teachers are to be trusted with this issue; but I'm sure that there are as many pro independence teachers as there are "fiends" of Ms Lamont. :)

  7. Alasdair : I think you'll be surprised. This is going to be monumental, maybe not in the London tabloid press, but certainly in the broadcast media in the run-up to polling day. To the extent that the London broadcasters fall short, that will be made up for by an unprecedented number of Scottish opt-outs. It doesn't get much bigger than an independence referendum.

  8. I most certainly will be surprised. The broad support for devolution makes the 98 vote a little different, but I well remember the 79 vote and the dire warnings then were every bit as doom laden and just as forcefully foretold the end of civilisation as we knew it. Still didn't produce a turnout much over 60%. I think that many Nationalists passionately wish to see the broad sweep of Scots to embrace the debate and engage in the deliberations on Scotland's future, but all of the evidence that I have seen points to a core vote referendum. Worryingly, I believe that the Unionists will refuse to accept a Yes victory if (as I believe likely) only 30-35% of the electorate support independance.

  9. I don't think there's any read-through from the devolution referendums - this is going to engage people in an entirely different way.

    The turnout in the 1995 Quebec independence referendum was 93.52%. I don't think it'll be that high, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's well above 70%. I would be absolutely astonished if it was below 60%.

  10. From talking to various people the referendum is engaging more than the past elections for Westminster and Holyrood elections have done since 1979.