A little flurry of excitement tonight, because YouGov have released a table showing that a poll conducted between the 21st and 27th of January saw the anti-independence campaign's lead slump by 5% since the previous poll conducted between the 27th of November and the 2nd of December.
Yes 33% (+2)
No 52% (-3)
Just one snag, though - we previously knew nothing at all about any poll conducted between the 27th of November and the 2nd of December, nor any poll that contained the findings it supposedly showed. We did, however, know about a YouGov poll that was conducted more recently than that (between the 6th and 9th of December) with much better results for Yes, but that one is missing from the table.
So what the hell is going on? A possible clue is that the chart quotes the precise question posed to respondents, and to the unalloyed horror of anyone who cares about polling accuracy it contains the notoriously biased preamble designed (presumably by Peter Kellner) to coax people into reporting an anti-independence opinion. Unless YouGov have been lying to us, that preamble was finally dispensed with for their last two published polls of 2013, predictably producing a dramatic improvement in the Yes position. And yet we had plenty of anecdotal evidence that members of the YouGov panel were still being asked the referendum question with the preamble intact, which suggested that Kellner and co were continuing to use it for the No campaign's internal polls, or for unpublished 'testing' polls. My best guess is that tonight's news indicates that the latter was the case, and that the newly-released table is supposed to include only those polls that used the biased preamble. If that's true, the substantial swing to Yes suggested by the numbers above can be regarded as real, because any poll that used the biased preamble cannot be meaningfully compared to one that used a neutral question, and must instead only be compared to previous polls with an identical wording. It would therefore also imply that the No lead is lower than at any time since the preamble first reared its ugly head in early 2012.
All the same, it's (to put it mildly) absolutely bloody outrageous that Kellner is still seeking to distort the media coverage of this campaign with quasi-push-polling, and indeed with poll numbers that are casually published without any apparent regard for the standard BPC rules on transparency and disclosure. Unless we're allowed to see the datasets for this poll, I'd be inclined to say that academics and the media would be utterly wrong to regard it as being part of the 'true canon' of polling in this campaign. The only reliable aspect is the very favourable trend for Yes, but the headline figures themselves are hopelessly tainted.
The other news from this poll is that the SNP have retaken the lead on the Holyrood regional list vote, having apparently slipped six points behind in the unpublished 'phantom' poll conducted in late November/early December.