Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Numbers Game

A few days before I set off on my travels, I caught a train to a top secret location to take part in a short film about opinion polls in the referendum campaign.  It's now available on YouTube, and you can watch it HERE.

I'm flying blind with this one, because I haven't actually seen it yet - I can't watch videos on my mobile!  (Or not without huge difficulty.)


  1. Unfortunately, the Razzies don't have a documentary category.

  2. Cecil : Do the Razzies have a category for the most half-hearted piece of paid trolling?

  3. Just watched it, James.

    Excellently done and very interesting.

    All the best,

  4. Brilliant stuff. It's Scot Goes Pop! The Movie :D

  5. excellent

    looking forward to Kellner aftertime,sept 18th

  6. You are very articulate and put your points accross well. Perhaps the BBC and STV should have you on speed dial?

  7. Just curious if there are any percentages available for the amount of people registering that were not previously registered to vote?

    Also are any of the polls taking these people into account in the weighting?

  8. Not sure that I agreed with everything that you said - but it was really well-written and presented.

  9. An excellent piece of work.

  10. You came across well James. Not overly confident or dogmatic in your presentation and giving the viewer the chance to draw their own conclusions. My conclusion is, the polling companies are floundering about in a darkened room, but trying to give the impression they have it all taped and they know what the Scottish electorate are thinking . They don't have a clue.

  11. Thought you pussyfooted too much about just how innaccurate the 'official' polls are. And you didn't hammer home the fact that in polls before the event they have never been right for any major Scottish vote.

    Disappointed too that you didn't mention canvassing, newspaper, social media and straw polls at public meetings and elsewhere. Yes, these polls have flaws but I doubt they have as many flaws as the 'official' polls. And they ARE interviewing a much broader section of the electorate.

    1. If you go by social media Yes will win by 90-10. However I am not sure that even the most optimistic Yesser believes that the result is going to be closer to 90-10 than it is to the 50-50 results suggested by the polls...

  12. Why is it never pointed out that opinion polls only give the opinion of the folk that the the polling company ask? They have the power to ask whatever group they want.
    Maybe i'm stupid, but if you ask a group of folk that are mostly No, then you will get a No majority.

  13. Fantastic documentary James, really fascinating stuff.

  14. Excellent observations James - a lot to think about - for those who still have to make their mind up, that is.

  15. Thought you pussyfooted too much about just how innaccurate the 'official' polls are. And you didn't hammer home the fact that in polls before the event they have never been right for any major Scottish vote.

    You what? Just off the top off my head, they predicted the correct winner in 2007 and 2011. Are you only considering them "right" if they predict the exact result for each party to the percentage point?

  16. @keaton
    This is a Referendum not an election. 'Parties' aren't involved .Two campaigns are. 'They' don't have a scooby how it will eventually turn out. I can see both sides going into Referendum day neck and neck in the polls or within a percentage point.
    If they do 'Yes' will win. All your huffing and puffing will come to nought.

  17. @David
    I was asking James Coleman to justify his statement that the polls have never been right in any major Scottish vote. It seemed to me he was making the very mistake James (Kelly) warns against in the video - thinking that the polls have no value whatsoever.

    Not sure what your reply has to do with any of that. But I agree that the referendum is more difficult to predict than normal elections because of the lack of precedent.

  18. If the polls said that The SNP would win by 5% and they won by 15% then the polls were wrong. Saying, "Oh but they predicted the winner", is a load of shite worthy of mcternan, mcdougall and the rest of the loathsome scum infesting the Anti-Scotland campaign.

  19. @keaton

    I realise that, but the polls only showed the true position close to the vote. They had to tell the truth or they would have looked stupid. Glad you agreed about the the nature of the poll and the polling companies inability to find their arse in the dark in regards to this very unusual vote. No harm intended.

  20. I liked the bit at the end...

    When the Scottish People are offered more power.. they take it

  21. David

    The polling companies consistently put the SNP in the lead throughout April and May before the 2011 election. If what you say is correct then surely they would have tried to show Labour in the lead until closer to the election? (Also worth noting that their final polls were pretty spot-on in relation to the Constituency vote.)

    The notion that polling companies are trying to falsify the result is preposterous. Yes - polling companies do make mistakes. But those mistakes tend to be the result of cock-ups, rather than conspiracies.

  22. @Edinburgh Phil

    As I recollect it was pretty much neck and neck in the last few weeks despite on the ground/doorstep returns pointing towards a landslide for the SNP. So much so that the SNP hierarchy didn't truly believe the returns they were receiving from the campaign workers and were actually shocked at how well they had done.
    This is way more important than a Holyrood election. If the MSM can casually lie I wouldn't put it by their creatures in the polling department to do the same.
    This is that important to the well being of the British State that anything is possible.

  23. James,
    a very good article - Kellner effect was very interesting and Alistair Darlings use of these polls as evidence that the Yes vote had not changed in years was very revealing.
    I do not believe the polls and we will see what the result will be on the 19th.

    You could have mentioned the UK gov mega polls and the information not being released from these - that is quite important.

    Thanks for your articles and this film They are a major boost the Indy campaign.

  24. By the 9th of April the snp where 10 points in front, that's almost a month before the election. Next poll was three point gap then every other one was double figures. So the polling companies did see it coming, the Labour Party did not!

  25. I see there is an Independence question in the regular Independent on Sunday UK wide poll. The Scottish sample has Yes in the lead.

  26. A truly professional and informative documentary James.

    My congratulations and I shall be recommending it and advising those I know in the campaign to view it.

    My only differences with the analysis is one of degree.

    Polling does indeed have an insidious influence in driving public opinion as well as measure it. Or to be more precise, it used to have a big influence. Not now. Now the influence polling has in driving opinion is minimal. The reason the polling is so very visible is the same reason why it is now failing to drive opinion greatly. Because it is being used as the main propaganda arm of the No campaign by the unionist press and media as you so astutely point out.

    That press and media is massively distrusted by the scottish public and it's already waning influence just keeps diminishing year by year, month by month, week by week.

    Which also brings me to the other point which you outlined well but only for one side. The opinion polls are the campaign, but for the No side, not for Yes.

    Rest assured the SNP has learned the lessons from 2007 and 2011 even if labour and No have not. The 'advantage' in having a rabidly unionist press and media as a cheerleader is completely overshadowed by having a strong grass roots campaign which builds up in strength over years and culminates in the final weeks of a campaign.

    Right now on the ground there is an incredibly motivated and powerful grass roots and activist base measuring the temperature of the scottish public through canvassing, leafleting on the street and on the doorsteps, attending big local events and organising town hall style meetings all over scotland right up until polling day.

    I've been helping on the ground as much as time allows so I can tell you right now that we aren't dealing with the exact same kind of reports that were so at odds with the polling and heralded the 2011 landslide. If anything it's a greater disparity than even that was.

    If you haven't yet attended a Yes meeting or event then do so and you shall soon see. The chasm between what the unionist press and some pollsters are spinning and the reality on the ground is truly immense.

    The canvassing is correct. The polls are still fumbling in the dark. The polls simply have not yet caught up with the reality on the ground and it's doubtful they will or can at this late stage.

    For the avoidance of doubt the polls were not accurate in 2011 even at the very end. scottish_skier has laid out in detail where and how they were deeply flawed many times before on SCOTgoesPOP and I'm sure he can do so again if need be. Those were also scottish elections where a past record of polling against results should have ensured
    minimal disparities yet they clearly did not.

    What chance then for the pollsters to be providing truly accurate snapshots on something as untested and unique as the Independence referendum? Something James informative video lays out all too clearly.

    The polls are still of some use for trends over extended periods and a very broad picture, as long as you factor in the very telling differences between all the different pollsters. However, it is crystal clear that their limitations, even as a a snapshot of public opinion in scotland, are all too apparent. Nor is the hysterical shrieking by the distrusted unionist press and media over the polling doing anything other than reinforcing that they simply can not be relied on for the full and true picture.

    The groundswell on the ground is beginning to snowball. The signs are very visible for those willing to see for themselves. These final weeks will see real panic breaking out in the No campaign as that groundswell starts to filter through past the unionist dominated press and media.

  27. Excellent - good job

  28. Really enjoyed the documentary, James, well done. It was fascinating, can't believe the telly isn't producing things like this themselves, they really are missing out on a piece of interesting social history by ignoring the yes side of the campaign, thank goodness for the internet bringing us these things.

    And another thing, no one can watch this and then go back to claiming that prof Curtice is impartial and giving the full story, you really show him up, James, shame on him.

    Finally, I would love to see you on the telly alongside the prof, giving your opinion too. You are a far more charismatic presence than he is, very erudite yet you explain things in a really easy to understand way. Shame on the telly for ignoring other informed voices.

    Thanks again for your very important contribution to the indyref.

  29. You've nothing to fear, James.

    Professional and informative.

    Proud as punch of you.

  30. @Marcia

    Modestly sized (170) subset from Comres

    How favourable or unfavourable are you towards each of the following?

    Independence for Scotland

    45% Favourable
    36% Unfavourable
    9% Neither
    11% DK

    Now that's not the Y/N question, but might be an indicator of leanings. It's also a subset so normal caveats apply.

    36% unfavourable is not far from long term historical No values too.

    What might make it less suspicious is that we also have Westminster VI:

    20% Con
    29% Lab
    6% Lib
    37% SNP

    With SNP on 3% of the national Total.

    So, not very SNP at all (they've been getting into the 40's and 4% of the national total quite regularly) and Tories a tad on the high side. Certainly lower than running averages for the SNP.

    And whether people are favourable to Alex Salmond:

    36% Favourable
    40% Unfavourable

    Which is the opposite of Scotland-wide polls and suggests our small Scottish sample isn't very SNP / Salmond friendly.


    Noticeable that YouGov are the last to notice the landslide approaching.

  32. I hear that Survation polled the over 65's and got a No. Wow - ground-breaking.

    So that was women (who are being rather polite), then the over 65's.

    What next, homes in close proximity to Ibrox?

  33. Wow.

    Survation had a huge problem getting Scottish women to answer their poll.

    I've never seen such a large female up-weighing (435 to 634 so ~20% of the female sample 'invented'). It's particularly odd given older women are the easiest group for pollsters to reach. Also, women live longer than men so there's more of them.

    Also, standard need to up-weight Yes from the unweighted based consistent with an inability to reach Yes voters.

    They're still not asking CoB either which is a pity as I'd bet you'd find that, as per all other polls, Scottish people are refusing to answer in large numbers, particularly women.

    Oh and LOL, the SNP/nationalist heartlands of the H&I / NE are giving a huge No. Also some more pro-union areas giving a narrow Yes. That's hilarious.

    Aye, same standard pattern that we are seeing in all polls. The more they've needed to invent views due to a lack of willing Scottish respondents, the lower the Yes / higher the No.

  34. Again, excellent info from James.

  35. Excellent documentary, measured, persuasive and fair. Interesting too. (And as everyone knows I am No.).

    It never moved beyond the scrupulously accurate though James you seem to hint Kellner is consciously partisan in his polling ( though I know you resisted the word biased) which I might question. I am quite sure he thinks he is being fair and that any opinion he has is not influencing his judgement as a pollster. You argue persuasively he should not have called the result but I suppose he might say, why not? Did not Nate Silver do much the same thing in the last US election? Many contributors to this site do it every day too though they are not pollsters it's true. It is of course incredibly high risk if you are wrong or even a bit wrong.

    The point in the documentary about Cameron screwing up Devo Max is highly persuasive and I agree it showed a feeble misunderstanding on his part which may yet go down as one of the great errors of UK political history (though I hope as a close call not a terminal one). It is that kind of misunderstanding of Scotland which has led to this. As has agreeing to such an endless campaign, another complacent error.

    Well done.

  36. PS Why was the location 'top secret'? Joke?

  37. PS Why was the location 'top secret'? Joke?

  38. PS Why was the location 'top secret'? Joke?

  39. tripled thanks to forgetting not to keep pushing when nothing appears.

  40. @Mick Pork

    It's fascinating how the most nationalist areas of Scotland, the places that gave birth to the SNP and gave them a huge share of the vote in 2011, are currently telling pollsters they're the most rapid No. With a wee wink that is.

    Happening across Scotland if the polls are to be believed, but particularly obvious in the nat heartlands. You see it happening varyingly since 2007 in response to the intensity of screaming at Scotland from the British state.

    BT are going to get a fright when this phenomena stops and people start being truthful.

    That's what happened in 2011 at the last minute. It was not a swing from Labour to SNP, it was a swing from white lies to honesty.

    1. Although to be fair SNP areas often have Conservatives in second which could account for the high level if No support.

  41. Had a few messages about this. I thought I better clarify that the final point in the film was my view and not James'.
    'When the Scottish People are given the chance for more power...they take it."
    Who 'they' are is open to interpretation.

  42. @scottish_skier

    Indeed. It stretches credibility to complete and utter breaking point for anyone to believe that is even remotely close to the true picture from SNP heartlands like that.

    Though I should have been clearer myself, if only to emphasise how incredible some of the polling seems to those of us working on the ground.

    I'm not working SNP heartland areas, I'm operating west coast scotland/glasgow in and around some of THE most RED heartland labour areas there were.

    True, they have been eroded mightily but be in no doubt, if you want to find the classic generational labour vote it's still here.

    That's why the response on the ground is so fucking startling. Sure, we're getting some of the orange order/rangers bampots trying to make trouble every now and then but they're basically all but an irrelevance now.

    Most of the ordinary members of the public though, they've had enough. They are not best pleased with decades of westminster rule, while incompetent westminster tory rule is proving to be as effective in reminding scots the true price of a No vote as we thought it would be. Something which is also cracking a great many heartlands labour voters.

    The best places to see the bizarre disparity and chasm between what some polling and what the unionist press and 'better together' are spinning are some of the many festivals and local events that draw out huge crowds in scotland. Those even 'better together' cannot ignore so they have their own stalls set up while Yes obviously do. Watch both for half an hour to and that's enough to show you the true picture. Working on one for a day will eradicate all thoughts that No are anything like where the most No friendly pollsters claim they are. It's that stark and that obvious.

    I said the polls simply have not yet caught up with the reality on the ground and it's doubtful they will or can at this late stage. Doubtful but not impossible. We shall see soon enough but the No campaign are utterly delusional if they truly believe they have it in the bag or that the Yes campaign will lose heart at a couple of mickey mouse polls. It's way too late for that.

    One of the most encouraging phenomena for Yes campaigners is not even the incredible response from the public at events but ordinary men and women just walking into Yes shops and meetings saying "I need to do something. How can I help?" It's happening all the time now and these are most definitely NOT hardcore SNP activists but scottish members of the public turning up to help leaflet and help at events. The only recent time I can remember that was even close to this type of engagement was during the invasion of Iraq. Even that level of political awareness was not as strong as what we are seeing now. There might be political apathy in No but you will find none in the Yes campaign. I strongly doubt the No campaign have given anything like enough serious thought to how they GOTV in these circumstances. Again, something labour should have learned from 2007 and 2011 but still appear not to have.

    BIG mistake.

  43. I have enjoyed reading your posts for a long time. I have never commented.

    The video covered a wide range of relevant issues and tied up the present to the past. An excellent piece of work.

  44. News reaches me that the shrieking from the out of touch tory twats on PB is at earsplitting levels again while some of the most comical and witless PB idiots somehow don't appear to have realised that the canvassing has been going on for years so new results are being compared to the older ones.

    Nor does anyone have to take my experiences on the ground on trust alone. Rest assured though, I have no need to lie nor would I. I'm reporting my campaign experiences honestly. Though I of course realise honesty and trust will be something utterly incomprehensible to the revolting herd on on PB, led as it is by the tory moderator TSE who lied about his own child dying to try and welch on a bet.

    Do some basic research before you start bleating about 'mere' anecdotal evidence. The canvass results and the view from the ground campaign are NO secret. The incredibly busy Independence focused sites (and indeed just twitter and google) will provide anyone with ample and irrefutable proof that my experiences from the campaign are anything but unusual for those of us on the Yes side.

    Nor is this a one off. Far from it. It's pretty laughable to pretend all of us working on the campaign are lying or mere amateurs since those of us in the SNP helped deliver a crushing landslide win for our party a mere three years ago. Again, the view from the ground campaign was dismissed back then by the same out of touch twits who are utterly clueless about scottish politics. Let's face it, these twits have about as much in common with scotland's working classes and ordinary voters as the incompetent fops Cameron and Osborne, so it's hardly a huge surprise.


    I'm campaigning again today and I will be joined by plenty of dedicated scots who know just a bit more about our Independence Referendum than clueless westminster bubble imbeciles.

    Hilariously, PB is again trying to pretend the bookies know best after the pasting they took in 2011. It's pretty fucking telling that there are no serious posters on betting anymore on PB when the most basic and salient point about where the big bets are taking place is being ignored.

  45. Great work James - very clear and nicely understated - and good filming by Phantom Power. I could hazard a guess as to where it's been filmed, but not in public!

  46. Excellent film. Sets everything out in a very clear and non-patronising way. Have shared it as much as I can.

  47. Interestingly, Comres have chosen the audience for tonight's debate.