Saturday, April 12, 2014

What Better Together would be saying about their YouGov poll if they had just taken a truth drug

What Better Together actually said : This latest poll, which saw 1148 adults surveyed in Scotland between 8 and 11 April 2014, also confirms a drop in support for separation compared to a recent YouGov poll that showed 37% of those surveyed in favour of leaving the UK compared to 52% who backed remaining in the UK.

What Better Together would say after the truth drug : OK, we're trying it on a bit here. We're making an entirely spurious comparison with a poll that asked the real referendum question, whereas our own poll forced people to make a straight choice between independence and an option of enhanced devolution that will not be on the ballot paper in September. (And to be frank, we were a bit taken aback by how resilient support for independence was in the face of our leading question - it was almost as high as in YouGov's real referendum poll.) The most recent poll that can be considered roughly comparable to ours was one that we commissioned in December, and a comparison between the two shows that underlying support for independence has risen by 6% over the last four months, very much in line with the trend shown by YouGov in their real referendum polls.

Independence 35% (+6)
More powers 57% (-5)*
Don't Know 8% (-1)

* The December figure of 62% was made up of combined support for more powers and no change.

* * *

What Better Together actually said : This latest YouGov poll also reveals that two-thirds of the Scottish population are clear about the implications of a vote to leave the UK, suggesting that nationalist arguments that as people learn more about separation they are more likely to vote Yes is bogus and baseless.

What Better Together would say after the truth drug : OK, we're insulting your intelligence a bit here. A large number of the people who say they are clear about the implications of independence are likely to be people who are already planning to vote Yes. The argument that the Yes campaign is actually making is that No voters are less likely to have clarity in their minds than Yes voters, and are likely to move to Yes as they become better informed. So what matters on this question is not the results for the overall population, but a comparison between the figures for Yes voters and No voters. Unfortunately, we've made it impossible to make that direct comparison, because we didn't bother asking the real referendum question in our poll, meaning that we can't separate out Yes and No voters in the sample. However, what we could have done as a second-best option is provide a breakdown of results on the 'clarity' question based on whether people prefer enhanced devolution to independence, or vice versa. Mysteriously, we failed to do that - it must have been an innocent oversight. (No, no, don't increase the dose!)

* * *

What Better Together actually said : A YouGov survey of 1,148 Scottish adults, on behalf of Better Together, found that 59% of people in Scotland believe that the SNP should not seek another referendum in the future if people in Scotland vote No in September. In a blow to Alex Salmond, 37% of SNP voters do not want another referendum.

What Better Together would say after the truth drug : Well, it might be a blow to him if he had any intention of holding another referendum in the event of a No vote, but what he has actually said is that this referendum will settle matters for "a generation", meaning that by the time a second referendum became even a possibility, he would have long since retired and left the matters for others to decide. Incidentally, that's why we didn't specify any timescale in the wording of our poll question - it was intended to make people think about what should happen in the short-to-medium-term after a No vote, and yet still allow us to spin the responses as a verdict on what should happen in the long-term as well. If we'd directly asked people whether it would be reasonable to hold another referendum after 20 or 25 years, we'd have got a very different response.

* * *

What Better Together actually said : This poll comes just a day after a YouGov survey of over 1100 Scots found that support for separation has dropped to 35%, whilst those backing further devolution within the UK now stands at 57%.

What Better Together would say after the truth drug : Well, we've already 'fessed up to the fact that yesterday's poll actually showed a 6% increase in support for independence, not a decrease. And incidentally, "yesterday's YouGov survey" is exactly the same one as today's. Our decision to release this particular bit of the poll comes just a day after our decision to release another bit of the poll. That's just the way us crazy guys roll.

* * *

What Better Together actually said : SNP should ditch separation.

What Better Together would say after the truth drug : For everyone's sake we should really stop conjuring up such challenging mental images. Where will it all end? After the SNP have finished ditching separation, will we call on them to crush vacancy, and pulverise abstraction?

Sagacity on Saturday : A Non-Sagacity Special

"A world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for all of us."

Said by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I'm not making this up - she had honestly convinced herself the world was LESS dangerous as a result of the existence of weapons capable of wiping out most of the human race within a matter of minutes.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Poll commissioned by anti-independence campaign backfires catastrophically, with almost as many people backing independence even when confronted with a leading question

One day, very very soon, we're going to start calling a brass neck a 'McDougall'. Just 24 hours after mocking the Yes campaign for using a supposedly leading question in their Panelbase poll (which, incidentally, was merely a supplementary question that was asked AFTER the real referendum question), the anti-independence camp's embarrassment of a campaign chief has brazenly published a poll in which the real referendum question was replaced lock, stock and barrel by a leading and entirely hypothetical one asking whether people would prefer independence or a devolved parliament with enhanced powers (as opposed to the status quo that is actually on offer in exchange for a No vote). It's always been assumed that such a question would produce an entirely different result, given that a number of Yes voters are really Devo Max supporters who are plumping for their second preference. So there must have been profound shock over at McDougall Central when the numbers from YouGov came back looking like this -

If you had to choose one or the other, which of the following would you prefer for Scotland?

Scotland becoming an independent country : 35%

Scotland remaining part of the UK with increased powers for the Scottish Parliament : 57%

The support for independence is just TWO PER CENT lower than when YouGov posed the actual referendum question a couple of weeks ago, and the support for more devolution is just FIVE PER CENT higher than the No vote in that poll (although of course opposition to independence and support for enhanced devolution are far from being the same thing). This suggests that underlying support for independence has considerably deepened.

Why on Earth have they willingly published such catastrophic findings? It seems that after a run of polling setbacks, bad really is the new good for the No campaign.

(PS.  Can we now look forward to John Curtice referring to YouGov as "the No campaign's favourite pollster"?  Fair's fair.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

YouGov continues to cynically mislead its own respondents - but still finds a DECREASE in English opposition to a currency union with an independent Scotland

Terribly mysterious thing, this - Blair McDougall has decided to ignore the results of a new poll showing his anti-independence campaign are within a mere 3% swing of losing the referendum, and instead seems much more interested in the results of a YouGov poll that excluded everyone who actually has a vote in the referendum, ie. it's a poll of voters who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Now, as I've said before, YouGov have their faults but they're not blithering idiots - so they must know perfectly well that, as a matter of straightforward legal fact, it simply would not be possible for the rest of the UK to deny Scotland the use of the pound after independence. The only conclusion it's possible to draw from the way these two questions are worded, therefore, is that YouGov have consciously and cynically decided to mislead their English respondents. The first question implies that a rejection of a formal currency union would be exactly the same thing as the utterly impossible "prevention of Scotland from using the pound" (it isn't the same thing), and the second question implies that usage of the pound on an informal basis would not be available as a possible "Plan B" if a formal currency union is rejected (it would be available).

It's amusing to note that in spite of these heroic efforts to bolster the UK government's propaganda campaign, YouGov have still managed to uncover a slight DECREASE in English opposition to a currency union since they asked the question at the time of George Osborne's speech.

If Scotland did become independent, would you support or oppose it continuing to use the pound as its currency?

Support 26% (n/c)
Oppose 53% (-2)

Suppose an independent Scotland is not able to use the pound as its currency. Do you think Scotland does or does not have a Plan B for a currency?

Does 18%
Does not 52%

As the second question makes about as much logical sense as enquiring which of your seven feet you most like to kick footballs with, the results are quite literally irrelevant. In the highly unlikely event that a Plan B is required, we know that it is likely to involve retaining the pound in some form or another - either literally, or by pegging a nominally independent currency to sterling.

Much more interesting is the finding that a paltry 8% of respondents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland think they would be financially better off if Scotland became independent. It seems that deep down, voters south of the border do have a sense that London media mythology about resource-rich Scotland being "subsidised" is probably garbage.

Two new referendum polls put support for independence at the heady heights of 47% and 44%

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?

*  *  *


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)


Yes 44.6% (-0.2)
No 55.4% (+0.2)


Yes 45.0% (-0.4)
No 55.0% (+0.4)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : The biggest 'known unknown' is that we know we're going to be wrong sometimes, but don't know when

"I believe...that while all human life is sacred there's nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system."

Fantasy author Neil Gaiman, in his novel 'American Gods'. Although in all honesty I'd still be opposed to state murder even if I could be 100% sure that every criminal conviction in known history was sound.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

More details from today's Panelbase poll

Many thanks to Oldnat for pointing me in the direction of the datasets for today's Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland poll, which have been published unusually early, and which answer all the questions I raised in my previous post.  I'm relieved to find that Panelbase have stuck with their new, more neutral preamble for a third time in a row, although it remains to be seen whether they will continue with that good practice the next time they are commissioned by an anti-independence client.  The headline numbers were filtered by likelihood to vote, so are directly comparable with recent Panelbase polls - which is good news for me, because it means I won't have to recalculate the Poll of Polls figures!  And the fieldwork was conducted between the 28th of March and the 4th of April, which means that the hammerblow that the No campaign suffered on the 29th of March with the leak in the Guardian is not wholly factored into the numbers.  A large number of people are likely to have responded to the poll as soon as email invitations were sent out on the 28th.

Here are the figures from the poll down to one decimal place, with Don't Knows excluded -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 47.2% (+0.2)
No 52.8% (-0.2)

And with Don't Knows included, it's...

Yes 40.8% (+0.8)
No 45.6% (+0.4)

So on these more precise figures, the No lead has actually fallen fractionally since the last Panelbase poll for Newsnet Scotland.

Much has been made of the big gender gap in this poll, but as the Newsnet Scotland poll was unusual for showing a small gender gap, it's probably reasonable to assume that normal sampling variation is at play, and that the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.

It's also fascinating to see RevStu on Twitter mentioning a rumour that a trade union recently commissioned a referendum poll from No-friendly outliers Ipsos-Mori, but withheld the results after they turned out to be better than expected for Yes.  Obviously it's impossible to know whether there's any truth in that, but if there is it would, if anything, be an even more significant development than today's poll.  Ipsos-Mori are of course the only firm conducting referendum polls by telephone (they're also one of only two non-online referendum pollsters), so the fact that they've been producing much better results for No has been a crucial comfort blanket for the anti-independence campaign.  But if that blanket was ever suddenly snatched away...