Saturday, June 7, 2014

Populus poll : Most Scots think they would regret voting against independence

The mist has cleared somewhat on the Populus poll that we heard the early details of last night, and there's plenty in it that will be of huge concern to the anti-independence campaign. It turns out to have been an online poll, which in a sense is disappointing, because the results would have had even more impact if the fieldwork had been conducted by telephone. Unfortunately, the Scottish figures are definitely from the subsample of a GB-wide poll - I had been hoping that the sample size of 6000 might mean that there was a relatively even three-way split between Scottish, English and Welsh respondents, each separately weighted (as happened in a recent YouGov poll), but that's not the case. However, a raw Scottish sample of 547 is certainly big enough to be taken somewhat more seriously than a typical subsample.  Indeed, aficionados of James Mackenzie will probably be thinking that the margin of error for a subsample like this is 4.2% at the absolute most (especially if the results are good for the Greens!), but in reality the margin of error is incalculable unless proper weightings have been applied.

Unusually, we're given a demographic breakdown for the Scottish subsample, and the numbers don't look too far off-beam. There are slightly too many men, but that won't have made much difference. With it being a GB-wide poll, the figures haven't been weighted by 2011 past vote recall, and haven't been filtered by likelihood to vote. Both of those procedures tend to favour Yes more often than not, so the fact that such a good result has been produced without them being applied is extremely encouraging.

One of the stock excuses emanating from No supporters last night was that the real referendum question hadn't been asked in this poll. Amusingly, it turns out that this makes it even worse for them, because the question actually asked is far more pejorative about independence than the referendum question is (lots of references to "leaving" or "remaining in" the UK), and yet it still produced a Yes-friendly result.

On September 18th a referendum takes place in Scotland on the question of whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom or leave the UK and become an independent country. What do you hope the result will be? (Respondents in Scotland only)

I hope that Scotland votes to remain part of the United Kingdom : 47.3%

I hope that Scotland votes to leave the UK and become an independent country : 40.2%

I don't have a strong view either way : 12.6%

When those who don't have a strong view are stripped out, this is the result -

"Remain" : 54.1%

"Leave" : 45.9%

If anything, though, it's the supplementary questions that will be causing the No campaign the greatest alarm. A number of them force undecided respondents to make a straight choice, and it appears that on most occasions those people are breaking more towards the Yes-friendly position. For example, this question on the economy produces a closer result than the headline question -

An independent Scotland would be economically stronger than the rest of the UK : 47.7%

The rest of the UK would be economically stronger than an independent Scotland : 52.3%

Anti-independence commentators always used to ask : "What is the problem to which independence is the solution?" One of the key answers to that question proposed by the Yes campaign is the divergence in Scotland's political culture from the rest of the UK, leading us to get governments we didn't vote for most of the time. It appears that the majority of people in Scotland recognise that this reflects the reality of the situation -

Scotland has distinct and different values from the rest of the UK, especially England : 57.6%

Scotland has the same or similar values as the rest of the UK, including England : 42.4%

Interestingly, this is a rare example of a question where even a significant minority of English respondents agree with the Yes-friendly statement - 41% of those in England think that Scotland has different values (David Aaronovitch will be enraged by their disgraceful "othering" of the Scots!).

The question that will be causing the most panic over at McDougall Central is the one asking whether respondents think Scots would regret voting for independence, or would regret voting to stay in the UK. To me, this looks like quite a useful proxy question for underlying voting intention, because when polling day comes into view, the visualisation of future regrets is going to be the factor that makes up a lot of minds.  Remember, these figures are from the Scottish subsample only -

Five years from now, most Scots will regret it if they have voted to become an independent country : 49.9%

Five years from now, most Scots will regret it if they have voted to stay part of the UK : 50.1%

Crikey. That says it all.

There's also a question asking what people think the result of the referendum will be. There was a similar poll conducted a few months ago that found that Scots were actually somewhat less likely than people in the rest of the UK to think there would be a Yes vote. That position has now been reversed, perhaps indicating that the people closest to the action have noticed the narrowing of the opinion polls. However, the majority still expect a No vote, which is understandable given that No still have an opinion poll lead as of this moment.

Respondents are asked which other part of the UK they feel closest to in terms of outlook. Stupidly, Wales and the southwest of England are lumped together, and Northern Ireland isn't included at all, so the results for Scottish respondents are probably completely misleading -

North of England : 67.3%

Wales and the South-West : 18.5%

The Midlands* : 7.1%

London and the South-East : 7.1%

* Please note that the Midlands refers to the area around Birmingham, and tragically not to Rory Stewart's "the Middleland".

For my money, if there had been a separate option for Wales, it would have been a close run thing between our Celtic cousins and the North of England. Tellingly, no part of England feels a close affinity to Scotland - the north of the country feels much closer to the Midlands (50%) than to us (30%). Across England as a whole, just 15% feel closest to Scotland. So the scope for an authentic "love-bombing" campaign does seem rather limited.

This poll is also distinguished by having what is probably the most biased, leading and tortuously-worded question that we've seen in the campaign so far. I don't know how anyone in the unionist media will have the nerve to complain about SNP-commissioned polls in the future after this little effort -

Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists say that the Pound belongs just as much to Scotland as to the rest of UK and, therefore, that if Scotland votes to become an independent country, they will continue to use the Pound as their currency, retaining the Bank of England as Scotland's Central Bank and lender of last resort.  This would mean that in the event of a financial crisis affecting an independent Scotland, the Bank of England would step in and taxpayers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would have to bear some of the cost. For this reason the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have said they couldn't agree to let an independent Scotland use the Pound and retain the Bank of England as its Central Bank. If Scotland votes to become an independent country, would you support or oppose Scotland continuing to use the Pound as its currency and retaining the Bank of England as its Central Bank and lender of last resort?

Hmmm.  It's hard not to form the impression that they were a bit scared that a straight "Do you support a currency union?" question might not produce the desired result.

Friday, June 6, 2014

UPDATED : Populus puts support for independence at 46% - but is it an unweighted Scottish subsample, or a full-scale poll?

Thanks to Marcia on the previous thread for pointing out that the SNP's Twitter feed is reporting that a new Populus poll in the morning will show the following figures once Don't Knows are excluded -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46%
No 54%

We apparently won't be given any more details until the morning.  A number of questions have already formed in my mind about the poll, and until we know the answers it'll be impossible to assess just how big a breakthrough this is for the Yes campaign -

1)  Was this an SNP internal poll?  The only reason for thinking it might be is that it was the SNP who broke the news.  There isn't necessarily any problem if it was, as long as the referendum question was asked first and without any leading preambles.  Certainly the last SNP-commissioned Panelbase poll was given a clean bill of health by Professor Curtice, but we'd have to wait and see.

2)  Was this a telephone or online poll?  It could be either, because Populus regularly conduct polls by both methods.  If it was a telephone poll, this would be the biggest moment of the campaign so far, suggesting that the Yes campaign are on the brink of victory.  Even if it was an online poll (which is probably the more likely scenario), it would mean that Populus are very much slotting in at the Yes-friendly end of the spectrum, and would replicate the last Panelbase poll which also put Yes at 46%.

3)  Is the fieldwork bang up to date?  If so, it might be another straw in the wind suggesting that the impact of the European elections was positive for Yes (although we can't possibly know that for sure until one of the more regular pollsters put in another appearance).

As long as there was no funny business with this poll, and assuming it is a genuine referendum poll (ie. not a proxy question that actually asks about something slightly different, or a hypothetical question about how people would vote in certain circumstances), then I'll be adding it to the Poll of Polls, because Populus are members of the British Polling Council.  However, I won't be able to do it until we get the headline numbers in the morning.

UPDATE : Alas, it appears this was merely the results from the Scottish subsample of a GB-wide poll - the one obvious possibility I didn't consider. Looks like a false alarm, although it'll still be interesting to see what the sample size in Scotland was, what the exact question was, and whether the fieldwork was online or conducted by telephone.

UPDATE 2 : It's just been pointed out to me that the GB-wide sample for the poll is an unusually high 6000, which means that the Scottish sample is likely to be big enough to be statistically credible - as long as it was properly weighted.  We'll probably have to wait a while to find out whether it was.  Sorry for the confusion, but this is as clear as mud at the moment!

UPDATE 3 : The No camp's embarrassment of a campaign chief Blair McDougall is doing his customary trolling routine on Twitter -

"Interesting to see which populus poll the SNP talking about. The one I've seen doesn't actually ask voting intention."

Which is highly likely in a GB-wide poll, because English and Welsh respondents can hardly be asked for their voting intention. However, it's perfectly clear from the report in the Financial Times that some kind of question approximating to yes/no for independence (or for "staying in the union") was asked, which means that it's a hell of a lot closer to being a voting intention poll than the absurd poll about youth finances a week or two back (which may even have been conducted via Survey Monkey!) which McDougall was happy to claim indicated opposition to independence.

It looks like I won't be able to add this poll to the Poll of Polls, but if by any chance it turns out to be a weighted sample of about 500 people in Scotland, it's still a pretty significant result.


It almost seems absurd to home in on this relatively minor detail from an epically offensive article from Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph, but I'll do it anyway -

"The Union does not, yet, look in mortal danger. Barack Obama's hopes for a "united" Britain are likely to be answered; the Yes campaign, which was level pegging seven weeks ago, is now 18 points behind."

Er, nope. The poll showing the Yes campaign 18 points behind (actually it was more like 17 points on the unrounded numbers) was of course this week's Ipsos-Mori poll, which in fact showed the No lead at its lowest level of the campaign so far by some distance. Since the previous Ipsos-Mori poll three months ago, the No lead has plummeted by 7.2% - meaning that almost a full one-third of the gap has been wiped out. The point being that Ipsos-Mori are consistently the most No-friendly of the six BPC-affiliated pollsters.  All of the polls showing Yes at almost level-pegging have been ICM and Panelbase polls, which use a completely different methodology from Ipsos-Mori and are therefore not comparable.

If it was anyone else but Fraser Nelson making such a silly statement (with the possible exception of a certain Cornish sex memoirist), I'd assume he understood the reality of the situation perfectly well and was just indulging in propaganda. But I must admit it's perfectly conceivable that Nelson genuinely doesn't have a clue.

He also gives another outing to the hoary old myth that there is polling evidence that Scotland's schoolchildren (including 16 and 17 year olds who will have the vote for the first time) are opposed to independence. This seems to be entirely based on Jan Eichhorn's Edinburgh University research that has been so comprehensively discredited. As it happens, that research has just been updated and shows a mammoth 8% swing to Yes among young people since last year. Whether that swing is genuine depends on whether Eichhorn's team have got their act together and corrected the almost laughable No-friendly nature of their sampling - if they have, then obviously the figures will not be directly comparable. But if the methodology is identical to last year's survey, the No campaign have good reason to be deeply concerned. And that's notwithstanding this piece of unintentional comic genius from my popular MSP namesake -

"Under 18s poll from Edinburgh University has NO 64% YES 36%. That was before Obama endorsement of the UK staying united."

Which is right up there with -

"And this poll was BEFORE John Barrowman put on a Scottish accent and called Alex Salmond fat."

The headline figures are of course utterly meaningless - there's no way on Earth that 16 and 17 year olds are almost 2-1 against independence, because if they were, credible polling companies like Ipsos-Mori would not be routinely finding the Yes campaign either ahead or only slightly behind with 16-24 year olds.

In case you're wondering what was so offensive about Nelson's article more broadly, it's encapsulated in this passage -

"A similar artists’ bus party was convened before the 1997 devolution referendum – and, back then, I was sold. The argument, then, was simple: countries are best governed by people living in the country, not those living in another country. Alex Salmond is making the same, calm, common-sense proposition now – but with one big difference. It is demonstrably untrue."

It doesn't get more explicit than that - Nelson is arguing for a No vote because Scotland is better off being governed by people who live in another country. His explanation is that the Scottish electorate have time and time again voted against right-wing Blairite and/or Thatcherite "solutions" to the country's problems in policy areas that are covered by devolution - a pattern which would automatically extend to everything else if we were independent. This is not so much a "too wee, too poor, too stupid" argument as it is a plain old "too stupid" argument - we can't trust ourselves to vote Tory, therefore the only solution is for us to contract out our choice of government to a country that can be trusted to impose the Tories on us. But the million dollar question is : are we stupid enough to make that decision even though Nelson has just spelled out the supposed logic for doing so with quite such brutal honesty?

* * *

I see that the UK government have ignored Rev Stuart Campbell's FOI request to be told whether the results of the notorious secret Ipsos-Mori mega-poll were shared with the No campaign. It seems to me the biggest issue here is that both campaigns need to conduct private polling, which costs good money - and that ought to be coming out of the campaign funds. If the UK government are effectively saving the No campaign £50,000 by funding a poll with taxpayers' money and then passing the results on to McDougall Central, that is (not to put too fine a point on it) absolutely bloody outrageous. I keep thinking back to Gary Gibbon's knowing remarks a few weeks ago about how Better Together were characterising the results of "their" much larger-scale private polling - was that in fact the UK government's mega-poll?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

SNP retain commanding Holyrood lead over Labour in Ipsos-Mori poll

I was beginning to wonder if the Holyrood numbers from this week's Ipsos-Mori poll were ever going to appear, but they've finally turned up a day later than expected. They show the SNP retaining exactly the same 9-point lead over Labour that was reported in the poll three months ago, with the SNP vote creeping up by 1%.

SNP 39% (+1)
Labour 30% (+1)
Conservatives 14% (-3)
Greens 5% (+3)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-4)
UKIP 4% (+1)

We're in an odd situation at the moment where I don't find myself instantly celebrating a handsome lead for the SNP, because what I'm most preoccupied with is the implications for the accuracy of referendum polling. In some ways it would be better if Ipsos-Mori - the most No-friendly of all the credible pollsters - were showing the SNP miles behind Labour, because then we could point to the disconnect between the poll and the European election results as an obvious reason for suspecting the firm is overstating the No lead. But, no, Ipsos-Mori clearly aren't using a suspiciously "Nat-light" sample.

But fortunately there's another way of looking at this. One or two concerns were raised about the accuracy of the Yes-friendly pollsters after both ICM and Survation significantly overstated the SNP vote in the European elections. (We can still count ICM as a Yes-friendly pollster for the time being, because their most recent poll will look like a bit of an outlier until and unless it is replicated.) The biggest potential issue is that both firms have recently introduced weighting by 2011 vote, and although the logic for doing so is beyond reproach, it's still an untested method and there could be a flaw in it that we don't know about yet. So, theoretically, the overestimate of the SNP's vote in May could have been the first sign of a problem. However, what makes Ipsos-Mori unusual (apart from the fact that they're the only active referendum pollster that uses telephone fieldwork) is that they don't weight by past vote at all, so their methodology is essentially unchanged from the one that produced a fairly accurate result in 2011. Accordingly, there's no reason to be sceptical when they show an SNP lead for Holyrood that is three times bigger than the lead actually achieved by the SNP in the European elections. Indeed, if we compare this poll (and Ipsos-Mori's last poll in March) to the Holyrood numbers from Survation's most recent poll, the SNP lead over Labour is only three points lower. So that lends greater credence to the theory that the overestimate by both ICM and Survation of the SNP's strength in the European elections was to a large extent not caused by misconceived methodology, but instead by differential turnout - ie. SNP supporters were proportionately less likely to go to the polls last month than Labour or Tory supporters. I'm not entirely sure why that would have been the case, although it has to be said that the SNP were the only major party I didn't receive a leaflet from, and my part of the world (the local council ward is a traditional SNP stronghold) was very noticeably not festooned in the traditional yellow posters. So maybe the SNP were deliberately conserving their resources for the bigger fight to come, and as a result failed to get their vote out as effectively as some of the other parties.

Talking of the European elections, this poll is also the first opportunity to see whether the results in May have themselves had any impact on the balance of opinion. Although the changes are not huge, the answer seems to be that, if anything, the SNP might have received a modest boost. The party may only be up 1% on the headline numbers which are filtered by certainty to vote, but the figures for the entire sample give a slightly stronger indication of the direction of travel -

SNP 38% (+2)
Labour 32% (n/c)
Conservatives 15% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-4)
Greens 4% (+2)
UKIP 4% (+2)

The Scottish subsamples from YouGov's daily GB-wide polls also support the impression that the SNP are on the up at the moment. No fewer than three out of seven subsamples since the European elections have shown the SNP ahead on Westminster voting intentions, which is highly unusual for YouGov - it's not very long since the SNP had gone for months without enjoying a single lead.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : Project Fear's silver lining

"Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself."

And if it prevents everyone else from hearing you as well, Mr McDougall, we may have just discovered the evolutionary advantage of fear.

(The quote is actually from Victorian author Samuel Butler.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

No, Alex Massie, people who care about more powers for Holyrood will not be voting Tory

Right-wing commentator Alex Massie is continuing with his regular-as-clockwork routine as an "equal opportunities irritant", with two or three articles designed to irritate the Yes campaign being automatically followed by two or three articles designed to irritate the No campaign. Mind you, my own pet theory is that he's on a one-man mission to prove Martin Boon right about the existence of 'Shy No Syndrome'.

Fresh from his faintly comical failure to spot that Joyce McMillan was dripping with self-deprecating irony in her comments about Scottish UKIP voters, Massie has come up with yet another gem (which may well be slightly tongue-in-cheek but is presumably still meant to make some kind of logical sense) -

"One other thought: if we assume a No vote in September, it is now the case that all good Scottish nationalists – ie, those keenest to secure more powers for Scotland – should vote Conservative in May 2015. Only a Tory victory then can give Scotland control of more of the tools and levers the nationalists consider so essential. They might not like it but such are the ironies we must all endure from time to time."

Hmmm. This first of all assumes that you can trust that the Tories have the slightest intention of actually implementing their devolution proposals, any more than you could trust Edward Heath in 1968 when he promised a Scottish Assembly, or Alec Douglas-Home in 1979 when he promised that a No vote to devolution would lead to the Tories producing a better form of devolution later on. A few unkind souls might suggest that putting your trust in a party with a track record like that would make you (to use a term that Massie has been known to give the odd spin himself) a "f***ing zoomer".

But let's be ultra-generous and assume there's some kind of chance that these proposals would see the light of day. In what parallel universe are the SNP (and probably the Liberal Democrats for that matter) going to do anything other than vote in favour of them at Westminster? So how exactly is it a better strategy to vote for the Tories, who have just one Scottish seat and few realistic targets, than it is to vote for the SNP, who have six seats and several targets? The absolute most that could be said is that if you really only care about the constitution and not about human decency at all, there might just about be a case for voting Tory in a Labour/Tory marginal seat - but unfortunately for Massie, there isn't really any such thing in Scotland.

But other than those minor details, what a truly fabulous piece of advice from Alex.

Ipsos-Mori say that the Yes campaign have drawn level among male voters - but what does that mean?

The Ipsos-Mori representative who appeared on Scotland Tonight was clearly making an admirable effort to be even-handed in his analysis of his firm's new referendum poll, but I do still think he said a number of things that didn't really make sense.  He pointed to a bucking of the general Yes-friendly trend in the least affluent Scottish communities, and suggested this was directly attributable to Labour big-hitters like Gordon Brown beginning to speak out more frequently against independence.  In truth, the evidence that there has been any movement towards No in the poorest areas is extremely weak (the subsample sizes are just too small to draw such a firm conclusion), so to attempt to offer any sort of explanation for the phenomenon seems a classic case of "always seeing patterns in things that aren't there".  Even if an explanation had been required, though, I'm sure most of us could have come up with something rather more plausible than the quaint notion that Gordon Brown has a special hold over the working class.

More questionable still was the claim that, in spite of the big swing to Yes, the gender gap remains "as big as ever".  In fact, the gender gap is much bigger than before in this poll - and in a sense that's exactly why Yes have made progress.  They've seemingly made stunning gains among the male population, while only making up minimal ground among women.  Here is the gender breakdown after Don't Knows are excluded...

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Men :

Yes 50% (+9)
No 50% (-9)

Women : 

Yes 32% (+1)
No 68% (-1)

This is a timely reminder that the conventional wisdom stating that Yes can only win if the gender gap closes isn't necessarily true.  Yes can make net gains regardless of whether the gender gap gets wider still, stays static or narrows - what matters most is the general direction of traffic among both men and women.

All the same, the fact that a No-friendly pollster like Ipsos-Mori is showing a higher Yes vote among men than even some Yes-friendly firms tend to produce is bound to reignite interest in Stephen Noon's recent observation about the 'two-part' swing to the SNP that occurred in the run-up to the 2011 election, with male voters switching to the party in big numbers to begin with, thus generating a substantial gender gap of exactly the same type that we see now in referendum polling.  But the later converts were disproportionately women, meaning that by polling day the gender gap had been whittled down to an almost insignificant 3%.  So why would women move in the same direction as men, but just a little later?  There are two possible explanations - a) the fact that women are more risk-aware than men (which is not the same thing as being more risk-averse) means that they might weigh up the arguments for longer before committing to a change of vote, and b) women may be less likely to engage with an election/referendum campaign at all until polling day comes into view.

It's quite possible, therefore, that the current trends in the male vote may be a glimpse into the future of the female vote.  That's not inevitable - history doesn't have to repeat itself.  But the thought must at least have occurred to the No campaign, and a tied race among men will be causing them some alarm.

Having said that, I see no compelling evidence that the gender gap has actually increased recently - the pattern we're seeing in this individual poll is more likely to be caused by sampling variation.  That's not to say that the gains for Yes aren't real - the chances are that the movement to Yes among men has been overstated, and the movement to Yes among women has been understated, with the two errors balancing each other out in the overall figures.  We saw something similar recently in two back-to-back Panelbase polls which produced near-identical results, even though the gender gap was unusually small in one, and unusually large in the other.

*  *  *

A commenter on the last thread pointed out that the percentage of Labour voters that Ipsos-Mori say are planning to vote Yes is lower than other pollsters have been suggesting.  Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that Ipsos-Mori are getting it wrong - it may be that their telephone fieldwork is turning up a different type of Labour voter than is typically found in volunteer online panels.  But it's certainly worth making the point that if by any chance there is such a thing as Shy Yes Syndrome (ie. Yes voters who are too embarrassed to admit their intentions to pollsters), you'd expect it to be particularly prevalent among the traditional Labour support, and you'd also expect it to manifest itself more obviously in telephone polls than in relatively anonymous online polls.  So a suspiciously low Yes vote of 8% among Labour voters in this poll may well be significant - although crucially this refers to people who currently intend to vote Labour, rather than people who voted Labour in 2010 or 2011.

*  *  *

After the SNP vote was overstated by ICM and Survation for the European elections, John Curtice tentatively raised one or two small question marks over the methodological changes that pollsters have introduced recently. But Ipsos-Mori's findings are actually immune from those concerns.  Although the firm are probably foolish not to weight by recalled vote from 2011, the one good thing about it is that it means their methodology isn't as untested as that of some other pollsters, and therefore there's no reason at all to be sceptical when they say that the Yes vote has broken through the 40% barrier.

*  *  *

Probably the most misleading aspect of Ipsos-Mori's commentary is the tedious pretence that only their own polls exist/matter - ie. the claim that, even in spite of the big swing to Yes, there is still a relatively handsome lead for No, and Yes "need" to make up much more ground with time running out.  It would be more accurate to say that Yes "need" to make up a lot of ground to take the lead in an Ipsos-Mori poll.  As it happens, though, that isn't what the Yes campaign are trying to achieve.  They're trying to win the referendum, and it remains to be seen whether Ipsos-Mori's methodology is more or less accurate than others.  Indeed, after the March poll, I had completely written off the Yes campaign's chances of ever taking the lead in an Ipsos-Mori poll -

"One thing that we can certainly deduce from yesterday's Ipsos-Mori poll is that the Yes campaign are highly unlikely to go into polling day in September in the lead with that particular pollster. But the million dollar question is whether they actually need to do so."

I'm now more optimistic about the prospect of Ipsos-Mori showing a Yes lead at some point, but the latter point still stands - that may not be a prerequisite for referendum victory.  Given the current gap between Ipsos-Mori's figures and the average numbers across all pollsters, it's quite possible that No could have a 5-6 point lead with Ipsos-Mori on the eve of polling, but still find themselves behind on the average.

*  *  *

Judging from his comments on Scotland Tonight, Andy Maciver seems to be the latest victim of the No campaign's moronic propaganda.  He suggested that the Yes camp would be relieved by the Ipsos-Mori poll, because prior to the European elections "ICM and YouGov" had shown signs of movement back to No.  Er, excuse me...YouGov?  The pollster that in its more recent poll showed No slipping to its lowest lead ever?

But of course Maciver is referring to the alternate reality in which a Progressive Partnership poll showing a 9-point slump in the No lead is not a Progressive Partnership poll at all, but is instead a YouGov poll in disguise.  To reiterate the truth yet again (although clearly it's never going to sink in for some people), Progressive and YouGov are two entirely different companies with two entirely different weighting procedures, and BOTH showed a drop in the No lead in their most recent polls.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pro-independence campaign make crucial breakthrough in new Ipsos-Mori telephone poll

Three months ago, Ipsos-Mori published what to date was their only poll for public consumption in referendum year so far.  It baffled many observers by showing a resilience in the already inflated No lead that was extremely difficult to reconcile with the picture painted by virtually all other pollsters.  But a number of people still felt that the dam had to break eventually, even at Ipsos-Mori, and it appears that has finally happened.  The new poll for STV shows a reduction in the No lead since early March of no less than 7.2%.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 36.3% (+4.2)
No 53.6% (-3.0)

When Don't Knows are excluded, the movement looks even more dramatic, with Yes smashing through the psychological 40% threshold for the first time in any Ipsos-Mori poll conducted during the campaign so far -

Yes 40.4% (+4.2)
No 59.6% (-4.2)

The fieldwork is up to date, and conducted since the European elections.  It's possible, therefore, that this poll is the first concrete sign that revulsion towards UKIP's success south of the border has translated directly into a boost for Yes.  However, we can't assume that's the case, because it's been so long since the last poll, and we could just be catching up belatedly with a swing to Yes that happened weeks ago, or that has been taking place gradually on an ongoing basis.  It's also possible that the March poll was an out-and-out rogue result, and that some of the swing happened even earlier than that.

Make no mistake, though - this is the most important breakthrough that Yes have made at any stage in the campaign so far, with the possible exception of the steady progress they've made in the TNS-BMRB series.  What makes Ipsos-Mori special is that they're the only pollster that conducts referendum polls by telephone - all of the others use volunteer online panels, apart from TNS-BMRB, who use the old-fashioned face-to-face approach.  For as long as Ipsos-Mori remained totally out of line with the online pollsters, there was a genuine possibility that they were getting it right and everyone else was getting it wrong.  Now that they have converged with the norm to some extent (albeit emphatically only to an extent), we can put that worry to one side - and the No campaign will have to live without a comfort blanket that they have become extremely accustomed to.

The fact that the fieldwork for this poll was conducted well after the most recent poll from ICM is a further small indication that the increase in the No lead reported by ICM may well have been an artifact of the margin of error (or of the bizarre change in methodology), rather than something real.  We've now had three different pollsters (Panelbase, Survation and Ipsos-Mori) that have failed to replicate the ICM trend, so we're getting closer to the point where it may be safe to stop worrying about that poll.

Incidentally, Ipsos-Mori have as usual headlined the numbers for those respondents who say they are certain to vote.  Among the entire sample, the reduction in the No lead is in fact 1% greater on the rounded figures -

Yes 34% (+5)
No 52% (-3)

As far as I can see we haven't yet been told what the numbers are on that measure after Don't Knows are stripped out, but a rough calculation suggests it might well be Yes 40% (+5), No 60% (-5).  That would mean that a full third of the No lead has been wiped out since the last poll.  [UPDATE : I've just found the datasets, and it is indeed Yes 40% (+5), No 60% (-5)].

Leaving aside his utterly laughable claim that the Yes side would be "panicking" about a poll showing a 7% reduction in the gap (!), the No camp's embarrassment of a campaign chief Blair McDougall seems to be drawing particular comfort from the fact that the relatively small number of undecided respondents in this poll broke more for No when they were pressed.  However, that misses the point to some extent - because the 42% Yes vote among undecided voters who expressed a leaning is slightly higher than the 40% Yes vote among decided voters, that actually gives a slight boost to Yes if you add the undecideds in.  So absolutely no joy for Blair there.

And what does this tell us about the notorious secret Ipsos-Mori mega-poll commissioned by the UK government?  Not a huge amount, other than the fact that this result is perfectly consistent with the strong rumour that the mega-poll detected significant movement towards Yes.  Without knowing what the exact figures were, though, it's obviously impossible to say whether there was a really big surge towards Yes that has since receded slightly, or whether the surge was roughly identical to what we are looking at now, in which case it has been successfully consolidated.  It's also worth pointing out that we shouldn't take it as read that Ipsos-Mori used an absolutely identical methodology in the mega-poll to the one they use for their published polls, so even if we knew what the figures were they might still not be directly comparable.

The usual disclaimers about Ipsos-Mori apply here - they appear to only interview people by landline (we don't know that for a fact, but any evidence for mobile fieldwork is completely lacking), which means that they may be reaching a small 'c' conservative sample who are disproportionately less likely to be pro-independence.  But of course, there are equivalent caveats about online pollsters, who may be reaching people who are unusually politically aware.  So it really is very difficult to judge where the truth lies, although the face-to-face approach of TNS-BMRB offers a very useful additional dimension.

*  *  *


After the recovery in the No lead in the last update of the Poll of Polls that was almost entirely caused by the somewhat questionable ICM poll, normal service has now been resumed, with the No lead slipping back to a position closer to the all-time low.

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 42.8% (+0.8)
No 57.2% (-0.8)

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 35.7% (+0.7)
No 47.8% (-0.5)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 42.3% (n/c)
No 57.7% (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 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.)

Here are the long-term trend figures, with the updates prior to Easter recalculated to exclude 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%

Weighing up how a 'union of equals' would work in Paxo-world

Jeremy Paxman, quoted in the Sunday Herald from a radio interview -

"It's interesting, isn't it, that in this union of supposed equals only one side gets to vote on whether the union should continue or not."

Once upon a time, a woman decided to get a divorce. But her husband told her that she was part of a 'marriage of equals', and both of them had to have an equal say on whether it continued or not. She was a bit dubious about that novel interpretation of divorce law, and asked what would happen if they couldn't agree. Her husband reassured her : "Oh, my love, my sweet, my precious, if it's a tie, you shall of course have the casting vote." Thinking she couldn't really lose, she agreed to go through the motions of putting the matter to the vote - she voted in favour of divorce, her husband voted against. But before she could pack her bags, he frog-marched her to the scales in the corner of the room, and insisted they weigh themselves in turn. It turned out there had only been 11 stone's worth of votes for divorce, and a whopping 17 stone's worth of votes against. "Looks like it's 'till death us do part' after all, my love," said the husband. "You won't mind keeping the nuclear weapons on your side of the bed, will you?  There's far more room over there, and much less danger to the biggest concentration of stomach fat."

* * *

A quick postscript to what I said recently about the phoney radicalism of the Lib Dems. I've just been refreshing my memory of an exchange I had a couple of years ago with Lib Dem activist "MrsB", who earnestly insisted that she was in favour of votes at 16 in principle, but couldn't possibly support them in practice for the referendum, because it was all far too difficult, and "against the law" anyway. You can read her logic in its full contorted glory HERE - if anything, it seems even funnier in retrospect. And given her track record, you'll be encouraged to hear that MrsB forecast a lower Yes vote than almost anyone else in the annual prediction competition.