Friday, January 23, 2015

Devo Watershipped Down

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about the epic inadequacy of yesterday's devolution command paper.  And you might possibly find the odd reference to the Kirkcaldy East by-election, and a certain Ipsos-Mori opinion poll, thrown in for good measure.  You can read it HERE.

The BBC website misleads readers on the Ofcom "major party" proposals for a second time

Iain Watson, writing on the BBC website about the revised proposals for leaders' debates -

"And it's possible that when negotiations with the parties begin on the new proposals both Labour and UKIP will say two potentially unwieldy debates with seven participants is over the top and wouldn't it be better to transform one of these into a clash between those which broadcasting regulator Ofcom regards as the "major" parties? That would restrict the platform to David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage..."

NO IT WOULDN'T. How many times does this London-centric misapprehension have to be corrected? Ofcom only proposed that UKIP be given major party status in England and Wales, in much the same way that they are only proposing to give the SNP major party status in Scotland. This is not a matter of interpretation - it's there in black and white. If these debates are to be regarded as GB-wide, there are three parties (Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats) that have major party status throughout the whole of Great Britain, and three other parties (the SNP, Plaid Cymru and UKIP) that have major party status in part of Great Britain. There is no conceivable sense in which Ofcom are proposing to give UKIP superior status to the SNP and Plaid.

If, on the other hand, these debates are supposed to be UK-wide as opposed to GB-wide, then there are literally no parties that have major party status throughout the whole country. There are eleven parties that have major party status in part of the country (and that doesn't include the Greens, weirdly enough).

SNP vote surges by 11% in Kirkcaldy East by-election

I gather that the editor of a political website called Electoral Gambling (or some such title) mused the other day that local council by-election results may cast some doubt on the extent of the SNP surge reported by the opinion polls.  He doesn't half pick his moments, does he?  Here is the result of yesterday's local by-election in the heart of Gordon Brown's constituency...

Kirkcaldy East by-election result (22nd January) :

SNP 47.3% (+10.9)
Labour 35.3% (-14.7)
Conservatives 7.2% (+1.2)
Greens 4.1% (+4.1)
UKIP 3.8% (+3.8)
Liberal Democrats 1.3% (-1.5)

Technically it was an SNP hold, even though Labour comfortably outpolled the SNP in the ward last time around - it's one of those paradoxes thrown up by the STV electoral system.

The swing from Labour to the SNP was just under 13% - measured from the baseline of the 2012 local elections, in which the SNP were already 1% ahead of Labour nationally. If we "just for a bit of fun" extrapolate the swing on a Scotland-wide basis, it would put the SNP ahead by a whopping 27% margin - which, as it happens, is uncannily similar to the 28% gap reported by this week's Ipsos-Mori poll.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The SNP genie is out of the bottle on the TV leaders' debates

It really is profoundly depressing to realise that the only reason the broadcasters were ever going to agree to do the decent thing over the leaders' debates was that they needed a tactic to try to cajole David Cameron into taking part. So much for that innate sense of "British fair play". But it doesn't really matter a damn how we got here - the point is that a Rubicon has now been crossed, because Scotland has heard the broadcasters accept the principle of SNP involvement in the main debates, which in practice will make any back-pedalling almost impossible.  (In any case, if there were to be any foolish attempt at a retreat, I would imagine the prospects for a successful SNP legal challenge have just been considerably enhanced.)  There are really now only two possibilities - a) Nicola Sturgeon will have some kind of place in the main debates, or b) there won't be debates at all.  Either is absolutely fine as far as I'm concerned, because the SNP won't be disadvantaged.  Basic fairness was all we ever wanted - nothing more.  Why the London establishment initially reacted to that modest request as if we were demanding golden elephants will always remain something of a mystery.

There is of course still a wrinkle attached, with the proposal being that only two of the three debates will be inclusive.  The other is supposed to be a Cameron v Miliband head-to-head.  That's thoroughly reprehensible, but it probably won't be too damaging.  The main battle in a Westminster election is simply to ensure that voters don't forget that the SNP exist and are one of the choices.  Inclusion in two of the debates should be sufficient to achieve that, and the 'Prime Ministerial' debate may simply reinforce in people's minds how much more inspiring political discourse becomes when the choice is widened.

If the debates do go ahead as proposed, the big losers will of course be Jim Murphy and Jim Murphy's Status.  It won't be Jackanory Jim who'll be seen to be Nicola Sturgeon's Labour opponent, but Ed Miliband.  And that's just as it should be.

SNP lead by 21.5% in latest Poll of Polls

It's becoming increasingly hard to blog about opinion polls when I'm on the move, because the datasets won't always load on my mobile phone (the YouGov website has become particularly hopeless since it was redesigned).  Hence the delay in posting a post-Ipsos-Mori Poll of Polls update, but here it is at last.  It's based on two full-scale Scottish polls (from Survation and Ipsos-Mori), plus eight Scottish subsamples - four from YouGov, one from ICM, one from Ashcroft, one from TNS-BMRB and one from Populus.  The full-scale Panelbase poll has now dropped out of the sample, which is part of the reason for the huge increase in the SNP's lead.

Being able to include a poll from TNS-BMRB makes this something of a red letter day, because their numbers are usually too far out of date, even on the day of publication!

No percentage change is listed for the Greens, because I wasn't able to include them in the last update.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 47.1% (+4.2)
Labour 25.6% (-2.4)
Conservatives 14.3% (-0.7)
Liberal Democrats 5.5% (+0.5)
Greens 3.7%
UKIP 2.5% (-2.9)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The point of no return? Earth-shaking TELEPHONE poll from Ipsos-Mori gives the SNP an astonishing 28% lead with just weeks to go

It's hard to believe, but Ipsos-Mori have almost exactly replicated the result of their full-scale poll of three months ago, which so many people assumed to be an extreme outlier.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Ipsos-Mori, 12th-19th January) :

SNP 52% (n/c)
Labour 24% (+1)
Conservatives 12% (+2)
Greens 4% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 4% (-2)
UKIP 1% (-1)

In spite of the fact that Ipsos-Mori are one of the UK's leading pollsters (arguably only ICM have a better pedigree), there's a tendency to assume that these numbers "cannot possibly be right", simply because they would produce such an unprecedented political earthquake if they were repeated in the general election.  People are therefore speculatively casting around for reasons why Ipsos-Mori "must" be wrong.  One theory doing the rounds is that their failure to weight by recalled referendum vote is the culprit.  Well, Ipsos-Mori don't weight by any sort of recalled vote - not Holyrood, not Westminster, not referendum.  So it cuts both ways, doesn't it?  Their referendum polls showing much bigger No leads than most other firms also had to be seen in that light, and yet their final poll showing Yes 47%, No 53% was pretty close to the mark.  Indeed, it may have been absolutely bang on the money, because we have some proof of a very late on-the-day swing back to No.  So there's no concrete evidence from recent Scottish polls that a failure to weight by recalled vote leads to inaccuracy.

A much, much sillier theory comes courtesy of (predictably enough) Mike Smithson, who seems to think the 'problem' is that Ipsos-Mori's call centre is based in Edinburgh, and that much of their fieldwork is therefore presumably carried out by people with Scottish accents.  I mean, where to begin?  It's NORMAL for telephone polling to be carried out by people with accents that are familiar to respondents.  It's when you diverge from that normal practice that there is cause for concern - for example, you wouldn't have had a French call centre conducting polls for the 2004 US presidential election, in case respondents were too embarrassed to tell a French interviewer that they were planning to vote for George Bush.  Scottish respondents are more likely to be honest about their voting intention when speaking to a Scottish caller, because it avoids any slight stigma that might otherwise be attached to an admission of voting SNP.  I cannot see the remotest basis for Smithson's belief that anti-independence respondents would be more honest with a non-Scottish interviewer - how does he square that with Ipsos-Mori being one of the most No-friendly firms during the referendum, for example?

This poll also takes a sledgehammer to Nick Sparrow's eccentric (and some would say downright cynical) insinuation that artificial momentum is being generated for the SNP as a result of misleading online polling.  Leaving aside a Survation poll that was conducted just after people voted on 18th/19th September, we've now had two telephone polls since the referendum, and both have shown much larger SNP leads than any online poll.

A quick query

I'm on a bus at the moment, and will be out all day, so I just thought I'd take this opportunity to ask a question that's been nagging away at me.  Has anyone (apart from John Curtice) actually seen the datasets from ICM's full-scale Scottish poll that was published in the Guardian on Boxing Day? The ICM website doesn't seem to have been updated since before Christmas.  As far as I'm aware, the only way of accessing the datasets for the new GB-wide ICM poll is to follow a link casually posted by Tom Clark on Twitter.  I suppose it's possible that something similar was done on Boxing Day without me noticing it - in which case the letter of British Polling Council rules has been adhered to, but not the spirit of them.  The datasets from the Scottish poll should really have appeared in easy-to-find form on the ICM website weeks ago.

By the way, the ICM Scottish subsample has the SNP leading Labour by 52% to 24%, while today's YouGov subsample has the SNP returning to a more typical lead of 40% to 26%.  So pretty thin pickings for the SS (Selective Subsamplers) today.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

If you thought there was something fishy about the latest Panelbase poll, you were probably right

Many of you will recall that the famous YouGov poll on the penultimate weekend was not in fact the first time in the long referendum campaign that Yes had been in the lead.  The first time was a whole year earlier, when a Panelbase poll commissioned by the SNP put Yes ahead by a wafer-thin 1% margin.  But that poll was immediately rubbished by John Curtice, who claimed it had no credibility because of an unusual question sequence - the voting intention question had been asked third rather than first, and had been immediately preceded by a question that might be construed as leading.  He thereafter invariably referred to that poll as "a much-criticised poll from Panelbase", which was slightly amusing given that he was the one that had done the vast bulk of the much-criticising.  It effectively amounted to "John Curtice says the poll is bad because John Curtice says the poll is bad because..." and so on into infinity.

Bearing in mind that he made such a song and dance about the unreliability of that referendum poll, it's a tad troubling that Professor Curtice didn't bother to flag up that this weekend's Panelbase poll (showing a cut in the SNP's lead to "only" 10%) has an almost identical flaw.  We only found out about that yesterday when the datasets were published, but Curtice must presumably have known on Saturday or Sunday when he wrote his analysis.  Once again, the voting intention question was asked third, and was immediately preceded by a leading question - but this time one that was intended to cast independence (if not the SNP specifically) in a negative light.  The wording of the question points out that the oil price has fallen, which is something that some respondents will not have known or will only have been dimly aware of, and then presents this development as something that might affect the case for independence.  The reaction that people are "supposed" to have is obvious.  In response to the voting intention question that was asked immediately afterwards, it's noticeable that considerably fewer Yes voters from September said they would vote for the SNP than was the case in the Survation poll.  That in itself can explain much of the big disparity between the two polls.

Can we know for sure that the result of the poll was affected by the question sequence?  Of course not.  But we didn't know that was true of the "much-criticised" referendum poll either - it was simply assumed to be the case because the result was so far out of line with all the other available information.  That's exactly the position we're in again now.  Until and unless Panelbase replicate the lower SNP lead in a poll with a more conventional methodology, I'll be inclined to regard their weekend poll as somewhat suspect.

We've had three new Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls over the last 24 hours :

Ashcroft : SNP 58%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 8%, Greens 4%, Liberal Democrats 4%, UKIP 1%

YouGov : SNP 40%, Labour 33%, Conservatives 17%, Liberal Democrats 5%, Greens 4%, UKIP 1%

Populus : SNP 32%, Labour 28%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 6%, UKIP 5%, Greens 3%

Populus are consistently the most pessimistic pollster for the SNP (with the possible exception of TNS-BMRB who report much less frequently), so their result is fairly average.  The Ashcroft result is of course particularly good for the SNP, while the YouGov result shows a lower SNP lead than usual - due to the Labour vote being untypically high rather than the SNP vote being untypically low.

Enthusiasts for subsample cherry-picking, such as Mike Smithson and the new batch of trolls that we've welcomed to this blog recently, will doubtless be beside themselves with excitement to learn that a second successive YouGov subsample has shown a narrower gap.  But those results were immediately preceded by a batch of subsamples from the same firm showing large SNP leads.  So while it'll certainly be worth keeping an eye on tomorrow morning's result, the balance of probability is very much that we're merely looking at normal sampling variation.

Monday, January 19, 2015

And the ever-reliable George Eaton keeps the comedy coming

Now I can perfectly understand how Labour-leaning journalists might spin the Panelbase poll as modestly good news for their party.  Although taken in isolation it's an absolutely dreadful poll for them (that would see them lose half their Scottish seats), you do have to see it in the context of the even worse polls that went before.  Our objection is not that the reduction in the SNP lead suggested by Panelbase wouldn't be progress for Labour, it's that it probably isn't real, because it isn't borne out by the other polling data we have.  Others are free to have a different interpretation.

But, George Eaton - the Survation poll?  Seriously?  A 20% deficit for Labour with three-and-a-half months to go is good news?  Is that what you said in January 1997 when polls showed John Major 20 points adrift of Tony Blair, or did you correctly note that the Titanic was heading for the iceberg all over again?

And if the next Ipsos-Mori poll shows, for example, the SNP lead being trimmed from 29 points to 27, can we look forward to the epic comedy spectacle of the New Statesman dancing in the streets about that one?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

SNP lead by 20% in stupefying Survation survey

Well, Labour supporters and assorted right-wing friends were able to enjoy the exotic sensation of being "only" 10% behind for a whole 24 hours before the hammerblow fell.  Here is this month's Survation poll of Westminster voting intentions...

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election (Survation, 12th-16th January) :

SNP 46% (-2)
Labour 26% (+2)
Conservatives 14% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+2)
UKIP 4% (n/c)
Greens 3% (+2)

It's important to stress that Survation are one of the firms that have introduced weighting by recalled referendum vote, which is one of the strongest predictors of Westminster vote.  So Labour have no alibi here - No voters have been upweighted from 400 to 431 to bring them into line with their correct population share, but that has been rendered virtually irrelevant by the SNP's mind-boggling lead of 85% to 8% among Yes voters (who have been downweighted slightly).

Can Labour draw some minor comfort from the fact that the gap has narrowed by 4% since the last Survation poll, even though that still leaves them light-years behind?  Not really.  The problem for them is that the last poll saw a widening of the gap, so if we go back to the Survation poll from two months ago, it was almost identical to this one - the SNP are on exactly the same vote share now (46%) as they were then.  That suggests there has been no slippage since the period when Ipsos-Mori famously showed the SNP ahead by 29%.

Of course Panelbase suggested a slightly more significant reduction in the SNP's lead, and if we only had those two polls to go on, we might conclude that there's a 50/50 chance that something has indeed changed.  But as I pointed out last night, the Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls (and there hasn't exactly been a shortage of them) have completely failed to corroborate the Panelbase trend.  Someone claimed in the comments section that narrower SNP leads have been more commonplace in subsamples of late.  Not true.  In fact, the opposite is true - we've been seeing bigger gaps somewhat more consistently.  On that basis, the balance of probability would seem to lie heavily with Survation being closer to the truth, meaning that the SNP's enormous advantage is holding steady.

Incidentally, there is one important common factor between Survation and Panelbase, and that's the poor showing for the Tories.  Cammo's mob do tend to get understated by Scottish polling, but there's certainly no sign whatever that they're going to make any progress from their dismal result in 2010.  Back in the days when I could be bothered to read Ian Smart, I seem to recall him talking in his trademark oracular fashion about how the untold story of Scottish politics since 2011 has been the relentless march of the Tories.  That "insight" is starting to look about as well-founded as his claim that the No campaign would coast to victory in Cumbernauld and Kilysth (and that the people here claiming to be planning to vote Yes were only "taking the p***").

The most interesting of Survation's supplementary questions asked for respondents' preferred election outcome.  Annoyingly, the list of options wasn't anything like exhaustive, with the most obvious omission being the possibility of a minority government.  However, the results still give us some indication of how much voters like the idea of each party being in government.  Unsurprisingly, the most popular of the potential "junior partners" is the SNP, with a combined total of 44% wanting to see Nicola Sturgeon's party in coalition with either Labour or the Tories (even though the latter option has already been definitively ruled out).  By contrast, just 13% are keen on the stomach-churning possibility of Nick Clegg remaining in power, as deputy to either Cameron or Miliband.  And a mere 9% fancy the idea of Deputy PM Farage.

We also have Holyrood voting intention figures...

Constituency vote :

SNP 50% (-1)
Labour 26% (+1)
Conservatives 12% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+1)
UKIP 3% (+1)
Greens 3% (+2)

Regional list vote :

SNP 39% (-1)
Labour 23% (-1)
Conservatives 14% (n/c)
Greens 10% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
UKIP 6% (-1)
SSP 1% (+1)

And once again the familiar pattern, with the biggest threat to the SNP proving to be their own supporters drifting to other parties on the list, perhaps on the incorrect assumption that the list vote is less important.

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This is one of the more credible updates of the Poll of Polls, because it's based on no fewer than two full-scale polls (from Panelbase and Survation) and seven subsamples (five from YouGov, one from Populus and one from ComRes).  As before, I haven't been able to include the Greens, because we don't have the relevant information from Panelbase yet.

Scottish voting intentions for the May 2015 UK general election :

SNP 42.9% (+1.6)
Labour 28.0% (-0.7)
Conservatives 15.0% (-0.8)
UKIP 5.4% (-0.8)
Liberal Democrats 5.0% (+1.4)

(The Poll of Polls uses the Scottish subsamples from all GB-wide polls that have been conducted entirely within the last seven days and for which datasets have been provided, and also all full-scale Scottish polls that have been conducted at least partly within the last seven days. Full-scale polls are given ten times the weighting of subsamples.)

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UPDATE : Political Betting's resident pub bore Carlotta Vance ("oh yes, Denis and Margaret would be laughing like drains, tee hee!") has this morning bizarrely ascribed a claim to me that I didn't make, knowing full well that I cannot set the record straight because, like virtually every other SNP supporter that posted on the site for long enough, I was randomly banned.  Rest assured, Ms Vance, that I will not deny you the right to reply that you and your right-wing chums have denied me.  But then, of course, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably been posting here anyway - perhaps you're one of the mysterious influx of anonymous Rule Britannia! types that we've been so thrilled to welcome over the last 36 hours?

Incidentally, having got totally carried away with his assumptions about the significance of the Panelbase poll (it's that Murphy bounce! I knew it would come one day!), the headline today marking Mike Smithson's awkward climbdown in the light of the Survation numbers is something of a classic -

"Another Scottish poll gives a little bit of cheer to LAB but not that much"

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UPDATE II : And now the most glorious of ironies - Smithson has taken Carlotta's misrepresentation as the cue to cherry-pick three outlier Scottish subsample results in an attempt to rescue his fading hopes of a "Labour revival" narrative.  He seems to have forgotten that he once banned Stuart Dickson for TWO YEARS for the heinous crime of posting Scottish subsamples.

One of his selection of subsamples, by the way, is a TNS-BMRB offering which shows the SNP jumping from third place last month to first place this month (and that's in spite of the fact that people who recalled voting SNP in 2010 were downweighted by two-thirds).  Couldn't he "be arsed" to check the baseline numbers?  Probably not.