Saturday, April 9, 2016

New podcast

Just a quick note to let you know that myself and Michael Gray are the guests in this week's edition of the Newsnet podcast, hosted as always by Derek Bateman.  Topics discussed include the state of the Holyrood polls, the less-than-pickle-free situation David Cameron finds himself in as a result of the Panama Papers, and what we've learned about modern Scotland now that the majority of our political party leaders are openly gay.  You can listen to the podcast HERE.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dugdale's daft dreams turn to dust as brutal Survation poll condemns Scottish Labour to certain destruction

With less than a month to go until polling day, a new Survation poll has just been released placing Labour an eye-watering THIRTY-ONE points behind the SNP on the constituency ballot.

Constituency ballot : 

SNP 52% (-2)
Labour 21% (+1)
Conservatives 16% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-1)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 44% (+2)
Labour 19% (+1)
Conservatives 16% (-2)
Greens 10% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 6% (n/c)
UKIP 4% (-1)

The Greens are making a valiant attempt to spin these numbers as some kind of amazing breakthrough for them, but if anything, I suspect they may be privately disappointed.  We know that there are very serious question marks over the way Survation pose the list ballot question - at least two eminent academics have suggested that this flaw may well lead to the SNP list vote being underestimated, and to the Green and UKIP list vote being significantly overestimated.  If that's right, what matters is not the raw Green vote reported by Survation, but the trend.  As you can see, the Greens have seemingly failed to gain any boost from the early part of official campaigning, while the SNP list vote has actually crept back up again (albeit not by a statistically significant amount).  That flatly contradicts the trend seen in this week's TNS poll, which reported a sharp drop in the SNP's list vote - albeit the Greens were only getting a limited benefit from that.  The chances that the TNS findings were a bit freakish have therefore increased, but we'll still have to wait and see what the Survation fieldwork dates were before reaching any firm conclusions.  Unusually, today's poll was commissioned by a trade union, and I wouldn't be totally surprised if that means it's been held back for a little while.  (UPDATE : Just found the fieldwork dates - the poll started on March 23rd and finished on April 3rd.  So in a sense it's reasonably up to date, although the very earliest interviews are more than two weeks old.)

Explanatory note : As a fond tribute to the mainstream media's restrained take on the GERS report, Scot Goes Pop headlines will contain 50% bonus hysteria for an indefinite period.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

This TNS poll is so God-awful for Scottish Labour that J K Rowling didn't even have a perfect response to effortlessly shut it down

The monthly TNS poll of Holyrood voting intentions came out earlier today, and the big news is that Labour have returned to their all-time low of 19% on the constituency vote.  They've only previously had one sub-20 showing on the constituency vote with TNS, and that was during the initial honeymoon period after the SNP's landslide victory in the UK general election last year.  To put it in perspective, they had recovered to as 'high' as 24% during the autumn, so it appears that something has gone seriously wrong since then.

Constituency ballot :

SNP 56% (-4)
Labour 19% (-2)
Conservatives 15% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+2)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 47% (-8)
Labour 21% (n/c)
Conservatives 15% (+2)
Greens 8% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+2)
SSP 2% (+2)
UKIP 1% (+1)

Is there any cause for concern in the apparent drop in support for the SNP?  Not necessarily on the constituency ballot, because 56% remains within the normal TNS range for the SNP, albeit at the lower end of it.  However, 47% on the list ballot is easily the lowest TNS have reported since before the general election, and perhaps more importantly, the disparity between the two ballots is much bigger than normal.  Unlike with Survation (who routinely show the SNP losing a big chunk of their constituency voters on the list), that can't be explained by an inadvisable question wording.  The explanation offered by TNS themselves is that, as the election approaches, more voters may be recalling that they do have an option of using the list vote for a different party.  I'm slightly sceptical about that, because almost half of SNP constituency voters who switch parties on the list in this poll end up in the column of an anti-independence party.  If it was simply a case of SNP voters being emboldened to be more adventurous on the list, you wouldn't expect them to be going to Labour.  I'm wondering if we're just looking at a slightly weird sample here, but future polls will tell us one way or the other.

All the same, this is a moderately good poll for two of the smaller pro-independence parties.  8% for the Greens isn't unusually high, but it's towards the upper end of their normal range with TNS.  2% for the SSP is still well below the level at which RISE can realistically expect to win even one seat, but it does mark the first time since heaven-only-knows-when that any firm other than YouGov have put the SSP or RISE higher than 1%.  Time will tell whether that's a freak result.  The news remains grim for Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity, though - they're listed in the datasets, but they failed to trouble the scorer.  In the weighted sample, not a single respondent was a Solidarity voter (although the presence of an asterisk implies that they probably had a solitary voter in the unweighted sample).

Incidentally, UKIP would have joined the SSP on 2%, but they lost two-thirds of their voters when the turnout filter was applied.  That might be a little clue as to why David Coburn and his delightful chums are highly unlikely to grace Holyrood with their presence after May.  The European election two years ago was effectively a 'home' game for them, with their supporters disproportionately motivated to turn out, but a Scottish Parliament election is very much an 'away' fixture for the Brit Nat ultras.

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I never got round to updating the Poll of Polls after the most recent Survation poll, so the percentage changes below take account of both Survation and TNS.  This is the first update in which Labour have slipped below 20% on the constituency ballot, although of course we're well used to seeing them below 20% on the list.

Constituency ballot :

SNP 52.4% (-0.8)
Labour 19.8% (-0.6)
Conservatives 16.6% (+0.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.2% (+0.8)

Regional list ballot :

SNP 45.8% (-1.8)
Labour 18.8% (-0.2)
Conservatives 16.8% (+1.2)
Greens 7.4% (+0.6)
Liberal Democrats 6.4% (+0.2)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the firms that have reported Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers over the previous three months, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are five - Panelbase, Survation, YouGov, TNS and Ipsos-Mori. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample.)

New EU referendum polls from ICM and YouGov show a virtual dead heat

The weekly ICM referendum poll is out, and on the face of it, the results look pretty routine, slotting in more or less in the middle of ICM's 'normal range' -

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 44% (-1)
Leave 43% (n/c)

However, for the second poll in a row, ICM have made a methodological change, so the headline numbers aren't directly comparable with anything that has gone before. In the last poll, it was possible to see that Remain would have been roughly four points ahead (without a distortion caused by rounding) under the old methodology, leaving open the possibility that there had been a genuine swing to Remain in the immediate wake of the Brussels attacks. This time, it's slightly tricky to work out the unadjusted trend, because the format of the datasets has changed to take account of the methodological shift, and there are one or two things there that don't really make sense. For example, we're told that the headline results are filtered by voter registration - and yet as far as I can see respondents aren't asked at any point whether they are registered to vote. Possibly ICM already have that information from questions previously asked to their polling panel - but in that case, why is that particular filter necessary? Why not simply invite only people who are registered to vote? I'm sure there's a straightforward explanation, but it's not immediately apparent. We're also told that two sets of results are filtered to only include those who are "certain to vote" - but a) that makes a nonsense of the whole concept of "turnout weighting", and b) the numbers don't tally up anyway. Only 1255 respondents say they are absolutely certain to vote, and yet 1819 respondents are left in the first filtered sample, and 1625 in the second.

For what it's worth, though, it's hard to see how Remain would be further than 2-3% ahead if the changes hadn't been introduced, so whichever way you cut it, this poll is slightly better for Leave than the last one from ICM.  The improvement is not statistically significant, but it somewhat reduces the chances that the apparent swing to Remain last time around was genuine.

The disparity between Scotland and the rest of the UK is particularly gigantic this week - the Scottish subsample figures are Remain 60%, Leave 28%.

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Sod's law - I was just about to hit 'publish', and then I suddenly noticed there's a new YouGov poll out as well...

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 39% (-1)
Leave 38% (+1)

This one does look potentially significant, because the razor-thin Remain lead is lower than the 2-5% range we saw in the last four YouGov polls.  Even if the slight progress for Leave is just an illusion caused by sampling variation, that could mean that YouGov's current 'normal range' isn't quite as good for Remain as we had thought until today.

The Scottish subsample figures are : Remain 51%, Leave 32%.

*  *  *


I've been thinking for some time that I should reduce the time-frame covered by each update of the Poll of Polls, because one month seems a bit too long at this stage of the campaign.  Ideally, I'd like to cut it to a fortnight, but at the moment that would leave us with just one telephone poll in the sample.  So I'll compromise and go with three weeks for now, although at some point it'll hopefully be possible to bring it down to two, as polls are likely to become much more frequent as referendum day approaches.


Remain 45.2% (+0.9)
Leave 41.4% (+0.5)


Remain 41.9% (+0.9)
Leave 42.4% (+2.2)


Remain 48.5% (+1.0)
Leave 40.3% (-1.2)

(The Poll of Polls takes account of all polls that were conducted at least partly within the last three weeks. The online average is based on eight polls - three from ICM, two from TNS, one from ORB, one from YouGov and one from BMG. The telephone average is based on four polls - one from ComRes, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from ORB and one from Survation.)

Monday, April 4, 2016

ORB telephone poll puts Leave just seven points behind - but what does it mean?

There does seem to be something about EU referendum polls.  Every time we need a particular type of poll to make things a little clearer, we kind of get it, but in a form that isn't actually of much use.  Here is the latest telephone poll -

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 51%
Leave 44%

In normal circumstances, a telephone poll putting Leave just seven points behind would be interpreted as a dreadful result for Remain. But this one is from ORB - who have only previously conducted one phone poll, and it stuck out like a sore thumb by putting Leave ahead. So there are a few possibilities - perhaps the last poll was a freak, and the new one can be seen as being in line with ComRes in showing a much reduced telephone lead for Remain. Or perhaps ORB have a Leave-friendly house bias, in which case this poll might indicate that Remain have bounced back over the last couple of weeks, meaning we should expect the Remain lead to return to double figures in the next ComRes and Ipsos-Mori phone polls. Or perhaps the apparent swing to Remain can be explained by a methodological tweak (it wouldn't be surprising if ORB have reviewed their phone methodology, given how unexpected the outcome of the last poll was).

To put it another way, we're none the wiser, and all we can do is wait for more information.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ochone! Opinium's overnight offering is awfully ominous for pro-Europeans, as the Leave campaign opens up a four-point lead

Opinium have only conducted one previous voting intention poll over the course of the EU referendum campaign, and it showed a razor-thin Leave lead, so their new poll showing a four-point Leave advantage doesn't particularly indicate that anything dramatic has happened.  But assuming there haven't been any methodological changes, it further strengthens the evidence that Remain haven't made progress of any significance in the wake of the Brussels attacks.

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Remain 39% (-1)
Leave 43% (+2)

The poll was commissioned by the Observer, who focus on the very familiar pattern of younger respondents backing Remain but being much less likely than their Leave-leaning seniors to actually cast their vote.  Irritatingly, though, we're not told whether the poll is filtered/weighted by turnout - if it is, the disadvantage for Remain is already factored into the headline figures.  If not, the poll could be implying that Leave are really ahead by a fair bit more than four points.  We'll presumably find out one way or the other when the datasets emerge.

Assuming that differential turnout will on balance work in Leave's favour (which it probably will, although ComRes take the opposite view), it's worth pointing out that both polling evidence and past precedent suggests that we're heading for a comparatively low poll in June.  Turnout in the 1975 Common Market referendum was around 10 points lower than the norm for general elections of the period, so if history repeats itself we might be looking at a figure in the mid-50s, leaving plenty of scope for the greater motivation of Leave supporters to swing the balance.  That said, the result in 1975 was already a foregone conclusion by the time referendum day came around.  If the polling this time remains tight and/or contradictory, that in itself could galvanise Remain sympathisers into turning out (in much the same way that No voters were galvanised in the closing stages of the indyref campaign).

I'm going to hold off from updating the Poll of Polls, because there's been a flurry of half-breed polls published recently, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to decide which polls should be classified as 'proper' voting intention polls.  Hopefully the mists will clear shortly - but basically, any average of online polls would show a more or less deadlocked race, while telephone polls are for the most part continuing to show Remain ahead, but by a narrower margin than we've been used to.

UPDATE : The Opinium datasets have now been released, and as Roger Mexico points out in the comments section below, not only is there no turnout filter, but respondents who are not even eligible to vote have been eccentrically left in the headline figures.  Taking the elementary step of removing those people isn't quite enough to change the rounded voting intention result, but the unrounded numbers work out as -

Remain 38.7%
Leave 43.1%

As usual, the Scottish subsample is far more Remain-friendly : Remain 53%, Leave 30%.