Saturday, April 29, 2017

Your anti-Tory tactical voting guide for the 59 Scottish constituencies at the 2017 general election

As Marcia has pointed out, a lot of tactical voting at the forthcoming general election will be aimed at keeping the Tories out, or at least minimising the size of their overall majority.  One handy side-benefit of the current polarisation of politics in Scotland is that it makes anti-Tory tactical voting extremely straightforward - if you live in any constituency that the Conservatives might conceivably win, the rational option is to vote SNP.  No other party can stop the Tories in any of their target seats.  However, where there may still be some confusion is over exactly which seats are competitive enough to make tactical voting necessary, and which seats the Tories can't realistically win.

In the hope of clearing the mists slightly, I've drawn up the following lists.  Feel free to share them with the Lib Dem or Labour supporter in your life.  It goes without saying that the advice on tactical voting only applies if your Number 1 objective is to stop the Tories.

*  *  *

There is a VERY HIGH RISK of the Tories winning the following 5 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to vote tactically for the SNP.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
East Renfrewshire
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

*  *  *

There is a SUBSTANTIAL RISK of the Tories winning the following 3 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to vote tactically for the SNP.

Aberdeen South
Perth and North Perthshire

*  *  *

There is a MODERATE RISK of the Tories winning the following 5 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to vote tactically for the SNP.

East Lothian
Edinburgh South
Edinburgh South-West

*  *  *

There is an OUTSIDE CHANCE of the Tories winning the following 8 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, you are advised to err on the side of caution and vote tactically for the SNP.

Argyll and Bute
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
Banff and Buchan
East Dunbartonshire
Edinburgh West
North-East Fife
Ochil and South Perthshire

*  *  *

There is NO REALISTIC PROSPECT of the Tories winning the following 39 constituencies.  If you live in one of them, there is no need to vote tactically, and you should feel free to vote for your own preferred party.

Aberdeen North
Airdrie and Shotts
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Central Ayrshire
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East
Dundee East 
Dundee West
Dunfermline and West Fife
East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
Edinburgh East
Edinburgh North and Leith
Glasgow Central
Glasgow East
Glasgow North
Glasgow North-East
Glasgow North-West
Glasgow South
Glasgow South-West
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
Kilmarnock and Loudoun
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath
Lanark and Hamilton East
Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Motherwell and Wishaw
Na h-Eileanan an Iar
North Ayrshire and Arran
Orkney and Shetland
Paisley and Renfrewshire North
Paisley and Renfrewshire South
Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Rutherglen and Hamilton West
West Dunbartonshire

Another reader's question on STV : How do you solve a problem like an eejit in the Western Isles?

I received another question the other day about the STV voting system for the local elections, and once again it's probably worth answering it in a public post in case anyone else has the same doubt in their mind.

"In my council ward in the Western Isles I have 6 candidates, one of whom is SNP and the remainder (supposedly) independent.

I intend to put my 1 for the SNP candidate.

Of the remainder there is one eejit whom I can't see far enough, and to whom I would like to give a resounding 6.

The others, I neither know nor care about.

Is it allowable to just vote 1 and 6 with nothing in between?"

The simple answer is "no".  Although you don't have to give preferences to all of the candidates, any candidates you do give preferences to must be ranked in strict numerical order starting from 1.  So if you give preferences to only two candidates, they must be ranked 1 and 2.  By doing that in the example given above, you would be ranking the number 2 candidate ahead of the four candidates you have not ranked at all.  The only way to rank the "eejit" bottom of the pile would be to give your top five preferences to the non-eejits.  If you genuinely cannot find any way of choosing between four of the five non-eejits, your only option would be to rank them in random order.

You don't have to rank them if you don't want to - but bear in mind that if you don't, you're abstaining in certain circumstances and potentially helping the eejit to win.  If you attempt to give only a first and sixth preference, the first preference will be counted but the sixth preference will be ignored (effectively as a spoilt ballot).

Friday, April 28, 2017

Support for independence shoots back up in crucial YouGov poll

Tonight brings word of YouGov's first full-scale Scottish poll since Theresa May called the snap general election, and it provides tremendous reassurance on the independence question.  After two consecutive YouGov polls that have had the Yes camp below the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum, something approaching normal service has been resumed.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 45% (+2)
No 55% (-2)

As ever, it's worth bearing in mind that YouGov probably haven't interviewed 16 and 17 year olds, so even assuming their methodology is otherwise sound, the 45% for Yes could conceivably be a slight underestimate.

We've now had five different polling firms report on independence in April, and four of them have shown some sort of movement towards Yes (although it was only a trivial 0.1% swing in the case of Survation).  The increase is so small in each poll that the pattern may just be coincidence, but the important thing is that there is absolutely no corroboration for the Kantar/TNS findings suggesting there has been a dramatic drop in the Yes vote.  That poll sticks out like a sore thumb to an even greater extent now.

With depressing predictability, a heavy dose of spin is being applied to the YouGov poll tonight by unionist propagandists in the mainstream media - a graphic has been put out with the title "Losing Ground".  It's quite true that the No side appears to be losing ground, but I suspect that's not what they meant.  I'm sure it makes some kind of weird sense in their own heads.

Admittedly, there is less good news on Westminster voting intentions, where the SNP have slipped to an unusually low 41%.  However, the Tories have failed to make the type of breakthrough suggested by Panelbase recently, leaving Nicola Sturgeon's party still holding a commanding lead.

Westminster voting intention (YouGov) :

SNP 41%
Conservatives 28%
Labour 18%
Liberal Democrats 7%
Greens 3%

That's quite an odd set of numbers, because other polls have implied that the SNP are basically losing support direct to the Tories, but YouGov seem to be suggesting that some of the support has gone elsewhere.  If you'd told me in advance that the SNP were going to be as low as 41%, I would have expected the Tories to be in the thirties.  At the end of the day, the lead of the first-placed party over the second-placed party is the most important thing in any first-past-the-post election, so we can draw considerable comfort from the 13% gap - and also from the 3% support for the Greens, some of which may find its way to the SNP by polling day (partly for tactical reasons, and partly because the Greens won't be standing in all constituencies).

*  *  *


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.0% (+0.3)
No 54.0% (-0.3)

(The Poll of Polls on independence is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov, Kantar/TNS and Survation.)

Westminster voting intentions :

SNP 42.8% (-0.8)
Conservatives 29.3% (-1.1)
Labour 16.5% (+1.2)
Liberal Democrats 7.0% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls for Westminster voting intentions 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, April 26, 2017

The ghost of #Pounds4McDougallGate

I must admit I burst out laughing when I heard that Blair McDougall is going to be Labour's general election candidate in East Renfrewshire, but once I regained my composure I realised that this is a symptom of a major dilemma for the unionist camp.  There's no doubt that the SNP are vulnerable in East Renfrewshire, but they'll start looking a hell of a lot less vulnerable if the Labour/Tory vote is split right down the middle.  Budding unionist tactical voters can't do much until they work out who the real challenger is, and that's far from clear at the moment.  The political history of the area, taken in combination with current opinion polls, would suggest the seat ought to be a straight fight between SNP and Tory, and that Labour's resilience in 2015 was a one-off due to Tories temporarily lending their support to Jim Murphy on a mass scale.  And yet anyone 'tactically' voting for the Tories this time will have to take a leap of faith and assume that natural Tory voters won't be coaxed by the electrifyingly charismatic McDougall and his trusty Lib Dem-style bar-charts into believing that "only Labour can beat the SNP here".  There will be a similar dilemma in East Dunbartonshire, where diehard unionists will have to guess whether Jo Swinson's candidacy means there will not be the mass-switch from Lib Dem to Tory that you might otherwise expect in an area with such a strong Tory tradition.

* * *


The second update of our Poll of Polls for Scottish voting intentions at the general election is based on two full-scale Scottish polls (from Panelbase and Survation), and eight subsamples (two from ICM, one from Ipsos-Mori, one from Panelbase, one from ComRes, one from Survation, one from Opinium and one from YouGov). The GB-wide poll from Kantar/TNS has had to be excluded because no geographical breakdown was provided.

SNP 43.6% (-0.7)
Conservatives 30.4% (+6.1)
Labour 15.3% (-0.7)
Liberal Democrats 7.0% (+0.7)

(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.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Drama as No-friendly TNS poll finds half of the Scottish public want an independence referendum

I've been having a look at the newly-released datasets from TNS to see if there is any potential explanation (other than the obvious one of data collection method) for why they are contradicting three other pollsters in showing a big swing to No.  What leaps out at me are the weightings for recalled Holyrood vote, and the highly unusual way TNS treat respondents who say they didn't cast a vote last year.  Most pollsters who weight by recalled vote do not try to upweight abstainers until they reflect the actual abstention rate.  There are two very good reasons for that approach : a) people are embarrassed to admit that they didn't vote, meaning a significant proportion will lie and claim they did turn out, and b) people who do openly admit they didn't vote are particularly unlikely to vote again in future elections anyway.

That being the case, you'll quickly spot the problem in the fact that only 27% of the unweighted TNS sample either said they didn't vote last year or can't remember how they voted, and that TNS decided to massively upweight that group to 42%.   It looks highly likely that disproportionate weight has been given to a hard-core of non-voters.  That doesn't explain all of the swing to No by any means - there is movement in that direction almost across the board among voters for most parties.  But the swing among abstainers from last year is very large - they've gone from being virtually split down the middle in the last TNS poll to being in favour of No this time by a 21-point margin.  The massive upweighting will obviously have artificially magnified the effect of that.

The biggest downweighting on the recalled vote is among people who say they voted SNP - 38% of the unweighted sample were SNP voters, and they were scaled down to count as just 27%.  That obviously has a significant detrimental effect on the reported Yes vote.  It's not unreasonable to speculate that 'embarrassed abstainers' who falsely claim to have voted last year may have defaulted to saying they voted for the winning party, so while it's possible that TNS may have interviewed too many SNP voters by chance, it's also possible that this group has been downweighted too much, leading to distorted headline numbers.

In addition, there's a very familiar problem with respondents who recall voting for an "other" party - meaning a party other than the SNP, Tories, Lib Dems or Labour.  This small group often ends up being very sharply downweighted, because people are asked how they voted on the constituency ballot, but instead find themselves recalling their vote for the Greens or UKIP on the list.  In the new poll, this had led to them being scaled down from 3.4% of the raw sample to count as just 0.6%.  It's blindingly obvious that TNS aren't giving them sufficient weight, and as it happens, they are the only group that didn't show any movement to No at all.  They also broke only very marginally for No overall.  If there had been a more realistic target figure for "others" to take account of the confusion between the constituency and list vote, this factor alone could conceivably have slightly reduced the reported swing to No.

You'll have seen a lot of hysterical coverage today about how this poll supposedly shows that the public don't want an independence referendum.  You probably won't faint with amazement to discover that it shows no such thing.  Excluding Don't Knows, 49% of respondents chose one of the four pro-referendum options provided by TNS, and 51% chose the sole anti-referendum option provided.  That's within the margin of error, so must be regarded as a 'statistical tie', and is strikingly similar to the findings of recent Panelbase polls which have also shown voters split down the middle.  It's also worth pointing out that if the TNS poll does turn out to be a rogue poll with too many No voters in the sample, the 49% in favour of holding a referendum is likely to be an underestimate.

Nostalgia night as TNS reverts to being an extreme No-friendly outlier

You might remember that throughout much of the long campaign leading up to the 2014 independence referendum, TNS was one of the group of No-friendly pollsters, before sensationally swinging in the opposite direction just before polling day.  That dramatic reversal survived into the post-referendum period, with a TNS poll in the autumn of 2015 putting Yes in the outright lead.  Now, incomprehensibly, and in total contradiction of the vast bulk of polling evidence from other firms, TNS has returned to its old ways by showing a very large No lead.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (TNS)

Yes 40% (-7)
No 60% (+7)

This is by some distance the worst poll for Yes from any firm since September 2014.  The previous low was Yes 43%, No 57% from YouGov.

The ever-reliable buffoons who insist that "only the last poll we set eyes upon matters" will inevitably lose all sense of perspective over this, but those of us who are a little more level-headed will recognise an indisputable fact here - that this poll can't possibly negate the much more favourable polls we've seen for Yes over the last few days, for the simple reason that it was conducted earlier.  TNS polls are always way out of date by the time that we see them, and this one is no exception - fieldwork started in late March and concluded two weeks ago, which dates it well before the Panelbase and Survation polls.  The majority of interviews also took place before BMG found a virtual 50/50 tie.  So the verdict from those three online pollsters is clear enough - they are more up-to-date, and they do not corroborate the findings of TNS.

That's not to say that if a more recent TNS poll had been conducted, it would necessarily have produced a healthier result for Yes.  TNS traditionally use a distinctive face-to-face data collection method, and that could largely explain why they've suddenly bolted off in a different direction from other firms (assuming this isn't an outright rogue poll, which always has to be considered a possibility when the numbers are this unexpected).  And yet it seems highly unlikely that the new No-friendly trend is going to be seen across all non-online polls, because as recently as early March, a telephone poll from Ipsos-Mori put Yes in a slight outright lead - a better result, ironically, than has been seen in any online poll so far this year.  It's going to take time to make sense of what's happening, because at the moment there's just no comprehensible pattern in any of this.  The BMG, Survation and Ipsos-Mori numbers are simply not reconcilable with TNS - the standard 3% margin of error can't explain such a big divergence.

You would have to say that the balance of probability is that Yes are trailing at the moment, but whether they are trailing by 20% as TNS say, or by 2% as BMG say, or whether the truth is somewhere in between those extremes, is anyone's guess.  We mustn't forget just how absurdly far adrift Leave were in most telephone polls before pulling off victory in the EU referendum last June - so it's perfectly possible that online polls are more accurate these days.

*  *  *


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 45.7% (-1.1)
No 54.3% (+1.1)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov, TNS and Survation.)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Some more information about the Panelbase poll

The datasets for Saturday night's Panelbase poll have been published, and the big surprise is that it appears as if 16 and 17 year olds were included in the sample.  At one point, the poll was listed on Wikipedia as definitely excluding under-18s, so if that was dud information, my apologies for repeating it here.

Looked at one way, this is bad news, because it means there's less reason for suspecting that the 45% Yes vote on the independence question may be a slight underestimate.  It also means that, if anything, the SNP's share of the vote in Westminster voting intentions could be a slight overestimate - because of course, young people are disproportionately likely to support the SNP, and under-18s won't be able to vote in June.  However, here comes the good news - both Yes and the SNP suffered in this poll from the effect of rounding.  It looks like the SNP must have been just a tiny fraction away from being rounded up to 45%, rather than rounded down to 44%.  The Tories were also rounded up a touch to 33%.  On the unrounded numbers, the SNP lead over the Tories is a little over 11.5%, rather than the 11% reported on the headline numbers.  The effect of rounding on the independence question was less significant, but nevertheless the unrounded numbers are a tad better : Yes 45.2%, No 54.8%.

Once again, the extent to which the rump Labour vote under Jim Murphy in 2015 was Tory-leaning has been laid bare by this poll - less than half of 2015 Labour voters are planning to stick with the party, while almost a quarter have moved direct to the Tories.  Only 8% have moved to the SNP.  It would be fascinating to ask the 13% of the electorate that are still sticking with Labour who their second-choice party would be.  That group is so small in number that it's hard to even guess who they are and what motivates them.  It certainly doesn't seem to be a 'working class' thing, though - Labour's support is only a little higher among the less affluent part of the sample than among the most affluent.  As you'd expect, they do significantly better among No voters from 2014, although mystifyingly, 8% of Yes voters have stayed loyal to them.  (On the plus side, that means there may still be some limited scope for a further Labour-to-SNP swing, unless that 8% is composed almost entirely of people who have changed their minds on independence since the referendum.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Terror strikes Tyrannical Theresa as astonishing BMG poll suggests Yes has practically drawn level

Should Scotland be an independent country? (BMG)

Yes 43% (+2)
No 45% (+1)

UPDATE : When I first put this post up, I thought I'd only have a few minutes to wait before more details appeared on the Herald website (the last few BMG polls have all been commissioned by the Herald), revealing what the numbers with Don't Knows excluded are, whether there are Westminster voting intention numbers, etc, etc.  Instead all we've got to prove the poll even exists is a single tweet from the Britain Elects account - which admittedly is normally reliable.  It looks like we'll have to wait until the morning for clarity.

As with Survation and Panelbase last night, what's most important about this poll is what it doesn't show.  A few weeks ago, there were YouGov and Panelbase polls published close together which both reported that Yes had slipped below the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum, thus giving the impression that something had genuinely changed.  But if that was really the case, you'd have expected yesterday's Survation poll to show Yes slipping below the 47% figure that has been so typical in recent months.  You'd certainly have expected BMG to show a drop - and perhaps quite a sharp one - from the heady heights of 48% or 49% recorded in the firm's last two polls.  That hasn't happened.

Of the three polls we've seen this weekend, only Panelbase can arguably be reconciled with the "slippage for Yes" narrative.  Although the 45% Yes vote in that poll represents a 1% increase, it remains slightly below the recent norm.  But even that can potentially be explained away by the rare exclusion of 16 and 17 year olds from the sample.

In short, there is no longer much hard evidence that Yes have suffered any drift at all.  The minimal evidence that does exist is pretty much confined to YouGov polls, and it's possible there's a firm-specific explanation for that.

UPDATE II : Having applied a magnifying glass to a screenshot of the Herald front page, I've finally been able to work out what the BMG figures are with Don't Knows excluded...

Should Scotland be an independent country? (BMG)

Yes 49% (+1)
No 51% (-1)

So with Don't Knows included, the Yes vote is up 2%, and with Don't Knows excluded, it's up 1%.  Let me just gently observe that this renders the Herald's choice of headline ("Independence support fails to rise") more than a touch bizarre!

*  *  *


Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46.8% (+0.4)
No 53.2% (-0.4)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each firm that has reported at least once within the last three months. The firms included in the current sample are Panelbase, BMG, Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Survation.)

Tories left reeling as new polls suggest support for independence has INCREASED

It shows you how much the calling of a snap general election changes our priorities, but we've just had two new polls in which the question about independence has been treated as an afterthought.  Let's put that right, because the findings make for moderately pleasant reading.  Here are the Survation numbers...

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Survation)

Yes 46.9% (+0.1)
No 53.1% (-0.1)

A 0.1% swing in favour of Yes is obviously not remotely significant, but here's the thing - this poll is not directly comparable with the last Survation poll, because 16 and 17 year olds were excluded this time.  There's a semi-reasonable excuse for that, because the independence question was a supplementary in a poll that was primarily interested in voting intentions for an election from which under-18s will be excluded.  But it does mean there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the increase in the Yes vote might otherwise be a tad bigger.  At the very least, there doesn't seem to have been any recent slippage in support for independence.

The Panelbase datasets aren't out yet, but it appears that 16 and 17 year olds were also excluded from that poll.  In spite of that in-built handicap, Yes manages a small increase.

Should Scotland be an independent country? (Panelbase)

Yes 45% (+1)
No 55% (-1)

Basically the Survation numbers are par for the course, and the Panelbase numbers perhaps remain a little below par - but in combination the two polls give the lie to any notion that support for independence is consistently slipping below the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum.  For what it's worth, it remains the case that the only published telephone poll of the year so far actually gave Yes a very slight outright lead.

*  *  *

I'm still not sure how the Greens fared in the Panelbase poll, but we're not going to get an answer from Survation, who seemingly just lumped the Greens in with UKIP and others in a general "some other party" category.  That said, including the Greens can also produce a distorted outcome, because people might indicate that they are planning to vote Green when there isn't even a Green candidate in their own constituency.

*  *  *

Scottish subsamples of GB-wide polls are obviously much less meaningful than full-scale Scottish polls.  Nevertheless, the first inkling we had of the Scottish Tory surge over the last few days came from subsamples, which makes it interesting that the two most recent subsamples we have right now are somewhat less favourable for the Tories.  Both are based on fieldwork that is slightly more up-to-date than the two full-scale polls from Survation and Panelbase.  Today's YouGov subsample has the SNP on 49% and the Tories on 27%, while the subsample from today's Britain-wide Survation poll has the SNP on 45% and the Tories on only 19% (behind even Labour).