Friday, September 15, 2017

Massive boost for Sturgeon as Survation confirm SNP have staggeringly sizeable Scottish Parliament lead

Hot on the heels of Panelbase's first Scottish Parliament poll in an eternity comes the same from Survation.  The findings of the two polls are strikingly similar on the constituency ballot (which is all we got from Panelbase).

Scottish Parliament voting intentions (Survation) :

Constituency ballot -

SNP 42%
Conservatives 26%
Labour 25%
Liberal Democrats 7%

Regional list ballot -

SNP 31%
Labour 25%
Conservatives 21%
Liberal Democrats 10%
Greens 9%

Crucially, the SNP's more modest lead on the list isn't caused by any sort of Corbyn surge or Tory breakthrough, but rather by the more long-standing problem of SNP constituency voters drifting off in large numbers to the Greens on the list.  That means, according to the most ubiquitous seat projection models, that the pro-independence parties in combination would be just two or three seats away from retaining their majority.  In other words, despite all the sound and fury of recent months, we're in almost as good a position as we were when Nicola Sturgeon won the May 2016 Holyrood election with a pro-independence majority of 69-60 - and there's no election due for another four years anyway.

Even better news is to be found on the independence question.  Against all the odds, and in defiance of all expectations, there has been a sharp swing back to Yes, with the pro-independence vote now once again exceeding the 45% achieved in the 2014 referendum -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 46% (+3)
No 54% (-3)

Of course an apparent 3% swing could be an illusion caused by margin of error, but it would still be good news even if that is the case - because it would suggest the 43% Yes vote in the last Survation poll was more likely to be an underestimate than an overestimate.

Survation also asked respondents when they thought the next independence referendum should be.  As with the equivalent question in the Panelbase poll, the various options were worded a bit ambiguously, which makes it harder to get much sense out of the results.  However, a combined total of 34% want a referendum either before Britain leaves the EU or at around the time Britain leaves the EU, which presumably means in the very, very near future.  That figure is basically identical to the 37% who "never" want to see another referendum.  In between the two extremes are a moderate group of around 20% who either want a referendum "a few years after Britain leaves the EU" or "after the 2021 election".  Those two options sound very similar to me, although I suppose theoretically you could argue that "after the 2021 election" could mean any time between 2021 and infinity.  From a common sense point of view, I think it would be fair to say this poll seems to be pointing towards a majority in favour of holding a second indyref in the short or medium term.

In another sign of how dramatically some social attitudes in Scotland have changed over a short period of time, the poll finds respondents are not far away from being evenly split over whether parents should be banned from smacking children.  36% support a ban, with 42% opposed.  That sort of finding would have been unthinkable a few years ago (ie. there would have been overwhelming opposition to a ban).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Scale of Davidson flop becomes clear as "extraordinary" Panelbase poll reveals that 42% of public want an independence referendum within LESS THAN TWO YEARS

Panelbase have released the datasets for the full-scale Scottish poll that was published (and so comically misrepresented) in yesterday's Sunday Times.  Here are a few points that leap out -

1) As expected, Panelbase have introduced weighting by recalled 2017 general election vote.  In one sense that's very good news, because it means that there's much less reason to be sceptical about the SNP's double-digit lead over both the Tories and Labour.  If, for example, there had been weighting by 2016 recalled Holyrood vote but not by 2017 vote, there would be a danger that respondents might have got the two elections mixed up, which in all likelihood would lead to the SNP's vote being wrongly adjusted upwards (the exact reverse of the effect that was seen when YouGov used to weight by 2010 vote, rather than 2011).  Instead, the SNP have actually been significantly weighted down on recalled vote, with the 385 respondents who said they voted SNP in June being reduced to 346.

The downside is that 2017 weighting was also applied to the independence question.  We know from YouGov polling that the reduction in the SNP vote in June can be partly explained by people staying at home, rather than defecting to another party.  And yet it's not unreasonable to assume that a lot of those people might well turn out to vote in a second indyref, and would be more likely to vote Yes than No.  The problem with Panelbase's new approach is that to some extent it treats those missing voters as if they don't exist - which could, theoretically, lead to the Yes vote being underestimated.  It certainly means that the new poll is not directly comparable with Panelbase's previous independence poll, which was conducted just before the general election.  That factor alone might explain the small (and statistically insignificant) drop in the Yes vote from 44% to 43%.

2) The only possible reason I can think of for still being a little cautious about the SNP's handsome lead is that the independence question was asked before the Holyrood voting intention question.  It's arguable that this might put pro-independence voters in a frame of mind where they'd be more likely to favour the SNP rather than Labour.  That's pure speculation on my part, but I don't think the possibility can be totally ruled out.

3) There's a preamble to the independence question: "If the referendum was held again tomorrow, how would you vote in response to the question..."  There's no way of knowing whether that makes any difference to the result, but I think the wording is unwise, because it invites people to think about how they would vote in a re-run of a referendum they have already voted in - perhaps nudging them back towards their original choice, rather than inviting them to think of the next referendum as a completely fresh vote taking place in a different context (ie. Brexit).

4) Judging from the numbering in the datasets, there are clearly some results from the poll that haven't seen the light of day yet.  In the past, the Sunday Times have sometimes held results back for a week so they can get two weeks' worth of headlines out of the same poll.  If a Westminster voting intention question was asked, and if the results were less favourable for the SNP than the Holyrood constituency numbers (as they probably would be), I'm wondering if they're being held back for a good old "blow for Sturgeon" effort next week.  It does, however, look like there was no question about Holyrood regional list voting intention, because there's no obvious reason why that would have been withheld.  The omission makes it impossible to use the poll to project seat totals in the Scottish Parliament.

5) Although the wording is a bit slippery, there's a finding that seems to imply that 49% of respondents think that Scotland will be independent within less than 20 years, compared to 42% who do not.  And only 32% think that Scotland is not likely to become independent "at any point in the next few decades".

6) An astonishing total of 42.3% of respondents want the next independence referendum to take place within less than two years.  Admittedly that's down on the roughly 50/50 split we've seen on that question in previous Panelbase polls, but nevertheless it's an absolutely stunning slap in the face for the commentators who have spent the last three months trying to convince themselves that the SNP's decisive victory in June somehow rendered the issue of independence "dead".

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Enormous lead for the SNP in first post-June Scottish poll

"The findings are likely to dismay Nicola Sturgeon" says Jason Allardyce of the Sunday Times about a new poll which he must know perfectly well is going to absolutely thrill Nicola Sturgeon, because it shows the SNP have shrugged off the hammering they've been taking in the media since June, and have retained an enormous lead in Scottish Parliament voting intentions.

Holyrood constituency voting intentions (Panelbase) :

SNP 42%
Conservatives 28%
Labour 22%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Greens 2%

No percentage changes are listed because it appears that this is the first Scottish Parliament poll that Panelbase have conducted since the Holyrood election almost eighteen months ago.  They've done Scottish voting intention polls since then, but for obvious reasons the voting intentions being measured were for Westminster or local council elections.  And that brings me to the most important health warning about these numbers.  I rarely disagree with Stuart Campbell of Wings, but he's attempting to use this poll as evidence to support his belief that the pattern shown by the Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls (basically a tight three-way contest, with the SNP and Labour battling it out for first place) is completely meaningless.  Much more likely, I'm afraid, is that the reason for the disparity is that those subsamples relate to Westminster voting intention only.  

Nobody disputes that an individual subsample should be regarded as unreliable, but an aggregate of a large number of subsamples is likely to produce figures that are at least within the correct ball-park.  What they've shown is in line with what seems intuitively likely, and indeed what was apparently borne out by the local by-elections on Thursday - ie. that Labour have built upon their mini-recovery at the general election.  It's not clear whether Panelbase even asked for Westminster voting intentions in the new poll (there's no sign of Westminster numbers on Twitter, and I don't pay the Murdoch levy so I haven't been able to read the Sunday Times article in full), but my strong suspicion is that a full-scale Scottish Westminster poll would show the SNP significantly lower than the Holyrood numbers suggest, and Labour significantly higher.  To believe anything else, you would have to believe that there has been a large swing from Labour to SNP since June, which flies in the face of all logic given what happened on Thursday.  

I suspect that the traditional gap between Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions, which has existed for the vast majority of the eighteen years since devolution, has reasserted itself.  If so, the explanation is the usual one - there is a significant minority of voters out there who like both Labour and the SNP, but think Labour is the more natural choice for Westminster and that the SNP is the most natural choice for Holyrood.

In many ways that's not bad news.  The question of whether a second independence referendum is held will ultimately be decided by Holyrood arithmetic, after all.  This is just one poll, but if other firms corroborate Panelbase's findings, it means that the SNP have only lost around 4% or 5% of support since their decisive victory in May 2016.  If another Holyrood election was held now, it looks highly likely that the SNP would be effectively re-elected as a minority government - probably without a pro-independence majority in parliament, but they're not a million miles away from holding on to even that.  With no election due until May 2021, the unionist parties can scarcely look at this poll and think "all we have to do is hold out until the next election, and then the parliamentary majority for an indyref will automatically disappear and we can all get back to normal".

And as far as the prospects for actually dislodging the SNP from government are concerned, this poll is an absolute hammerblow for the unionists.  The Tories seem to have a natural ceiling of around 30% support, so realistically if any party is going to defeat the SNP it'll have to be Labour - and yet even after a very favourable summer, Labour still seemingly find themselves twenty points behind the SNP, and in a dismal third place.  It appears that no matter how good things get for Labour in Westminster terms (or even perhaps in local government terms) there will always be gravity holding them back in Scottish Parliament elections.  Perhaps the only way to overcome that handicap would be to find a truly inspirational leader - but instead they're going to be stuck with either Anas Sarwar or mystery man Richard Leonard (and I suspect it may well be Sarwar, who is the worse of the two).

Panelbase also asked a voting intention question on independence -

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes 43% (-1)
No 57% (+1)

For my money, the SNP leadership will be very pleased (or at least monumentally relieved) about those figures.  Although we haven't had a post-election party political voting intention poll until today, there was an independence poll from Survation in mid-June which suggested a substantial drop in support for independence.  There appeared to be a danger that the momentum was running away from Yes, in which case there was a chance that things might have worsened significantly over the course of the summer.  Instead, the situation seems to have stabilised.  The percentage changes listed above are from the Panelbase poll conducted in the days leading up to the general election, so it appears that there hasn't been a statistically significant swing since then.  Yes remains firmly in the game.