Saturday, October 27, 2018

SNP with 12-point Holyrood lead in new Survation poll

I woke up this morning to people fretting about a 'bad' Survation poll in the Daily Record, although in fact it's not as bad as you'd think if you inhaled the Record's reporting.  For some unknown reason (well, we can probably guess), they've used percentage changes from the Holyrood election of 2016 rather than from the last comparable poll - giving the misleading impression of a very sharp and sudden drop in SNP support.  They don't actually make clear whether this is an online or telephone poll, but assuming it's online (the vast majority of Record-commissioned polls are), here are the correct figures with percentage changes measured from the last online Survation poll that was published around three weeks ago -

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 38% (-5)
Conservatives 26% (+2)
Labour 25% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 9% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 32% (n/c)
Labour 23% (n/c)
Conservatives 23% (+2)
Greens 9% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (+1)


SNP 36% (-5)
Conservatives 27% (+1)
Labour 26% (+2)

Should Scotland be an independent country?

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

Although the changes aren't as dramatic as the Record are making out, the SNP are significantly down on two of three ballots (strangely they're not down at all on the Holyrood list).  It's hard to make much sense of that, because three polls were published at the time of the SNP conference (two Survation, one Panelbase), which all agreed that the SNP had come through the reporting of the Alex Salmond story unscathed.  So if there has been a setback, it must have occurred over the course of October, and I can't think of any obvious recent trigger for a 5-point drop.  My own instinct is that this is much more likely to be random sampling variation - ie. within the standard margin of error, the sample Survation interviewed this time may have been a bit SNP/Yes-light.  We'll have to wait for the next poll or two to find out for sure.

There's an absolutely nonsensical section of the Record article which observes that a small swing from SNP to Labour since last year's Westminster election would see Labour gain eight seats, pushing the Tories back into third place.  That's true as far as it goes, but the rather more salient point is that the Record's own poll shows that no such swing has occurred - the SNP's lead over Labour stands at ten points, exactly the same as June 2017.  On a uniform swing, the SNP would lose no seats at all to Labour, and would gain one seat (Stirling) from the Tories.  And if the Record are so keen to go off on a tangent and talk about hypothetical swings that were not detected by the poll, it's mysterious that they neglected to mention that a small swing from Labour to SNP could see the SNP gain six seats, practically wiping Labour out once again.

As ever, the SNP and Green showings on the Holyrood list have to be regarded as extremely suspect.  A relatively low SNP list vote, and a relatively high Green list vote, seem to be standard 'house effects' of Survation's online polling - perhaps because the question characterises the list vote as the "second" vote, thus giving some respondents the false impression they are being asked for a second preference vote.  Nevertheless, given the direction of travel elsewhere in the poll, it's perhaps surprising (and reassuring) that the SNP haven't slipped down to the 20s on the list.

John Curtice is quoted in the Record piece as saying that the poll shows the "fragility" of the SNP's position.  But in fact, the Holyrood seats projection puts the pro-independence parties just four seats short of retaining their majority.  It's pretty remarkable that they could be so close to doing that when the SNP are in the 30s on both ballots - which arguably illustrates the in-built strength of the SNP's position, providing they can retain a handsome lead over the second-placed party on the constituency vote.  So you can look at the situation in more than one way.

UPDATE: Survation have belatedly tweeted about the poll, and have done so in this annoyingly ambiguous way -

New Scotland polling with fieldwork 18th-21st October in today's @Daily_Record. (Changes vs 3rd-5th Oct*)

Westminster voting intention;
CON 27% (nc)
LAB 26% (nc)
LD 7% (+1)
SNP 36% (-1)
AP 3% (nc)


Does the placing of the asterisk indicate that they are making a potentially misleading comparison between an online poll (this one) and a telephone poll from earlier in the month?  Or does it mean that the new poll was conducted by telephone as well?  I hope it's not the latter, because if so it would mean that half of the above blogpost is based on a false premise, but we'll find out when the datasets are published...

Friday, October 26, 2018

SNP vote holds up in agonisingly close Coatbridge South by-election

So unfortunately it turns out that I was correct earlier tonight in suggesting that Labour's chances in the Coatbridge South by-election were being underestimated - they ended up pipping the SNP by just 0.4% of the vote on first preferences, which made it all but inevitable they'd win on a later count due to the greater propensity of Tory voters to transfer to Labour.

Coatbridge South by-election result:

Labour 41.5% (+12.0)
SNP 41.1% (-1.6)
Conservatives 15.1% (+3.2)
Greens 1.4% (n/a)
UKIP 0.4% (n/a)
Liberal Democrats 0.4% (n/a)

[UPDATE, Friday, 5pm: I've had to correct the above figures, because the original version of the result that appeared on Twitter last night turned out to be slightly inaccurate.  It's amazing how often that happens.]

Technically this was a Labour hold rather than a gain, meaning that they won't have any more councillors in North Lanarkshire than they previously did.  Nevertheless, on paper it appeared that the SNP should have won tonight, because they topped the popular vote in the ward quite comfortably in May 2017.  This follows the same pattern as a few other by-elections in former Labour heartlands since the general election in which Labour have done significantly better than the national opinion polls would have led us to expect.  So what is going on?  Is there a localised Labour renaissance that the opinion polls aren't picking up?  In this particular case there may be a more prosaic explanation.  Although there was a technical swing from SNP to Labour, the SNP's own vote barely dropped at all.  On the face of it, the big increase in Labour's vote may have come almost entirely from people who voted for independents in May 2017.  And it just so happens that the independents were disgruntled former Labour councillors.  Perhaps, then, the SNP victory in the ward eighteen months ago was a bit illusory, and the 'real' Labour vote was always significantly higher than the 2017 result suggested.

Of course it may well be a bit more complex than that, but I'd be surprised if that isn't at least part of the explanation.  So let's not over-react to what is admittedly a very frustrating result.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

In Coatbridge South? Don't forget to vote before 10pm

It's statistically inevitable (or highly likely at least) that a few readers of this blog are residents of the Coatbridge South ward.  If you're one of them, and if you haven't voted SNP in today's by-election yet, please do us all a favour and pay a trip to your local polling station before 10pm.  This is an unusually important contest because the SNP and Labour are so evenly matched on North Lanarkshire Council.  As far as I can see (and admittedly it's always a bit hard to get up-to-date figures), if Labour win tonight they'll be the largest party by one seat, and if the SNP win they'll be the largest party by one seat.  Either way, Labour will remain in power thanks to their grubby informal deal with the Tories, but that state of affairs will be considerably less comfortable for them if they're only the second-largest party.

On paper the SNP should have every chance of taking this one - they won the popular vote in the ward last May.  But unfortunately since the general election there have been a number of local by-elections in former Labour heartlands which have seen significant swings from SNP to Labour.  So the result could go either way, and every vote counts.