Panelbase Poll Shows Challenge White Paper has to Surmount

In what is likely to be the last poll before Tuesday’s independence White Paper, Panelbase (for The Sunday Times and Real Radio) once again present a more optimistic picture for the Yes side than any other pollster. However like everyone else, they also find that the balance of public opinion remains resistant to all attempts to shift it – and that thus the Yes side continues to be behind.

Panelbase’s poll puts the Yes side on 38%, No on 47%. That means the Yes vote is up by one point on both the last poll that the company did for The Sunday Times at the beginning of September and the one they conducted for the Wings over Scotland website last month.  The No tally is unchanged on the last Sunday Times poll and two points up on the Wings reading. Such differences are statistically utterly insignificant.

Once we take the Don’t Knows out, the poll points to a 45% Yes vote.  Apart from one poll they did for the SNP, every single Panelbase poll has on this basis put the Yes vote at 44% or 45%. It is a truly remarkably stable picture.

Indeed, Panelbase’s figures continue to be much the same even though they have made a change to their weighting procedure that might have been expected to have reduced the Yes vote by a point or so. Hitherto the company’s polls have often appeared to contain too few people aged 65 and over. Even after weighting those in that age bracket typically constituted only 12-14% of the company’s samples, when according to the most recent population estimates they comprise 21% of Scotland’s adult population. Those aged 65+ tend to be somewhat less supportive of independence and so it would seem important that they be accurately represented in any poll of referendum voting intentions. Panelbase are now applying a more detailed set of weights that mean that although only 12% of those actually interviewed for their latest poll were aged 65 or over, these respondents actually constitute 21% of the final tally.

Meanwhile as in their most recent poll for Wings over Scotland, Panelbase are now asking referendum vote intention before rather than after Holrood voting intention. As we acknowledged when commenting on the Wings poll, it is now clear that the order in which these questions are asked makes no material difference to reported referendum vote intentions.

Apart from referendum vote intention, the latest poll focuses on the issue that dominated the headlines last week and is undoubtedly the central issue for many voters – the economic consequences of independence.  Even in a poll with as high a Yes vote as this one, it is clear that this debate is one that the Yes side is not only still struggling to win but one where it may have even lost some ground.

Rather more people (44%) feel that an independent Scotland would be worse off financially than feel it would be better off (32%). When Panelbase asked the same question in February last year, only 39% felt it would be worse off, a proportion almost matched by the 36% who reckoned the country would be better off.

Equally, only 15% think they would personally be at least £500 better off under independence, while 26% reckon they would be at least £500 worse off.  That latter figure is up six points on February 2012 (when almost exactly the same question was asked), while the former is up by just two.

Meanwhile, 29% think the state pension would fall in an independent Scotland, an increase of five points on February 2012. The proportion who think it would rise is, at 25%, little changed from the 24% who were previously of that view.

In short, in each case those who are pessimistic about the financial consequences of independence outnumber the optimists. And also in each case the level of pessimism has grown somewhat over the last two years.

At the same time even those who say they will vote Yes appear relatively lukewarm about the economic benefits of independence. They certainly seem less convinced of the benefits that independence would bring than No supporters are of the adverse consequences that would flow from leaving the UK.

While 44% of Yes supporters think that an independent Scotland would be financially much better off, as many as 59% of No voters are convinced it would be much worse off.

Similarly, although 39% of independence supporters believe independence would leave them at least £500 better off, as many as 52% of unionists reckon they would be at least £500 worse off.

On pensions too just 15% of those who say they will vote Yes believe the pension would rise ‘substantially’ whereas 34% of No voters believe independence would bring about a substantial fall.

Within the Yes camp many a hope rests on Tuesday’s White Paper. If those hopes are to be realised, it looks as though it is going to have to be very impressive and persuasive document indeed. For it will evidently be greeted by an electorate that so far has failed to be convinced of the benefits of independence – and seems very reluctant to change its mind on the issue.

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About the author

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', and Chief Commentator on the What Scotland Thinks website.