Santa Brings Yes A Little Present?

Santa has come early for the Yes side in the form of a mildly encouraging pre-Christmas poll from TNS BMRB.

True, the poll’s findings are not immediately spectacular. They put support for the Yes side at 27% and No at 41%.  That represents just a one point increase in the Yes vote as compared with TNS BMRB’s previous poll, conducted in the days immediately before the independence White Paper was published on 26 November.

Still, as TNS BMRB consistently record a much higher level of Don’t Knows than any other company, this small movement is sufficient to ensure that the No vote is the lowest to be recorded by any poll this year. Not a bad headline with which to bring some seasonal cheer to the Yes troops.

More importantly, the downward trend in the No vote that we highlighted when TNS BMRB’s previous poll was published has continued further. Back in August TNS BMRB put the No vote at 47%. Since then it has gradually fallen, month on month, such that, at 41% it is now six points lower than five months ago. Over the same period the Yes vote has edged up from 25% to 27%.

Moreover, as the fourth poll to be conducted since the White Paper was published, this latest reading confirms the impression created by the other three that the Scottish Government’s unveiling event has been followed by a small boost to the Yes vote. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded, these four polls have on average put the Yes vote on 37%, two points up on the equivalent figure for the same four polls when they were previously conducted (well) before the White Paper launch.

However, despite these encouraging trends, the progress made by the Yes side is still not enough for us to be sure it has definitely conquered new ground. At 39% the Yes share once the Don’t Knows are excluded is still no higher than it was in a TNS BMRB poll in February, the first it conducted after the wording of the referendum question was finally settled. We have to remember that TNS BMRB’s August poll was one of the more dismal ones for the Yes side.

Even so, the White Paper does seem to have made something of a splash. No less than 68% of TNS BMRB’s respondents claim to have heard of it – if not necessarily read it. However, the document has been less successful at grabbing the attention of those whom politicians often struggle to reach – the young, those in the DE social grade, and those who did not vote in 2011. Nevertheless, the document has reached the ears of one key target group, the Don’t Knows, as many as 66% of whom say they have heard of it – though only 14% of the Don’t Knows who have heard about it say that it has actually had ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on their views, just as is the case amongst voters as a whole.

The Yes side will begin the New Year with an awful lot left to do. But at least some signs of progress are better for morale than none, and maybe the long holiday will give more voters the opportunity actually to read the White Paper! And if anyone on the No side was feeling complacent, they may just be asking themselves whether they should think again.

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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.