Not the Best of Mornings for Yes?: New ICM and Panelbase Polls

Between them the two polls published today, one by ICM Research for Scotland on Sunday, and one from Panelbase for The Sunday Times, probably represent the most disappointing poll reading for the Yes side for several months.

The more dramatic finding comes from ICM. They put Yes on 34%, down five points on last month, while No are on 46%, up four. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded, Yes are on 42%, down six points.

There is perhaps a need for some caution in interpreting this drop in Yes support. After all, ICM’s poll last month was unusual in suggesting Yes support had risen to new heights when most other polls were reporting little or no change. Indeed at 48% its estimate of the Yes vote (once Don’t Knows were excluded) was the highest yet in any previous independently commissioned poll.

That might lead us to anticipate there might be some fall back in Yes support this month. But not necessarily on the scale that has actually occurred. The 42% Yes vote is lower than that recorded by any previous ICM poll this year. Moreover, it has occurred despite the fact that this month ICM have further refined their methodology to take into account people’s reported willingness to vote in September, in much the same way that Survation already do. If that change had not been introduced ICM would have been reporting only a 40% Yes vote, that is as low as it was last September.

In comparison Panelbase’s poll almost looks quite good for the Yes side.  It puts Yes support on 40%, the same as in the company’s previous poll (for Yes Scotland) a month ago. (Indeed the figure is actually three points up on Panelbase’s last reading for The Sunday Times, but not only was that as much as three and a half months ago, but also that poll was rather pessimistic about the Yes side’s prospects compared with most other Panelbase polls.) However, at 47% support for No is up by two points. Once the Don’t Knows are discounted Yes stand at 46%, down a point on last month.

Given the contrast between today’s two polls it is too early to say that the Yes side has suffered a significant reversal. But bearing in mind that Survation’s poll for the Daily Record last week also showed a slight easing in Yes support, there must be some concern in the campaign’s Hope St headquarters in Glasgow that the momentum it developed during the winter has well and truly been stopped.  In the meantime our Poll of Polls has now eased down to 42% Yes, 58% No. It is nearly two months since the No side has been that far ahead.

Whatever the true scale of any easing of Yes support, today’s ICM poll certainly underlines the importance of the debate about the economic consequences about independence so far as winning the hearts and minds of voters is concerned. The fall in Yes support in today’s poll has occurred in tandem with a noticeable decline in optimism about the prospects for Scotland’s economy under independence. Last month 37% told ICM that independence would be good for Scotland’s economy, while 41% stated it would be bad. This month that four point gap has grown to 14 points, with just 32% saying independence would be good for the economy while 46% feeling it would be bad.

In contrast, the balance of opinion on whether an independent Scotland would be a more equal country is exactly the same as last month. Twice as many people (33%) feel there would be less inequality as reckon there would be more (16%). Equally attitudes towards the implications of independence for pensions have barely changed at all either. Evidently, these parts of the independence debate are fall less important in the eyes of voters.

Much the same is apparently true of the debate about more devolution. Although according to ICM as many as 62% would like a No vote would be followed by more devolution, only 35% (including no more than 42% of No voters) believe it would happen.  None of these figures has changed much. Meanwhile only one in five No voters who would like more devolution say they might reconsider their vote if they thought it was not going to happen. Still, that is rather more than No could afford to lose between now and September, so expect plenty of scrutiny of the Conservatives’ proposals for more devolution when they are finally unveiled later this month.

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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.