Until now, Progressive Scottish Opinion had conducted only a couple of polls of voting intentions in the referendum – one last September, on the occasion of a year to go to polling day, and one at the very end of November, immediately after the publication of the Scottish Government’s White Paper. Even so, those two polls were enough to suggest that the company was amongst the more pessimistic of the pollsters so far as the Yes side was concerned.
Once the Don’t Knows were excluded, the poll in September put Yes on 31% and the one in November on 33%. Both polls represented a lower Yes tally than recorded by any other poll conducted at around the same time.
So we should not be surprised that in its third outing, after a gap of nearly six months, the company (for the Sunday Mail) should have once again produced a relatively low Yes vote. It puts Yes on 34%, twenty points behind No on 54%. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded this represents a Yes vote of 39% – the lowest in any poll since the end of February.
Yet at the same time, this also means that the poll shows a six point swing to Yes compared with last November. Since then, of course, every other pollster has recorded a narrowing of the No lead. To that extent today’s poll is simply further evidence of that narrowing.
(Mind you, there is a caveat about how this particular poll was conducted. Rather than asking their respondents to say how they would vote in response to the exact question that will appear on the ballot paper, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country’, this time Progressive asked, ‘Do you believe Scotland should become an independent country?’. We can but presume that the slight difference of wording did not have a material impact on the results.)
Yet at the same time we are reminded of the persistent and in some cases large differences in the estimates produced by different pollsters, differences that can make it seem as though the polls are jumping up and down even when each individual company is showing little change. Indeed, the publication today of a poll from a ‘low Yes’ company is enough to produce a one point drop in the Yes vote in our Poll of Polls to 44%, confirming our warning that the previous 45% figure, based as it was on mostly on polls from ‘high Yes’ companies, might not be sustained.
Otherwise today’s poll records some of the familiar strengths and weaknesses of the two sides. On the one hand, the Yes side struggles to win votes if it fails to convince people that independence would be of economic benefit – as many as 50% told Progressive that Scotland would be worse off under independence, while only 31% reckoned they would be better off. On the other hand, faith in the No side is relatively thin. Even a sample of predominantly No voters, such as is found in this poll, are still less inclined to trust Alistair Darling (25% do so) than they are Nicola Sturgeon (28%). However, it seems that, at the moment at least, when it comes to deciding which way to vote for most voters economics still trumps personality.
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.