More Movement to Yes? ICM and Panelbase Polls

Following on from Survation’s poll for the Daily Record on Thursday, two further polls released today appear to provide further evidence that the tide may have begun to flow a bit further in the Yes side’s direction.

First, in a poll commissioned by Yes Scotland, Panelbase put Yes on 43%, No on 46%, with 12% saying they are undecided. That represents a three point increase in the Yes vote as compared with Panelbase’s previous poll for The Sunday Times a month ago, while the No vote is down by one point. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded Yes are on 48%, No on 52%, a swing of two points to Yes. Apart from one much criticised exercise for the SNP last summer, this is the highest Yes tally in any Panelbase poll yet.

Second, in a poll for Scotland on Sunday, ICM Research put Yes on 36%, No on 43% while 21% are said to be undecided. The Yes vote is up two points on the same poll last month, while the No vote is down three. With the Don’t Knows excluded, Yes are on 45%, No on 55%, a swing of three points to Yes.

However, in contrast to the Panelbase poll, the latest ICM reading does not represent any kind of record. In fact, at 42% the Yes reading in its past poll was the lowest it had recorded in any of its polls this year. The latest 45% tally is in fact exactly in line with the average reading across all of ICM’s previous polls this year.

We should bear in mind too that ICM, Panelbase (average Yes vote this year, 46%) and Survation (44%) are the three companies that consistently tend to produce higher estimates of the Yes vote than any of Ipsos MORI (38%), TNS BMRB (41%) or YouGov (40%). So we should not presume that the race is necessarily as close as today’s polls suggest.

But that said, we cannot ignore the fact that within a matter of days Survation and Panelbase have both reported a record high Yes vote, while ICM suggest that the Yes vote is more or less as high as it has been. That leaves the balance of probabilities suggesting that the Yes vote may have increased a little further in the last couple of weeks, though that is a conclusion that will need to be confirmed by other polls before we can be sure beyond all reasonable doubt.

In the meantime, our poll of polls has edged up another point to 44%, though it should be borne in mind that such a reading is not unprecedented; the figure was previously at that level just over a month ago.

Today’s Panelbase poll also replicates the finding in Thursday’s Survation poll that a majority might be willing to vote for independence if it looked as though another Conservative lead government would be formed in 2015. As many as 49% say they would be ‘very’ or ‘quite’ likely to vote Yes in such circumstances, while only 41% state that they would be very or quite unlikely to do so.

However the potential fragility of such hypothetical exercises is exposed by the fact that the Yes vote would apparently also be boosted somewhat if voters thought that Labour would win the next UK election.  In response to that prospect 45% said they were very or quite likely to vote Yes while the same proportion said they were unlikely to do so. Almost inevitably, those who voted Labour in 2011 particularly react adversely to the former prospect, Conservatives to the latter, while in both cases they are joined in switching towards Yes by some voters who did not vote at the last Scottish Parliament election. In practice (not least given the current standing of the parties in the UK-wide polls of Westminster vote intention) both Conservative and Labour voters might still be hoping in September that their side will go on to win the following May.

In the meantime, apart from what can and cannot be learnt from possible hypothetical scenarios,  what today’s ICM poll does clearly suggest is that the real announcements about more devolution that have been emerging from the No camp in recent weeks have yet to make much impression on voters.

The biggest such announcement came from the Conservatives, who a fortnight ago unveiled the recommendations of the Strathclyde Commission for more devolution for Scotland. Its publication seems to have done little to persuade Conservative voters themselves of the merits of more devolution. Only 37% of those who voted Conservative in 2011 now support more devolution, while 55% believe there should be no further change to the powers of the Parliament. That compares with an average of 45% in favour 53% opposed in the last three polls to have been conducted by ICM. Scepticism about the merits of more devolution still appears to be widespread within Conservative ranks.

Equally, neither it nor the suggestion that the three unionist parties might try to square their differences on more devolution and agree a ‘common process’ on how it will be achieved appear to have done much to persuade voters that more devolution will actually be achieved. Just 38% believe that the Scottish Parliament will be given more power and responsibility in the event of a No vote. Although that figure is up three points on last month, it is still a point lower than it was when the question was first asked in March. Even amongst No voters, only around half (49%) think it will happen.

Recent weeks have, of course, also been marked by arguments about the possible impact of independence on Scotland’s economy and public finances. This debate continues to be central to people’s willingness to vote Yes or No. As many as 88% of those who believe that independence would be good for Scotland’s economy say they will vote Yes. In contrast, when it comes to the Scottish Government’s other central argument in favour of independence, that there would be less inequality, only 63% of those who believe that claim are currently Yes supporters.

Unfortunately for the Yes side pessimists on the economy still outnumber optimists. Just 35% think that independence would be good for Scotland’s economy while 44% reckon it would be bad, a net deficit of nine points.  That represents an improvement on last month, when the deficit was 14 points, but is still less good than in April when it was as low as four. It will be noted how these ups and down closely track the ups and downs in overall support for Yes, again underlining how important the economic debate appears to be.

Finally, following on from recent concern about the tone of some of the comments about the referendum on social media, today’s poll casts light on how divisive or otherwise the referendum is proving to be for ordinary voters.  As many as 42% say that members of their family have different views on whether Scotland should become independent. Still, although as many as 56% say they have had lots of conversations about the referendum in recent weeks with friends and family, just 21% report that some of those conversations have resulted in a row – though perhaps that might be thought quite high enough.

In any event at the moment we are – yes, you have guessed it  – divided over whether the referendum will leave the country itself badly divided, with 38% reckoning it will and 36% that it will not. Ah well, perhaps once it is all over we can have another debate about whether the experience was worth it or not!

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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.