Referendum Race Becalmed: No Change from TNS BMRB

It has appeared to be the case for some time now that the referendum race has become becalmed once more. The Yes side appear to have maintained the gains they made in the winter, but without any consistent evidence of them having made any further subsequent progress.

That message is underlined by the latest TNS BMRB monthly poll, whose headline referendum voting intention figure is exactly the same as last month – Yes 30%, No 42%, Don’t Knows 28%. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded that equates to a Yes vote of 41% and a No one of 59%. This is no less than the third month is a row that that calculation has thrown up a 41% Yes vote.

Unsurprisngly, the poll leaves our poll of polls unchanged too at Yes 42%, No 58%. As the fieldwork for this poll was conducted before that of the most recent Ipsos MORI poll, our poll of polls also continues to be dated 1 June.

As in many a previous poll, Yes voters remain more committed to turning out to vote (by their own report at least). Amongst those who say they are certain or very likely to vote, the Yes tally (once undecideds are excluded) stands at 43% (down just a point on last month).

(One innovation TNS BMRB do introduce in this month’s poll is to ask their relatively high proportion of undecided voters what they think they are likely to do in September, thereby imitating a feature of ICM’s and Ipsos MORI’s referendum polls. Exactly the same number said they were more likely to vote Yes as said they were more likely to vote No – not a surprising result given that neither ICM nor Ipsos MORI have found undecided voters to be leaning consistently more in one direction than the other.)

The greater activism amongst Yes supporters also becomes apparent in an additional question included in this month’s poll. Those who say they will vote Yes are more likely to have engaged in a wide variety of activities, including talked about the referendum with friends and family, watched a special television programme about the referendum, and (echoing the findings of Mark Shephard and Stephen Quinlan) participated in an online discussion. In the case of online activity, Yes supporters (15%) are no less than three times more likely to have got involved (5%).

But what perhaps is the most remarkable finding is the degree to which the referendum is now being talked about throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. No less than 60% of all Scots say that they have talked about the referendum with family and friends. This is probably the clearest quantitative indication we have had yet of the extent to which the independence debate has become a ‘hot topic’ of everyday conversation in Scotland. It of course also means that a potential process of persuasion is in progress over which neither campaign has any direct control.

TNS BMRB have also looked at the latest state of opinion on the referendum south of the border, in particular repeating a number of questions the company previously asked last summer. The results confirm the impression of previous polls that England & Wales are becoming less enamoured of the idea of Scotland leaving the Union, not least it seems because of a growing feeling that its exit would have an adverse impact on the rest of the UK.

Thus for example, only 18% now feel that Scotland should become an independent country, down from 22% at the end of last August, while the proportion who think it should not has increased from 53% to 61%.  Meanwhile 31% now feel that the rest of the UK would be worse off if Scotland were to leave, up five points, while 22% reckon the rest of the UK’s influence in the world would be diminished, also up five points.

But, contrary to the hopes of the Prime Minister, these largely pro-union views are not being communicated across the border to any great degree. Only 11% of people in England & Wales say they have spoken about the referendum to a family member or  friend with whom they are in regular contact – and only around two-thirds (64%) of this group are actually opposed to independence.

It looks as though it is the conversations that are taking place amongst Scots themselves that politicians on both sides need to try and influence, rather than the occasional dialogue that may take place across the border.

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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.