Three Months To Go: Polls Still Poles Apart

If you had not noticed, it is now exactly three months to go to polling day. But so far as the polls are concerned, it is business as usual. The saga of markedly divergent results continues with new findings from YouGov for The Sun (for Scotland as a whole) and from ComRes for ITV Border (for the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloay alone).  Still, at the same time, some interesting further light is cast on the impact of the more powers debate by a further instalment of the most recent TNS BMRB poll published in today’s Herald.

YouGov’s Scotland wide poll puts Yes on 36%, No on 53%, while Don’t Knows (always relatively low in YouGov’s polls) constitute just 9% of the sample (and a further 2% insist they will not vote).  Yes are down one and No up two on YouGov’s last poll conducted towards the end of April. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded Yes are on 40%, No on 60%, a swing of two points to No.

In themselves the differences are not statistically significant, and indeed the 40% tally is exactly in line with the average Yes vote (once Don’t Knows are excluded) in all of YouGov’s previous polls this year. However, given that the Yes tally in ICM’s most recent poll was also bang in line with that company’s average for this year, it means that it is still far from clear that Yes have made any significant advance in recent weeks, despite the record Yes votes in the most recent Survation and Panelbase polls. Moreover, it also means that YouGov (along with Ipsos MORI and TNS BMRB) continue to suggest that the referendum race is nothing like as close as implied by the polls from ICM, Panelbase and Survation.

Today’s publication means that all of the six polling organisations that have been polling on a regular basis this year has each conducted one poll since the European elections on May 22nd. That means our latest poll of polls, gives equal weight to the two trios of pollsters. It stands at Yes 44% (though only just), No 56%.  In short, this is the best estimate of where the referendum race now stands if both sets of pollsters are more or less equally wrong (in opposite directions)!

ComRes’s poll in the far south of Scotland is a replication of an exercise it first conducted at the very beginning of this year. Those results suggested that voters living close to the Anglo-Scottish border were considerably less enamoured of the prospect of independence than was Scotland as a whole. That remains the case. The poll puts Yes on 26%, No on 61%. Both figures are up two points on January (with Don’t Knows falling from 17% to 13%). Once the Don’t Knows are excluded Yes are on 30%, No on 70%, representing a minuscule one point swing to Yes. Doubtless, the Yes side has never expected to do particularly well in this part of Scotland, but it will be disappointed not to have made more progress in the last six months, given the narrowing of the No lead during this period in the Scotland-wide polls.

TNS BMRB’s polling confirms the now very familiar story that when people are asked to choose between independence, more devolution and the status quo, more devolution emerges as marginally the most popular option. However, at 33% support for the idea is down two points as compared with January – though support for the statyus quo is down even more, by five points, to 26%. At 28% support for independence is up four points.

What, however, is most interesting is what the poll reveals about the referendum voting intentions of those whose first preference is more devolution.  As previous Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) research has shown, these voters are markedly more inclined to vote No (52%) than Yes (11%). But just as importantly, they continue to find it much more difficult (as SSA’s interviewing last year also uncovered) to decide which way to vote in the referendum. No less than 36% of them continue to be undecided, compared with just 12% of those who back the status quo and 11% of those who would prefer independence. Expect both sides to continue their efforts to woo them.

Not that they necessarily have a good grasp of what in the way of more devolution is already in the pipeline. Just 38% of them say they are aware that Holyrood will get more powers as a result of the 2012 Scotland Act – almost exactly the same as the 39% proportion amongst Scots as a whole. Perhaps the unionist parties would not now be having to put so much effort into persuading us of their good intentions if they had been more effective in promoting the further devolution that is already coming down the track in the first place. But then the 2012 Scotland Act was never put to a popular vote in a referendum.

YouGov’s poll, in contrast, has little time for the obscurities of more devolution. It tells us that the Yes campaign is more effective on the ground (49% have had some form of contact in the last few weeks) than the No campaign (38%), and is more likely (47%) than its opponents (30%) to be regarded as fighting a positive rather than a negative campaign. Both results are in tune with the findings of previous polls. However, the Yes campaign (35%) is rather less likely to be regarded as honest than its No counterpart (40%) and that perhaps is not an impression that any campaign can afford voters to have.

We discover too that voters would prefer to see a debate between Alex Salmond and David Cameron (48%) than one between the First Minister and Alistair Darling (22%). The Prime Minister can surely not have believed he was potentially such a box office pull north of the border. But he might note that it is independence supporters who want the show to take place – presumably in the belief it would be an episode of Gladiators rather than the X Factor.

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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.