Yes Bounce Back in Survation Post BBC Debate Poll

Initially, the first regular poll to be conduced since the second leaders’ debate – by Survation for today’s Daily Mail – looks like very good news for the Yes side. But in truth its real message is that collectively at least the two leaders’ debates have apparently failed to change the balance of support for Yes and No.

Today’s poll puts Yes on 42%, No on 48%, with 11% saying they are undecided. This represents a five point increase in Yes support since Survation’s last poll, which was conducted immediately after the first leaders’ debate, and a two point drop in No support. Once the Don’t Knows are excluded Yes are on 47%, No on 53%, representing a four point swing to Yes.

Meanwhile no less than 64% of those who watched or have subsequently heard about the second debate reckon Mr Salmond won the encounter, while only 16% feel that Mr Darling did, an even more decisive verdict in Mr Salmond’s favour than that obtained by ICM’s instant poll after the second debate. At the same time, while 13% said that the debate made it more likely that they would vote No, nearly twice as many, 25%, said that it made them more likely to vote Yes, an imbalance that is even greater (9% to 35%) amongst (the small number of) undecided voters.

All in all, the poll is thus apparently clear evidence that Mr  Salmond’s performance in the  second leaders’ debate has produced a substantial swing to Yes.

Until that is we remember that Survation’s poll conducted immediately after the first leaders’ debate recorded a four point swing from Yes to No, after Mr Darling was widely credited with victory by voters in the first debate – a swing, incidentally, that three subsequent polls failed to replicate thereby raising questions as to whether it might have simply been the product of the random variation to which all polls are subject.

In any case a four point swing in one direction followed by a four swing back in the other does, of course, simply take us back to where we were in the first place, before either leaders’ debate took place. Indeed at 47% the Yes tally in the latest poll is exactly the same as it was in three Survation polls in a row before the first debate. In short, the safest conclusion to draw (so far, given that this is only one poll) is that the leaders’ debates have made very little if any difference to the balance of opinion in the referendum race, and that thus Mr Salmond’s success in the second debate has not necessarily enabled the Yes side to break new ground.

That said, the 47% Yes vote in today’s poll does equal Survation’s all-time high vote for Yes. Together with the mildly encouraging news for the Yes side in other recent polls, it helps edge the Yes vote in our poll of polls back up to 44%. So while it should be remembered that Survation have consistently been one of the pollsters that tend to produce a relatively high Yes vote, today’s poll is unlikely to do much to help steady the nerves of those campaigning to keep Scotland in the UK.

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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.