Ipsos MORI Find A Swing to the SNP Too

It was in truth almost inevitable that today’s Ipsos MORI poll for STV would prove to be a  headline grabber. After all, the company put the SNP on 52% 29 points ahead of Labour, as long as late October last year – well above the estimate of any other polling company at the time. If, as indeed has proven to be the case, the company were now to identify the further swing to the nationalists that four other companies have already detected, then Ipsos MORI were bound to report a particularly large SNP lead.

Today’s poll puts the SNP on 54%, up two points on Ipsos MORI’s last poll in January, while Labour are on 20%, down four points. With the Conservatives on 17% (up five points on a particularly low estimate in January) and the Liberal Democrats on 5%, the poll has been reported as showing that the SNP could win every single one of the 59 seats in Scotland. Maybe it will, but in fact on the conventional method for translating opinion poll votes into seats (which assumes that each party’s vote goes up and down by the same amount in each constituency as it is doing across the country as a whole), Alistair Carmichael would still narrowly hang on to the Liberal Democrat bastion of Orkney & Shetland. Labour, however, (along with the Conservatives) would still suffer a wipeout.

Despite its seemingly spectacular character, today’s poll has little impact on our poll of polls – the 54% SNP tally in this poll simply displaces the 54% reported by TNS BMRB earlier this week. The only change is that the Conservative figure edges back up a point to 16%, which is simply a reversal of the decline created by the Survation poll in the Daily Record yesterday and which we suggested could well prove temporary.

Today’s poll also contains another attempt to get at the possible potential for tactical voting. First of all, respondents were asked whether the Conservative party was their first preference, was a party for which they might vote if they thought the party could win locally, or whether they would never consider voting for the party at all. They were then asked the same question about the other three principal parties. Note that the question did not ask whether people they would consider voting for a party in order to defeat another that they dislike, which is what tactical voting is usually thought to involve.

The results have to be interpreted with care.  It appears that 10% of those who say they are going to vote for the SNP are already voting tactically, a reminder that tactical voting on May 7th need not necessarily be a one way street.  At the same time it seems that no less than 27% of those are going to vote Labour are also already tactical voters (and 27% of the Labour vote is worth no more than 10% of the SNP one!).  So the headline figure that, for example, 30% of people in Scotland might be willing to vote tactically for Labour cannot simply be taken at face value – as that is apparently what some voters are doing already.

What we do discover is that while some Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters say that they would vote Labour if they thought the party had a chance of winning in their constituency, only around a third or so would do so.  At the same though around one in ten Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters say that they would switch to the SNP if they thought the nationalists had a chance of winning locally. That suggests that in a Labour-SNP contest tactical switching would at most be worth no more than one-fifth or so of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat vote locally. That might perhaps help save Labour the odd seat, but is not going to rescue it from the whirlwind that currently threatens to engulf it.

Ipsos MORI’s poll also contains its usual litany of questions on whether people are satisfied or dissatisfied with the various Westminster and Scottish leaders. The results confirm the high standing of Nicola Sturgeon (net satisfaction rating +48, down just one on January), while both Jim Murphy (-19, down  as much as 15 points) and Ed Miliband (-31) trail her badly. Indeed, although Mr Miliband’s rating north of the border has improved (it was -45 in January) Scotland is still less satisfied with Mr Miliband than is Britain as a whole – his rating in Ipsos MORI’s most recent Britain-wide poll was -19. Little wonder that Labour have seemingly failed to make any impression on the SNP lead.

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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.