YouGov: SNP Surge Holds Steady

Today’s Sunday Times (in Scotland) contains a full sized poll of voting intentions in Scotland alongside the paper’s regular Britain-wide poll from YouGov. It tells almost exactly the same story as YouGov’s two previous polls for The Times conducted in early and mid-April.

The SNP are credited with 49% of the vote, unchanged from both of those two earlier polls, while Labour are on 26%, up just a point. The poll thus provides further confirmation of the swing to the SNP detected by every other pollster, but also suggests that this movement has not continued further. All in all it looks as though the swing to the SNP occurred relatively early in the campaign, including perhaps over the Easter weekend shortly after Nicola Sturgeon’s widely praised performance in the UK-wide leaders’ debate.

Today’s poll does though contain a modicum of better news for the Liberal Democrats, who are now estimated to have 7% of the vote, higher than in any previous YouGov poll conducted since the referendum, and equalling the record high in the polls of any company during this period. However, we should bear in mind that the two point increase in support that this represents could easily be the result of the kind of chance variation to which all polls are subject.

Conversely, at 15% Conservative support is down two points on YouGov’s previous poll. But neither this nor any of the other figures in today’s poll makes any difference to our poll of polls.

The two previous YouGov polls attempted to estimate the potential for tactical voting north of the border. Today’s poll tries to identify how much is now taking place. As those earlier polls suggested might be the case, it appears that some is place but not necessarily on a scale that is likely to change the outcome in more than a few constituencies.

One in eight (12%) of YouGov’s respondents say that they are voting for a party other than their first choice because that party has a better chance locally of beating a party they do not like. Not all of this is anti-SNP tactical voting, however. While nearly two-thirds (64%) say they are voting to try and defeat the SNP, as many as one in four (25%) are voting against their local Conservative candidate. Meanwhile we should bear in mind that not all of these voters are necessarily voting tactically for the first time; indeed it looks quite possible from the evidence of the poll that some of them did much the same thing in 2010.

Still, as we might anticipate tactical voting may prove particularly important for the Liberal Democrats. Indeed YouGov’s analysis suggests that the party may be attracting as much tactical support as it is votes from those who regard the party as their first preference. This suggests that some of the increase in the party’s support may be attributable to tactical switching, and that perhaps somewhere such support will help save the skin of a local Liberal Democrat MP.

Otherwise today’s poll reminds us once again that if the SNP are dominating Scotland’s representation at Westminster, this should not be taken as evidence that Scotland has changed its mind on wanting to remain in the UK.  There continues to be a narrow majority in favour of remaining in the UK; once the Don’t Knows are left aside, 53% now say they would vote No in an independence referendum.

However, it appears that as a result of this campaign voters are increasingly coming to the view that a second referendum will be held sooner rather than later – even though at the same time support for holding an early referendum has fallen. Back in March 45% of Scots said that there should be a referendum within ten years; now that figure stands at just 36%. But whereas in March only 40% thought there actually would be referendum within that time scale, now as many 54% reckon there will be. The decision that Nicola Sturgeon will need to make next year about whether or not to include a promise of a second referendum in the SNP’s Scottish Parliament election manifesto is evidently not going to be an easy one.

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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.