A new poll by Survation that was reported in the Daily Record both yesterday and today has three findings of note. First, although the principle of increasing income tax by a penny in the pound (as proposed by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats) appears to be relatively popular, there is little sign so far that Labour’s backing for the idea is bringing the party any electoral dividend. Second, the poll suggests that UKIP might do well enough on the list vote to be capable of winning seats at Holyrood. Third, the poll seemingly raises a question mark about whether a UK-wide vote to leave the EU would necessarily trigger an increase in support for independence.
Two previous polls that asked people whether they supported increasing income tax by a penny in the pound uncovered rather divergent findings. YouGov suggested that the policy was relatively popular, with no less than 53% in favour and just 37% opposed – on the understanding that the money would be used to ‘improve’ public services. Ipsos MORI, in contrast, found that when faced with the choice of either increasing income tax by a penny in the pound, reducing it by the same amount, or keeping income tax the same as at present, only 30% favoured an increase.
In their poll, meanwhile, Survation provided their respondents with quite a lengthy explanation of the proposal and of the argument against, and then found that 42% support the idea while 31% are opposed (while, in contrast to YouGov, respondents could say they neither supported nor opposed the idea, a response chosen by 22%). In other words, Survation obtained a level of support in between that acquired by Ipsos MORI and YouGov. Between them the three surveys are a telling example of how the way a question is phrased can make a substantial difference to the pattern of answers obtained.
Still, it appears that there is at least a considerable measure of sympathy for the idea. Moreover, that sympathy is no less common amongst SNP supporters than it is amongst the public as a whole. Survation found as many as 46% of SNP supporters back the increase while just 28% are opposed. But, so far at least, those supporters have not regarded Labour’s backing for the idea as sufficient reason to change their allegiance. The poll puts the SNP on 53% on the constituency vote and 45% on the list, up one and three points respectively on last month’s poll, and more than enough to ensure that the nationalists would secure a second overall majority. Labour meanwhile remain marooned on 22% of the constituency vote (up one) and 18% on the list (down two to a new all-time low). (The Liberal Democrats register just 6% on both votes). Moreover, when respondents were asked whether Labour’s backing for a 1p rise makes it more or less likely that they will vote Labour, the 22% who said it made them more likely to vote for the party were almost exactly counterbalanced by the 20% who said it made then less likely to do so. Crucially, the equivalent figures amongst SNP supporters alone (21% and 24% respectively) are not very different from these.
However popular the idea of increasing tax in Scotland in order to reduce cuts to public expenditure may be, neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats can afford to assume that the policy will speak for itself. Voters will need to be persuaded that the idea is sufficiently worthwhile for them to change their vote choice. That could well prove to be a tall order.
Meanwhile, Survation’s poll puts UKIP on 6% of the list vote. Given that between 5% and 6% of the list vote in a region is usually sufficient to claim one of the additional list seats, this suggests the party could be on course to win seats at Holyrood for the frst time. However, the 6% figure stands in stark contrast to the estimate of UKIP support produced by other recent polls. Earlier this month YouGov put the party on 3%, Panelbase last month put it on 2%, Ipsos MORI recently reckoned it had only 1% support, while TNS BMRB found just one UKIP supporter amongst the over 1,000 people whom they interviewed! What, though, the 6% figure is consistent with is the level of UKIP support registered by Survation in its previous polls – the company put UKIP on 5% in all three of the previous polls of Holyrood voting intention it has conducted since last May’s UK general election.
One possible explanation for this lies in the wording that Survation use in order to ascertain how people will vote on the list ballot. As we wrote in reference to Survation’s poll last month, the wording would appear to run the risk that, unaware of the details of the Holyrood voting system, respondents report their second preference rather than how they will vote when they come to appreciate that the list vote is an entirely separate ballot. If that is the case, it could well help explain why not only UKIP appear to perform relatively well in Survation’s polls, but so also do the Greens, who are estimated to be on 9% in this latest poll, again a rather higher figure than that registered by any other poll.
Finally, two previous polls, one from Panelbase and one from Ipsos MORI, have suggested that support for independence could increase by 5-6 points if Scotland were to vote to remain in the EU while the UK as a whole opted to leave. There certainly seems little doubt that Scotland itself will vote to remain – once those who say Don’t Know are left to one side, Survation’s poll puts Remain on 66%, Leave on 34%. That represents a one point swing to Remain since last month, suggesting that whatever impact it may have had on support for Remain south of the border, the publication at the beginning of this month of the draft agreement on Britain’s revised terms of membership has not been greeted adversely in Scotland. Meanwhile, like most (though not all) polls conducted since the independence referendum, Survation’s poll estimates that rather less than half (47%) would for independence if a second ballot were to be held now, suggesting that a 5-6 point increase in support for independence could make all the difference to the outcome.
That 5-6 point increase was obtained by both Panelbase and Ipsos MORI by asking people first how they would vote in an independence referendum now, then how they might vote if the UK voted to leave the EU, and subsequently comparing the level of support for independence obtained by the two questions. Survation, however, have approached the issue differently. They asked their respondents whether they would be more supportive of independence in the event of a UK exit from the EU, less supportive, or whether it would not make any difference. At first sight, the pattern of responses appears to be consistent with the story told by Panelbase and Ipsos MORI; 29% of all voters say they would be more likely to vote for independence while only 14% indicate that they would be less likely to do so. However, most of those who say they would be more likely to vote for independence are respondents who report they voted for independence eighteen months ago. Only 15% of those who voted No say they would be more likely to vote for independence while 22% state they would be less likely to do so. That suggests a UK vote to leave the EU might not result in increased support for independence after all.
Any attempt to ascertain what people might do under certain hypothetical circumstances in future is, in truth, always a potentially fragile exercise. None of us are necessarily good predictors of what we might do or feel in changed circumstances. But questions that ask people whether they would be more or less likely to do something in a particular situation always run the risk that respondents use them to affirm their existing preference. Thus in this instance, for example, in saying they would be more likely to vote against independence if the UK votes to leave the EU, some No voters were probably simply signaling that their commitment to staying in the UK is unwavering. The real question is how many of the 15% of 2014 No voters who say they would be more likely to vote for independence if the UK did vote to leave the EU would in the event go so far as actually change sides (bearing in mind, too, that 5% of 2014 Yes voters say they might switch to No should the UK leave the EU!). The answer to that question inevitably remains highly uncertain.
Given the excitement generated earlier this month by YouGov’s finding that the Conservatives were neck with Labour, we should note that Survation put the party on 16% on the constituency vote, five points behind Labour, and 15% on the list, three points adrift. So like most other companies, Survation still put the Conservatives in third place. That said, the party has largely retained the support it obtained in Survation’s poll last month, when the 16% with which it was credited on both ballots in that poll represented a record share for a Survation poll. The Conservatives’ progress in recent months may not have been dramatic, and may well now have come to a halt, but the traces are still discernible nonetheless.
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.