Brexit Bounce Still Appears Elusive

Further evidence has emerged this week that the UK-wide decision to leave the EU has not significantly altered the balance of opinion on attitudes towards independence after all. Two polls, from Ipsos MORI (for STV News), the other from TNS (not for any particular client) both suggest that there is still a small majority in favour of staying in the UK, much as two previous polls conducted by YouGov had previously indicated.

TNS put Yes on 47%, No on 53% when people were asked how they would vote now in response to the question that appeared on the September 2014 ballot paper (and after Don’t Knows are put to one side). Ipsos MORI’s figures (based, unlike their previous readings, on those who say they are more or less certain to vote) are Yes 48%, No 52%. (Amongst all those giving a vote intention the No lead, at 55% to 45%, is in fact even bigger in Ipsos MORI’s poll.)

These two polls are of particular interest for two reasons. First, whereas YouGov’s polls were conducted over the internet, TNS’s poll was undertaken face to face while Ipsos MORI’s exercise was done over the phone. That means we now have had three different companies using three very different approaches to polling that have all come up with more or less the same answer. That inevitably represents a significant strengthening of the evidence that the Brexit vote has not generated a significant swing in favour of independence, contrary to the impression created by three polls conducted immediately after the June 23rd vote.

Second, neither TNS nor Ipsos MORI have been distinguished in the recent past for producing poll figures that are particularly unfavourable to the Yes side. Indeed, on the few occasions since the independence referendum when either company has asked people how they would vote in a second ballot they have (unlike most other polls) put Yes ahead. When Ipsos MORI last covered the subject in February of this year, they put Yes ahead by 52% to 48%, while the previous August they scored the contest, Yes 55%, No 45%. TNS last addressed the issue a year ago, and put Yes on 53%, No on 47%. In short, these two polls could be interpreted as evidence of a swing in favour of staying in the Union.

However, there is not any evidence of a post-Brexit swing in favour of the Union in the detailed tables for these polls. As many as 15% of Ipsos MORI’s respondents say that the outcome of the EU referendum has affected the way they would vote in a second ballot on independence. However, rather more (55%) of this group now say they would vote Yes, than state they would vote No (45%). Meanwhile, amongst the 6% of the sample who say that they are now undecided about how they would vote, 36% say they supported No in advance of the EU referendum, while only 14% state that they backed Yes. Between them these figures would seem to imply that, contrary to initial impressions, there might have been a small swing to Yes in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Of course, voters’ reports of their attitudinal history may not be accurate – perhaps some of those Yes supporters who say the Brexit vote changed their mind were, in truth, existing Yes supporters who were simply indicating that the Brexit vote made them more determined in their support for independence. But we should perhaps bear in mind that (in contrast to YouGov) neither of this week’s polls asked people how they voted in September 2014, let alone weighted their samples to ensure that they reflected the outcome of that ballot. Consequently, there may be a greater risk that their estimates of support for independence are affected by chance variation (though in TNS’s case at least the data were weighted to reflect the outcome of the last UK general election and that might be regarded as a reasonable alternative means of ensuring that their sample is politically representative).

This Sunday does, of course, mark the second anniversary of the independence referendum. Ipsos MORI’s poll suggests that there is limited enthusiasm to repeat the experience. As many as 55% disagree that there should be another vote within the next two years, while only 40% agree. YouGov painted much the same picture in their most recent poll, with 50% saying they oppose a second referendum and only 37% in favour. In truth, these responses largely reflect people’s preferences on the question of independence in the first place. According to Ipsos MORI, 91% of No supporters oppose a second referendum while 84% of those who would vote Yes are in favour.

In the end the SNP’s ability to demonstrate that there is public support for holding a second ballot will depend on whether they can persuade people of the merits of independence in the first place. And unfortunately from their point of view, that task now looks just as substantial as it did before the Brexit vote – and indeed as it did on the occasion of the first anniversary of the independence referendum 366 days ago.

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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.