“And Finally” – the Ashcroft polls


  By Dave Taylor

Readers may remember how last week’s SNP/Panelbase poll was rubbished because it didn’t ask the voting question first.  Today newspaper editors drooled over yet another poll, this time carried out on behalf of Tory Peer Lord Ashcroft and it too carried an independence question.

Ashcroft’s indy question reads: “Finally, the question that will be asked in the referendum next year: Should Scotland be an independent country?”, and comes after a set of questions asking opinions as to whether they have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of Scottish party leaders.

Ashcroft’s placement of the voting question seems to have excited no comment, presumably journalists weren’t briefed to report that.  Indeed, like Kate Devlin in the Herald some appear to have confused the different polls that Ashcroft published today.

Ascroft’s first poll of 10,000 people was conducted between February and May and without any filtering out of those unlikely to vote, produced Yes 26%, No 65%.  While it reports 10% as “Don’t Knows”, that option was not given to people, so the net effect was to push people into giving an ill-considered response.

In fact, a poll held by Ashcroft at the end of April, which did include the Don’t Know option, gave Yes 30%, No 56%, and “Don’t Knows” 14%.

In June, Ashcroft had another poll on the Scottish Parliament.  Buried in its tables we find (but with no idea as to how the question was asked) that, among those intending to vote for the Scottish Parliament, the indy question gave Yes 36%, No 58% and “Don’t Knows” 6%.  So Ashcroft’s own polling shows that, from April to June, the gap between Yes and No narrowed.

How you ask the question will always influence the answer!

Ashcroft spent considerable resources on asking attitudinal questions about MPs/MSPs, the powers of the Scottish Parliament etc.  Unfortunately, we learnt nothing new. 

We have long known that most Scots have little clue as to which Parliament does what (just as they didn’t previously know which powers District and Regional Councils had).  They trust MSPs and Holyrood more than MPs and Westminster and they want more powers for Holyrood, but have little idea of what that means.

While he asks about Holyrood voting intention (SNP still be the largest party), he makes the cardinal error of asking for their second vote, “And how would you use your second (list) vote?”

We know that that asking participants questions on the ‘second vote’ often influences them to think they must cast that for a different party.  The poll finding of a list vote of 13% for the LDs seems highly unlikely.

He does however give us one titbit of new information – Scots Westminster voting intention.

Previously we have had to rely on getting some clues from the tiny Scottish samples in UK wide polls.  Most pollster’s samples have indicated that the SNP and Labour are running neck and neck, though YouGov always shows a huge Labour lead.

Back in June, Ashcroft asked about people’s recall of their 2010 Westminster vote (which is broadly in line with what happened), and then asked about their voting intention for Westminster.  While that is of less interest to many on here, it is the dominant thing in the minds of the UK parties.

Likely voters would cast votes like this (changes from 2010 in brackets) – Lab 32% (-10%), SNP 31% (+ 11%), Con 15% (-2%), LD 8% (-11%), Others (mainly UKIP) 14.7% (+13%). Of course back in June UKIP were riding high in the GB polls so like so much of Ashcroft’s polling, it may actually tell us very little.

As John Curtice remarks “just a pity that … Lord Ashcroft did not get more bang for his mega bucks.”