Independence Referendum – Who are the ‘undecideds’?


By Dave Taylor
Many of you will have devoured the posts on the Wings over Scotland site giving the details of the Panelbase poll, as well as taking the three seconds required to read the report on it in the Sunday Herald – Yes 37% : No 45% : Don’t Know 17%.
Interestingly, the BBC’s favourite polling expert (psephologist to us geeks) Professor John Curtice seems to be running out of reasons to suggest that it must be Panelbase that is out of line, and not the other pollsters.

As always, I’ll make the point that the critical thing in the headline results from polls is the trend within polls by the same pollster, using the same methodology that they used in previous polls, and not just the fact that, here a 4.3% swing of No voters would give a Yes win, or taking 49% of the undecideds – which, on this poll, looks more than achievable!

The Wings over Scotland analysis covers what I believe is the most significant part of the poll.  Instead of simply the “what” about voting intention, it delves into the “whys”.  On most of the attitudinal and issue based factors, the undecideds are much more similar to the “yes”, rather than the “no” camps.

As is normal in all polls, more men than women are willing to give a definitive response to almost any question.  In this poll [1] two thirds of the undecideds are women.

The key question in this poll comes at the very end – “What is your opinion regarding the following statement? ‘The Scottish people would make a success of an independent Scotland’.”

Unsurprisingly, 96% of Yes voters agreed.  Of some concern for the No camp would be that 68% of the Undecideds agreed with that as well (as did 48% of Labour voters). 

In the No camp however, 62% disagreed.  Breaking that down, 8% of SNP voters, 32% of Labour supporters, 42% of Lib Dems and a massive 76% of Conservatives think Scots are uniquely incapable of running their own affairs.

On all of these questions on “Very broadly speaking, what are your views on ….”, the undecideds are closer to Yes voters – UK having nuclear weapons, The Monarchy, The bedroom tax, Membership of NATO, Fracking, The death penalty, Minimum alcohol pricing, Privatising the Royal Mail, New nuclear power stations, MSP Gender quotas, Anti-sectarianism football laws.

In a further eight categories – Membership of the EU, Voting rights for prisoners, Page 3, Assisted suicide, Nationalising the railways, Decriminalising recreational drugs, Council tax freeze, Forcing unemployed people to work for benefits – there was little difference between the undecideds and either camp (or between the Yes and No camps themselves).

Only in their disinterest in “A written constitution” were they more similar to the No side.

More specifically to the referendum, they were asked “Which of these will be the MAIN factors in how you vote in the independence referendum?”

On these, they were more similar to No voters on The future of the economy, Ensuring Scotland always gets the government it votes for, and Emotional reasons (eg national pride),

They were more similar to Yes voters on ‘The prospects for my children and grandchildren’ (and/or those of others), and  Maintaining the UK’s international status and influence.

They were more concerned (or maybe just more honest than either Yes or No) in identifying “My own prospects” as a factor.

They were asked “Do you feel that the following people … have been acting with the best interests of the people of Scotland at heart?” While fewer of the undecideds had any view at all on most of the key politicians than all of those polled, they were more positive about Salmond and Sturgeon than the wider population and even more sure that David Cameron did not have Scottish interests at heart.

That most of the undecideds are inclined to vote Yes (if they can be persuaded about the economy, the prospects for their children/grandchildren etc) is shown by the responses to “If all other things were equal, and it was purely a matter of personal preference, would you LIKE Scotland to be an independent country, or would you prefer it to remain in the UK?”

While 90% of both Yes and No camps chose the option their voting intention would suggest, only 20% of the undecideds instinctively preferred the UK, while 42% preferred independence.  For the remaining 37%, the issue has no resonance either way.

If the Barnett formula was to be abolished, 46% would be more likely to vote Yes, as opposed to 9% who would (somewhat strangely, be more inclined to become poorer) and vote No.

If the UK looked likely to leave the EU, 61% had no view or thought it would make no difference to their vote.  However, twice as many (26%) were more likely to vote Yes than No.

Asking the question: “How would you describe your feelings now compared to 15 months ago? – more/less likely to support independence – is the kind of question that doesn’t illuminate knowledge much when asked of people committed to one side or the other, but for the undecideds can be revealing.  For them, while 55% had not had their opinion changed, 36% were more likely to vote Yes, as opposed to 9% more likely to vote No.

Finally, this poll shows little comfort for Cameron’s position that he should not debate the survival of his UK.

Asked “Who do you feel would be the most appropriate person to make the case for the UK?” While 55% of Yes voters and 24% of No voters opted for Prime Minister (doubtless for exactly the same reason – that Cameron debating the issue would be a Yes boost), the attitude of the undecideds as to who they want to hear arguing for the UK seem clear – and these are the people that the debate should be for.

Of those undecideds making a choice of one of the three realistic candidates – Cameron, Carmichael and Darling – 61% said the Prime Minister, 16% the Scottish Secretary of State, and 23% the back-bench Labour MP.

[1] All figures refer to those most likely to vote.