By Dave Taylor
To misquote Lady Bracknell, “To lose one point, Mr. Darling, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose five, looks like carelessness.”
As we know, different pollsters produce widely variant raw figures for the Yes, No and undecided groups, so only the trends within each pollster using the same methodology gives us an insight into shifts in public opinion.
The current TNS series of polls, the Scottish Public Opinion Monitor, was launched in August with a new methodology which means that previous TNS polls are not appropriate comparisons.
The numbers that are worth comparing are not those for all those surveyed – especially as TNS use a unique weighting system which gives greater weight to those who didn’t vote in 2011 than any other pollster. We need to look at the pattern only for those who are certain or very likely to vote in the referendum.
Among these people, between August and December, the Yes vote dipped, then rose and is back to the August figure. The No vote has dropped by over 5%, while those undecided has risen by 5%.
Of course, as in every poll, No are in the lead, but among likely voters, that lead has dropped from 19% in August to 14%. In other words, the No lead has fallen by well over one quarter in four months.
Professor John Curtice may have been over-egging his Christmas pudding when he said “Santa has come early for the Yes side”. However, Alastair Darling may look back longingly to the Ghost of Christmas Past, as he gloomily surveys the TNS Christmas Present.
He must fear that Dickens’ description of the Spirit of the Future might be applicable to his 2014 Christmas too.
“It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
“He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
‘I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?’ said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.”