Polls and ‘fair and balanced’ questions

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By Dave Taylor

YouGov have now released some detailed tables from the polling they did last week for Better Together and the SNP.  While the numbers are always interesting to us polling geeks, the actual questions are often part of the propaganda war between the two sides.

Both campaigns asked whether debates should take place between the opposing forces.  It would have been a world shattering response if the public had said anything other than “Yes! We want to hear the arguments”, regardless of who the participants were.

Naturally, both campaigns asked if the debate should be on the terms they wanted.

After this lengthy preamble …

Alistair Darling, the head of the campaign for a vote to stay in the United Kingdom, has called for a televised debate between him and Alex Salmond after the detailed plans for an independent Scotland are published.  Mr Salmond has refused to take part in a debate with Mr Darling, saying it would be more appropriate for Mr Darling to debate with Blair Jenkins, the chief of the Yes Scotland campaign.”

… Better Together eventually got around to asking: “Do you think Alex Salmond should or should not take part in a televised debate with Alistair Darling?”.

Had they also asked if Mr Darling and Mr Jenkins should debate, we can be confident that they would also have answered Yes!

After their own preamble …

“First Minister Alex Salmond has called for a head-to-head television debate with the Prime Minister David Cameron during the referendum campaign on Scottish independence, but it has been reported that Mr Cameron will refuse to take part in such a debate.”

… The SNP finally asked: “Do you think that David Cameron should or should not take part in a TV debate with Alex Salmond?”

And surprise, surprise – folk want to see that debate too.

There is a notable difference between the remainder of the questions asked by both sides in measuring public opinion.  One side asked questions which gave respondents a real choice, whilst the other pushed people towards a specific answer. 

There are no prizes for successfully guessing which campaign asked which set of questions –

Set A …

“Which government do you think should be responsible for all tax and spending decisions in Scotland, including tax revenues from oil and gas?”

UK government 35% : Scottish government 52% : Don’t know 13%

“Which government do you think would be best at deciding welfare and pensions policy for Scotland?”

UK government 34% : Scottish government 53% : Don’t know 13%

“Which government do you think would be best at representing Scotland and Scottish interests in the European Union?”

UK government 39% : Scottish government 50% : Don’t know 11%

Set B …

“Do you think Alex Salmond has or has not provided enough information on the details of how independence would work for you to be able to vote in the referendum on whether Scotland should become independent?”

Has provided enough16% : Has not provided enough 73% : Don’t know 11%

“Below are some statements that people have made about Scotland if we vote to leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country. For each statement, please say whether it would d make you more or less likely to vote for independence –

In order to get agreement from the rest of the UK to use the pound, an independent Scotland would have to remain in line with budget conditions set down by the rest of the UK.”

More likely to vote for independence 3% : Less likely to vote for independence 17% : No difference, I would vote for independence anyway 20% : No difference, I would against independence anyway 45% : Don’t know 15%

“In the year of independence, Scotland’s deficit will be higher than that of the UK”

More likely to vote for independence 2% : Less likely to vote for independence 20% : No difference, I would vote for independence anyway 20% : No difference, I would against independence anyway 44% : Don’t know 14%

“An independent Scotland would start life with £122 billion of debt”

More likely to vote for independence 1% : Less likely to vote for independence 22% : No difference, I would vote for independence anyway 18% : No difference, I would against independence anyway 44% : Don’t know 14%

“There will be a high degree of uncertainty about how much money an independent Scotland can spend due to the reliance on volatile oil for such a large share of our taxes”

More likely to vote for independence 3% : Less likely to vote for independence 18% : No difference, I would vote for independence anyway 20% : No difference, I would against independence anyway 44% : Don’t know 15%

“In order to set up a separate tax system an independent Scotland would have to spend as much as £625 million, £300 million more than we pay to the UK at the moment to do the same job”

More likely to vote for independence 1% : Less likely to vote for independence 23% : No difference, I would vote for independence anyway 19% : No difference, I would against independence anyway 43% : Don’t know 13%

“An independent Scotland would have to consider the affordability of the current state pension”

More likely to vote for independence 3% : Less likely to vote for independence 17% : No difference, I would vote for independence anyway 20% : No difference, I would against independence anyway 45% : Don’t know 15%

Depressing Isn’t it?  Not the responses to Set B, but the negative ‘questions’ which were really just rehashed scares.  That is, of course, exactly what this kind of polling is designed to do.  It’s nothing to do with finding out public opinion, but it is designed to test out the efficacy of various attack lines.

What is more unusual is for these results to be published.  Normally, they are kept secret so as not to show your hand too early.  Presumably someone in the No campaign thought that these numbers were too good not to use – and once used, YouGov will automatically publish the relevant tables.

After the cack handed way in which Better Together tried to have the Top 10 Unionist Myths – DEBUNKED video pulled, the No team appear to be pulling in opposite directions!