Polls are poles apart – or are they?


By Dave Taylor

So, are 44% (Panelbase for the SNP), 34% (Angus Reid for the Express) or 29% (YouGov for the Devo-Plus campaign) of Scots going to vote for independence?

What many people do, of course, is just to pick the result they prefer, but this column is going to attempt to dig a bit deeper than that.

What the 3 polls recently published certainly tell us (as if we didn’t know) is that it depends on what thoughts are uppermost in people’s minds as they enter the polling booth. Then they will be faced with a simple question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

However, different people will have different thoughts in their head, and their decision will often depend on what those thoughts are – and which campaign has been most successful in planting the critical one.

The way in which the question is put, or its position in a series of questions, can influence responses.

One of the reasons for the high Yes response in the Panelbase/SNP poll is that the referendum question was asked after people had been asked to think about two things before they answered Yes or No.

“Scotland could be a successful, independent country” – Agree 52% : No 37% : DK 11%.

“Who do you trust to take the best decisions for Scotland: the Scottish Government or the

Westminster Government?” – Scottish 60% : Westminster 16% : Neither 19% : DK 5%.

The answers to both questions are unsurprising, as they replicate previous polling. If these thoughts are in peoples’ minds then most readers will be partying just over a year from now.

The YouGov/Devo Plus poll asked the voting intention first – but planted the thought that they wanted to dominate in the question – “If there was a referendum tomorrow on Scotland leaving the United Kingdom and becoming an Independent Country and this was the question, how would you vote? Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The No side were desperate to plant the “leave the United Kingdom” idea into the question from the beginning. If they can persuade people that independence will also mean leaving the Queen and the “social union” then many here will be drowning their sorrows!

Technically, the Angus Reid/Express poll was better in terms of asking the voting intention question first, and not building in assumptions – “The referendum question proposed by the Scottish Government reads as follows: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ If this referendum were held today, how would you vote?” Unfortunately, it was a really poorly constructed poll otherwise. With a sample of only 549, the margin of error is a third higher than in a normally sized poll.

However, it is the poll most in line with other polling over the last year. If voters only have their current level of thinking about the referendum then the default position of a No vote (or not bothering to vote) will kick in, and we’ll see a 3:2 margin in favour of the Union.

So why are you sitting there reading this article? Get out there and help to plant positive or negative (according to choice) thoughts about independence.

Data tables are available here – Panelbase/SNP, YouGov/Devo Plus, Angus Reid/Express