That Ashcroft poll: An insight into political ‘churn’

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By Dave Taylor

For those who fondly imagine that political movements are unidirectional and simple, a look at polling detail can show how there are different patterns happening simultaneously, and in contradictory directions. 

The headline figures for the Scottish sample in Lord Ashcroft’s “Red Alert Poll” were much trumpeted by the SNP, as one might expect.

Westminster voting intention SNP 39% : Lab 33% : Con 16% : LD 6% : UKIP 4% : Green 2%.

Of course, it was only a sub-sample of a GB poll, and not a real Scottish poll, but it’s worth looking at the demographics of this Scottish sample compared to what a properly weighted sample would have been.

Ashcroft had 2% more men (2% less women).  He had 4% more in the 55+ age group, and 4% less of the under 45s.  In social class groups, Ashcroft’s sample had 7% more ABs and 13% less DEs than the Scottish pattern.

If anything, therefore, Ashcroft’s figures “should” have been worse for the SNP among the 703 Scots in that GB poll of 8,103.

With a poll of that size, it would have been comparatively easy to have weighted the Scottish sample separately and then aggregated it with the English and Welsh results.  However, he who pays the piper …

The area of real interest is buried away between Table 2 and Table 72 – and how many of us get that far in a sea of tables?

As Scottish politics increasingly focuses on the constitutional issue, we should expect to see realignment in party support, with every party losing some supporters and gaining others (if they are to play any kind of role in the debate).  Normally, we only get to see the net changes, but with this poll we get to see more detail about Labour and the SNP, and can make some reasonable deductions about Con, LD and UKIP.

Net changes in support between May 2010 and October 2012 were SNP +19%, Lab, -4%, Con, -20%, LD -62%, UKIP +171% (that’s from 7 folk to 19!).

43 (8%) of the 554, who say they voted in 2010, don’t know how they would vote in the next Westminster election – though that still leaves 3% more Scots sure of how they would vote in such an election tomorrow, than is the case in England & Wales.  But we can go deeper than that.

SNP lost 29 (19%) of their 2010 supporters, but gained 57 – 11 Con, 25 Lab, 21 LDs.

Lab lost 49 (26%) of their 2010 supporters, but gained 42.  We can’t tell exactly where these came from, but most likely from SNP and LD.

Con lost 21 (20%) of their 2010 supporters, without gain. Their support seems to have drained equally to SNP and UKIP.

LDs lost 58 (62%) of their 2010 supporters, without gain.  If they are similar to LDs in England & Wales, they will make up a significant proportion of those who don’t know how they will vote in future.  More than a third of their losses has gone to the SNP, while the remainder will have moved to support Labour.

If nothing else, this does suggest that a significant realignment is happening within Scottish politics, though continual readjustments will happen.

Unlike Catalonia, where the recent election took place on the specific question of an independence referendum, the next General Election (UK or Scottish) that Scots take part in will occur after the question of independence has been settled – we can expect even greater “churn” in voting patterns.