2 March 2012

Ipsos-MORI on Devo-max: winning women voters...

Another poll from Ipsos-MORI and the Times this morning on the constitutional questions presently bedevilling Scottish politics. The pollster had three main posers it put to its 1,005 respondents 1. Whether folk have heard of "devolution-max"; 2. Whether they'd prefer a single question on Scottish independence, or a second on "increasing the powers of the Scottish Government, while Scotland remains part of the UK"; and 3. Asking "Do you agree or disagree with a proposal to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament to include more laws and duties and control of most taxation, while Scotland remains part of the UK?" 

As usual, there are plenty of strands which can be followed beneath the toplines, on gender, home ownership, urbanity and rurality, age, children - and so on. As has come to be something of a habit, I'll attend to three groups which have proved consistently interesting in polling in this area: gender, age and affluence.  You may remember from the last Ipsos-MORI independence poll, that female support for independence was running some 15% behind men, while support for the proposition amongst older Scottish voters trailed the youngest cohort (18-24 year olds) by 15% too.  Correlated by the affluence of respondents, the poll was even starker. Support for independence amongst the richest fifth of Scots is less than half that of the poorest fifth, 26% to 53% support for independence respectively.  All present challenges of strategy to calculating nationalists.  But what if, by some route a second question on enhanced devolution is posed? Do the patterns we see with respect to independence reassert themselves around more devolution? And if not, why not? More problematically, what can we really make of support for "devolution max", when the term remains substantially undefined, and in its details, potentially very controversial?

Let's start with the topline. Ipsos-MORI posed this riddle:
The referendum will contain a question on whether or not Scotland should become independent. It may also contain a question on increasing the powers of the Scottish Government, while Scotland remains part of the UK, a proposal commonly referred to as 'devolution max'. Which of the following comes closest to your view?
1. The referendum should only include a question on independence
2. The referendum should include a question on independence and a separate question on devolution max
3. Undecided

Overall, the results are a pretty clear endorsement of the idea that the majority would like to see some sort of more-devolution question on their ballot papers, come autumn 2014.


And support for some sort of "more devolution" itself? Thumping.


The gendered breakdown on both of these questions proves particularly interesting. As you'll recall, the most recent polling from Ipsos-MORI has suggested that female support for independence lags some 15% behind men. When it comes to including devo-max, by contrast, male support for a multi-question independence referendum is significantly lower than women's, with female support for including a devolution-max question running 11% higher than men...

And on the central proposition itself, of striving to enhance devolution through the referendum process? Compared to the stark divergence on the issue of whether devolution max should be included, women are only a smidgeon more supportive of devolution max than men, at 73% to 70%.  In many respects, however, the most significant interest of this finding is its divergence from the run of polling on independence and the total absence of the gender gap on the central issue of "more powers".  Various hypotheses about this gap on independence have been advanced: women are more conservative, or more cautious, or have not yet been wooed by nationalists, connecting the possibilities of independence to policies which animate many women to vote, or think Alex Salmond's brusque good conceit of himself alienates female sensibilities from the SNP, and so independence. This divergence on the devo-max question speaks to those arguments in potentially suggestive ways.


My second hobby-horse: ancientness. We can frame the point in different ways - the younger are more likely to support devo-max question, or alternatively, the older cohort would prefer a single independence question. Either way, the vague aspiration for further devolution clearly has a greater purchase on the minds of younger voters.  That said, over 50% of over 55s go with the grain of the majority, and would also like to see more than one question asked in the referendum:

If the question is put, how would these four ages of man vote? Again, every age band indicate that they'd support some sort of devolved proposition - albeit in diminishing degrees in the more wizened quarter of the electorate. Also an interesting thought, for those of us interested in thinking about the future of Scottish politics (whether within or outwith the United Kingdom. Opposition to more devolution amongst the oldest cohort is double that of the youngest.  We don't often lend our lobes to the thought, but in a couple of decades, this youngest band of respondents will be in doughty middle age, sitting in parliament, occupying offices and the like. Interesting, then, that so many of them have become what we might think of as "axiomatic" devolutionists, which will have obvious implications if the UK plc isn't wound up in 2014.  On the agreeableness of some "devo-max" proposal, the results were as follows:



Finally, a word and a chart or two on affluence. The utmost echelon of wealthy Scots clearly much more hostile to the idea of independence than the poorest in the population, with graduations in between. As with gender, the whys and wherefores are trickier to tease out than the figures are to present. Are the best off Scots skeptical about the capacity of Scottish institutions to take up the work of government? Ambitious for themselves and their children within the UK, and concerned that those prospects might be jeopardised by an end of political union? Alternatively, do they regard themselves as cosmopolitan characters, and look sniffishly on Scottish nationalism as cramped and small-minded - contrasted with what they perceive as the open-mindedness and internationalism of the United Kingdom (however problematic that conflation may be)? Most of these theories emphasise concerns of "separation", if you like, whether personal and economically driven or to do with ways of imagining the self, the state and one's place in the world. 

So what about devo-max, which would "keep the Union together", and so removing many of the concerns one hears articulated about independence? The starting point must be this: unlike independence, the idea of more powers within the United Kingdom already attracts support across society, including from the clear majority of the wealthiest Scots.  Interestingly, however, of the five bands of impoverishment, this richest fifth is also the most opposed to and the least supportive of the idea, of all five bands. Indeed, support for "more devolution" in this top financial tier is just under 10% lower than its closest competitor, and 15% lower than the band most enthusiastic about "more powers".

Those full tables.


  1. And while public support for a "more powers" option grows, Johann Lamont sets her face firmly against both "devo-max" and "devo-plus". Talk about being out of touch!

  2. Whoah! Feller, when did you migrate your blog to New Zealand?

  3. Mark,

    I imagine you are referring to the curiosity of lallandspeatworrier.blogspot.nz? Not of my doing (for example, going offshore to avoid being sued for defamation). With thanks to Bill Cameron, here's the explanation for these odd country-specific urls.

  4. Ta muchly for the explanation, Andrew. Dashed odd.