2 August 2012

Westminster & independence: that Fabian poll...

Just a snapshot or two from YouGov's latest Scottish poll, sampled on behalf of the Fabian Society.  While the survey instrument was clearly much more wide-ranging than the single page of findings which has been published thus far (to whit, see Labour "Out of touch, incompetent and boring" in the Scotsman), yesterday, the pollster released a sheet on Westminster voting intentions and on attitudes to independence.

For comparison's sake, I've pulled up the actual voting figures from the latest general election.  It is easy to forget, but nationally, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists similar levels of popular support in 2010, winning 11 and 6 constituencies respectively.  If the YouGov poll is to be believed, that's all gone to hell now, with Liberal support down by 11.9%, and the SNP upswinging by 9.1%. Westminster voting intention (July 2012):

Contrast this with the general election of May 2010...

The YouGov poll also asked its 1,029 respondents: "Do you support or oppose Scotland becoming independent from the rest of the United Kingdom?" It is a mildly curious question to ask.  It isn't in the Scottish Government's preferred or secondary wording - but don't let's cavil.  YouGov found, across all of its respondents:

The polling also repeats now familiar gendered differences in polling on independence.  YouGov found a 17% gender gap in support between men and women.  However the number of undecided women remains far higher.  While just 8% of YouGov's gentlemen respondents identified themselves as undecided, almost a quarter of its women were still swithering.

On social class, YouGov employ just two groupings, classifying respondents into ABC1 and C2DE categories.  These classifications are based on the occupation of the "head of household", and are broadly bunched into "middle class" and "working class" respectively.  In previous polls, we've seen that support for independence has been weakest amongst the most affluent Scots, and strongest amongst the poorest.  While the YouGov data gives us less detail, this broad trend is reflected in this poll too.  Amongst respondents which the pollster classified as upper middle and lower middle class, support for independence is 9% lower than those C2DEs.

Finally, much has been made of generational differences in support for independence, with younger cohorts tending to be more supportive than older generations.  As anyone who has kept an eye on the polls over the past months will have noticed, the findings on levels of support by age have been very volatile, shooting up and down, inconstant as a drunken pooka.  An obvious explanation for this is the smallness of the samples.  

While the whole poll questioned over a thousand people, only a little over a hundred of these were aged 18 - 24.  If you had the inclination, and the money to throw at it, it'd be extremely interesting to see more detailed polling done on how one or two demographic features impact on attitudes to independence. For example, we know that female support for independence lags behind men's - but the polling data in the public domain doesn't break down that gendered headline at all. 

For example, do levels of support amongst working class and middle class Scottish women differ significantly? What about rural women and urban women? With kids or without, in work or out of it? And for all that, why? As it stands, the only folk likely to have access to this data are the political parties, who for understandable reasons, are likely to keep schtum about their findings. This seems more than a vice - it's a missed opportunity.  You could bring the same critical, inquisitive focus to bear on issues of age, social class and so on.  To my mind, it'd form a grand basis for a multi-part, multi-stranded (and hopefully nuanced) series of programmes in the lead up to the referendum. Here's looking at you, BBC Scotland

In any case, yesterday's YouGov findings levels of support for independence amongst the youngest cohort was down, but determined opposition remained the lowest amongst eighteen to twenty four year olds.  Over sixties remain the most determinedly opposed. 


The poll also correlated attitudes to independence with Westminster voting intention.  This may be of interest, in a week which has seen the press pounce on the Labour for Independence grouping which is currently trying to knit itself together.  Labour sorts on twitter eyed the press splash skeptically. A red herring, some of them wondered, just nationalists puffing a small, disorganised group to generate some damaging headlines for Johann Lamont about party discord? The media can certainly be relied upon to report disagreement as disarray and disaster, and obligingly did so in its usual over-heated terms of rebellions and splits. 

But what can this YouGov poll tell us? We need to be careful not to conflate the attitudes of Labour voters with those of Labour's membership.  We also encounter a second methodological difficulty.  As we've seen, the SNP do not generally prosper well in Westminster elections.  By contrast, Labour (who gained just 31.7% of Scottish constituency votes in 2011) has been able to rely on doughty support for sending its representatives down to London, attracting 1,035,528 nationwide in 2010.

As a consequence, correlating attitudes to independence with Westminster voting intentions is likely to give us a wider sense of the attitudes of Labour-inclined towards independence than undertaking the same exercise with Holyrood figures. That being the case, nationalists might have hoped for a better showing amongst this broader Labour electorate than the 20% currently minded to support independence.  


  1. "That being the case, nationalists might have hoped for a better showing amongst this broader Labour electorate than the 20% currently minded to support independence."

    On the contrary, 20% in support of independence plus 10% undecided seems pretty impressive to me at this stage.

    Previous polls have always strongly suggested that there were more SNP voters opposed to independence than Labour ones in favour of it. Yet here there are almost twice as many Labour independence backers as SNP opponents.

    Indeed, Labour supporters are shown here as the least "solid" in terms of backing their party's official position - in total 30% are "off message", compared to 25% of Lib Dems, 26% of SNP voters and just 10% of Tories.

    Given that Labour voters are ultimately the key to the outcome of the referendum, these are some of the most encouraging stats I've seen in a while.

  2. Excellent analysis but with a country with Scotland's demographics you'd need a much bigger sample than 1,000 to accurately gauge the segments you want to drill down to.

    Which given how important this is someone, somewhere should be funding.

  3. I'm always wary of YouGov polls, because it's essentially a self-selecting group. You register on their website, and they send you out links to their polls. Who's to say it has even the slightest resemblance to the population of Scotland?

    That aside, I always find the "don't know" numbers to be of most interest. "Don't know" in this sort of situation effectively translates to "open to persuasion", because if they liked the status quo, they'd be voting for it.

    It will be a long time before "no" drops below 50% in yes/no polls, because it has the advantage of being the default position, but it'll certainly not go up from here (not more than the margin of error, anyway). People are always wary of voting for a change, but once they're convinced of it, they rarely turn back. That's why unionists will lose, because they're starting off from a point where already almost half the population are saying the status quo is not good enough.

    What can Better Together offer those 16% who "don't know" that will convince them to vote no? And we know from other polls that less than a third of the population is resolutely in favour of the status quo - just shy of a half of those who are saying no in this poll are genuinely in favour of what Better Together are offering. The other half want change, but have yet to realise that they can only get it through independence. Once this is made clear, I think the "no" numbers will begin to fall.

  4. Doug is significantly mistaken. YouGov polling like this is done using randomly selected members of the public and suitably weighted results just like all other professional polling. It is not a self-selecting group drawn from people who register on their website.

    That comment should probably be withdrawn.

  5. I'm one of the people registered on YouGov, and I take part in their polls pretty regularly. I only get asked to do their polls because I'm registered on their website. If I wasn't registered on the site, I wouldn't get polled.

    That's why I take their polls with a big pinch of salt.

  6. Duncan

    You are simply wrong.

    YouGov is one of a number of companies who poll using members of a registered panel. If the panel is big enough, then it might well be capable of replicating a demographically balanced sample of the population.

    Proof, pudding, eating, are the touchstones. How well did YG do in predicting the 2011 election? (not very).

  7. Duncan (Hothersall),

    I'm interested in your view on this. What evidence do you have to support your arguement?

  8. Fascinating stuff, though i have ceased to take any of the polls seriously since the Holyrood election.

    In this BBC piece on restoring the death penalty,


    a YouGov spokesman suggested

    'Polls are quite accurate, plus or minus 3%, said Mr Wells, and their accuracy can be checked against real life events such as who is going to win the election or X Factor. '

    Yet as oldnat points out they didn't do very well with the Holyrood election.

    Incidentally - if I am reading it right - the Sep 2010 YouGov poll on the death penalty suggest that Scots are more in favour of restoring it than people in the south of England. As our American friends are wont to say, go figure.

  9. Groundskeeper Willie3 August 2012 at 14:12

    Doug Daniel

    Agreed. Any poll that relies on people actively applying to be polled is inherently flawed and is wide open to manipulation by dedicated activists.

    Having said that, it is becoming clear that any nat who claims there's going to be a yes vote in the referendum is either daft or dishonest

  10. Utter nonsense, Groundskeeper Willie. The difference is not by any means unsurmoountable in the two years of the runup to the referendum especially in light of the fact that only in Canada has an independence referendum ever failed.

    The high percentage of women and Labour members who are undecided looks very encouraging for the nationalist. It is quite definitely in play and not a guaranteed win on either side.

  11. Groundskeeper Willie3 August 2012 at 21:13

    The referendum won't fail, though your choice of words is interesting.

    The referendum will succeed.

  12. The only true poll will be the referendum itself. In 2002 a BBC poll found that 63% of English people wanted English elected regional assemblies:


    However, at the 2004 referendum in the NE of England 78% said NO!

  13. Did the Fabian society only ask Labour party members?

  14. Agreed. Any poll that relies on people actively applying to be polled is inherently flawed and is wide open to manipulation by dedicated activists.

  15. Pleasant surprise to see you pop up on newsnicht tonight LPW. Well done...

    p.s. Not sure about the shirt.

  16. I've never trusted Yougov since I spent 2 years registered with them and filling out their surveys. My (pro) stance on independence never changed during this time, but I couldn't help but notice that every time the UK gov or other anti-indy interest commissioned a poll involving independence I wasn't asked to participate. When the SNP commissioned one I usually was. Perhaps this was a coincidence? I don't know, but the dismal gap between their predictions for the last Holyrood elections and the actual results does suggest their sampling strategy may need work.