5 February 2013

Scrooge McDuck votes No...

Yesterday, we took a look at Angus Reid's most recent poll findings on independence, which showed that just under a third of folk support the proposition, and just under half oppose it, with 20% of people still undecided. Broken down by gender, by age and by social grading, the numbers tell a now familiar story. Substantially lower support for independence among women than men (a 13% gap) and much higher levels of opposition to the idea from the middle classes and the oldest cohort of Scots (opposition to independence is 15% higher amongst those aged 55+ than those between 18 and 24 years of age, and 16% higher amongst ABC1 voters than C2DE voters). The pollster put another couple of questions to its respondents, the second of which was:

"Thinking of your own financial position, do you think independence will leave you better off, make no difference, or leave you worse off?"

Part of the mood music of the campaign thus far has been the assumption that the whole controversy will be determined, in the last instance, by voters' apprehensions, financial and economic. You'll remember the survey which asked folk if they'd be for or against independence if i) they'd be no better or worse off ii) if they would be £500 worse off and iii) £500 better off. It turns out that Scots say they'd follow the money.

Now, £500 may seem a paltry, even disloyal sum to justify succession, and a crabbit (even contemptible) reason to decide to become an independent state, but beggars can't be choosers. For my part, I'm a bit skeptical that folk really think and vote in this way - but the findings at least gesture towards the "thinness" of pro-Union sensibilities and the extent to which perceptions of the economic impact of independence on the average punter is going to play a substantial part in this campaign. Something any pro-independence sort has to be hearted by. So what did Angus Reid discover? Across all 1,003 respondents, the leading impression, but well shy of a majority, was that independence would pick their pockets.

In some respects, it's surprising that only 38% of folk think they'd be worse off with independence, given the bushfire rhetoric that we've been hearing of late from Alistair Darling, which has tended to run "Of course I believe that Scotland could go it alone, but [insert financial disaster narrative]". For the moment, however, 41% think that the wallets won't be sapped of their hard-earned lucre or might even plump up, given independent governance.

For YesScotland, still seriously to begin making the case for independence, these are encouraging signs. A post-apocalyptic image of a new Scotch peasantry, scratching out an attenuated life on thin gruel and lumpy mashed neeps without butter, seems not to have gained as much purchase as one might think. This is, in all probability, a register of the extent to which the campaigns have not really impinged on many people's consciousness, rather than evidence that a dismal pro-Union rhetoric of fire, brimstone and your evaporated doubloons won't work, but the poll at least suggests that the thrawn messages emanating from Better Together remain far from universal in their impact.

As ever, it is interesting to dip beneath the topline and tease out some of the differences. Let's start with gender.  As we saw yesterday, the same poll recorded big differences between men and women's attitudes towards independence.  What are their financial calculations?

Let's take a look at their answers disaggregated by age groups. General attitudes to independence tend to show a tapering rate of opposition to independence, increasing as respondent groups get more ancient. Again, we see a similar pattern in their answers about their financial situation, with diminishing uncertainty, and increasingly negative attitudes towards independence's impact on the crustiest cohort's swag bag.

And finally, by social grade, determined by the occupation of the "head of household", roughly dividing respondents into middle class (ABC1) and working class (C2DE) respondents. 

Yesterday we saw that while support for independence did not diverge widely between ABC1 and C2DE voters in this poll (separated by 6%), the far more substantial difference was in levels of determined opposition to independence, with opposition running 16% higher amongst ABC1 voters than C2DEs. Interestingly, we can see this difference more or less mirrored in their answers to the financial question, with 15% more ABC1 voters apprehending that they would be worse off with independence, than without it.  Scrooge McDuck votes no.

The message of all of this? Obviously, it is a complex thing, and a range of variables nudge the vote this way and that. There are folk, for example, who might accept that independence would have financial benefits for the country, but who would stick with the Union, out of a British Nationalist sensibility, or what have you.  Equally, there are people who might be uncertain about the financial impact of independence, but who remain nevertheless inflexible and committed backers of independence. There do seem to be some important correlations here, however.  The bourgeoisie present the most obvious challenge. How to begin to chip away at the large, largely negative assessment of independence's financial impact on them? It is worth bearing in mind that some 55% of the UK population would now be assessed as ABC1 voters. This skepticism, and the scale of the negative financial assessment amongst ABC1 voters, must be a big challenge for Yes Scotland.

With women voters, the picture seems more promising.  While a large wadge of women think independence will have a negative image of them and theirs, there's a substantial body of uncertainty, which at least roughly connotes persuadability.  On one interpretation, at the moment female voters are like the jury who take the burden of proof seriously, and reject the case adduced by the prosecution as insufficient to convict. That's not to say that they're dead certain that the villain in the dock is innocent of all charges, and couldn't be persuaded by different, more substantial argument from the procurator fiscal, to condemn the accused man. They've just not heard it yet.

To harp on an old string, finding ways to speak to and convince women to back independence is going to be absolutely vital if YesScotland is to get anywhere in this referendum campaign.  The weekend's Angus Reid poll contains motes of light on that score. It isn't all in vain. Yet.


  1. In almost any opinion poll, on any topic, women will register a higher proportion of "Don't Knows" than men. This may simply reflect that women are less opinionated than the guys.

  2. oldnat,

    True enough that, but the scale of the indecision seems to me more than your commonplace single-figure difference. That may, of course, be wishful thinking!

  3. The £500 survey was the 2011 Scottish social attitudes survey. I have asked them on Twitter if they asked the same question this year, but they've not responded. Do you know?

  4. Peat Worrier

    Fair point.

    There are even odd occasions when the DKs work the other way round, of course. in the YG poll on should Lizzie abdicate, it was 17% Male v 12% Female DKs!

  5. Garve,

    I don't know for sure, but I'd wager they didn't ask it this time around, otherwise we'd have heard about their findings and any year-to-year changes.

  6. Christian Wright7 February 2013 00:05

    "The bourgeoisie present the most obvious challenge. . . It is worth bearing in mind that some 55% of the UK population would now be assessed as ABC1 voters. This skepticism, and the scale of the negative financial assessment amongst ABC1 voters, must be a big challenge for Yes Scotland. "But what percentage are ABC1s in traditionally more-working-class Scotland?

  7. Great series of posts LPW.

    The £500 question is one that gnaws at me - are we really that biddable? Though I hail you from the other side of the Indy debate I share your scepticism, but sometimes (as when reading Joyce McMillan) I feel like the character in the Platonov story who looks in vain for the Russia he is told exists in the papers.

    For what it's worth, my feeling is that the number of people who say they have no time for the SNP but will vote Indy seems to be increasing. I hesitate to draw a football analogy but (again FWIW) the Rangers and Celtic fans I know have little difficulty in combining contempt for the Tartan Army with support for the national team.gsr

  8. So lads, where are all the lassies who can't say "No" ?

    Crivens Burdz .... just askin, ken!