Scottish “Yes” vote on course to hit 47%…

I have long thought that the “Yes” vote in the Scottish referendum, all other things being equal, would be around 35-38%. This is a rough guesstimate based on how people say they will vote, minus those who drift away from change late in any such campaign. Essentially, it assumes that the “don’t knows” will break heavily for “no”, given the uncertainty factor – a classic example being the (frankly much less life-determining!) Australian Republic referendum.

Polls move up and down. As Mr Salmond is a master operator, “yes” was always likely to gain ground slowly. Here’s the real thing: what people tell pollsters is very different from what they actually do in the privacy of the polling booth! Years of practice by pollsters have seen a system of “weighting” developed which means they can predict UK General Elections almost precisely. However, no such comparator exists for a one-off referendum of this nature. There is no truly reliable system of “weighting”.

Thus, nothing I had seen in the polls swayed me from that view. Until I was pointed to one in The Scotsman by my cousin, who lives in Falkirk. This one, known as the ICM Wisdom Index, was almost certainly the most reliable poll I have seen on the subject – and it put the “Yes” vote at a staggering 47%.

It is an apparent outlier versus my own analysis and indeed any other reliable polls, but here is why it must not be discounted. The poll did not ask how people intend to vote; but rather what they think the outcome will be. Polls asking what they think the outcome will be are vastly more reliable the ones asking people how they will vote. There are lots of reasons for this.

When asked by pollsters how they themselves will vote, the information received merely tells them what that single person likes to think they will do (or even what that single person thinks the pollster would expect them to do or admire them for doing). It does not tell us what that single person will do; nor does it tell us any more that one person’s view.

On the other hand, when asked by pollsters what they think the overall outcome will be, people can in the first instance be more honest – this is not about them alone any more, but about their reading of the overall population. More importantly still, it does not give us an indication of what a single individual will do, but rather what they perceive their entire social circle, community and even country will do – essentially, it gives us information about lots of people for the price of one.

Polls asking people what they think will happen at an election or referendum have been demonstrated countless times to be more accurate that polls asking people what they think they themselves will do (except where decades of tested weighting may be applied, which is not the case for the Scottish referendum) – for example, unlike “normal polls”, the same ICM Wisdom Index consistently and correctly ignored “Clegg Mania” in the run-up to the 2010 UK General Election.

Still, it is not perfect of course. Proponents of the ICM Wisdom Index thought the AV referendum would be close (it wasn’t remotely). There is still the element where the respondent does not want to be thought a fool by the pollster. It is safer to tell a pollster that you think it will be a close vote in favour of the likely winner than to say you think the underdog will win or that the likely winner will win big – hedging on the close vote means you won’t be too wrong either way!

Interestingly, this is why bookies are often more accurate predictors of elections or referendums than pollsters – as bookies base prices based on bets placed by punters on what they think will happen collectively rather than on what they will do individually. On this basis, most bookies still have a “yes” vote at 7/2 – which is more in line with my initial instinct that the “yes” vote will be closer to 37% than 47% – to be precise, the bookies’ spread reckons a “yes” vote at 41%. But on the above evidence, if I were a betting man, at 7/2 I’d be tempted…

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6 thoughts on “Scottish “Yes” vote on course to hit 47%…

  1. Scots Anorak says:

    From what I know of Scotland, I’d be surprised in the “yes” vote were less than 40%, and even at the start of the campaign I’d never have predicted that. I don’t think it’s possible to say at this point who’s going to win. There is a trend towards “yes”, as illustrated in this graph, but whether it’s fast enough is anyone’s guess.

    http://scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/poll-of-polls-long-term-trend-towards_25.html

    Evidently “yes” already has a majority among certain groups, such as men and poorer people, while “no” does better among women and older people. Given the relative likelihood of pensioners and people in lower socio-economic groups actually going out to vote, there may be a slight boost to the “no” vote on the day. I think it’s absolutely possible, even if there is a “no” vote overall, that some regions of Scotland will have a “yes” majority.

    Interestingly from a Northern Ireland perspective, Celtic fans are heavily for “yes”, while Rangers fans are tending towards “no”. Any historical reticence among Catholics at the prospect of an independent Scotland therefore seems to have receded, while the traditional loyalism of Rangers fans seems to be holding up rather better. Although that’s of course not relevant to Scotland as a whole, in a close vote it might make all the difference.

    I think you patronise Scots slightly with your references to Alex Salmond’s skills as a politician. He is not a Svengali, and many people like him simply because they agree with him anf feel he fights their corner well. If the Unionist parties are serious about saving the UK, they could probably still do it by offering devo-max, introducing a proportional voting system, abolishing the House of Lords, moving the capital to Liverpool or Sheffield, etc. The fact is, however, that none of these things, not even the first, is likely to happen, and thus many people believe the UK to be incapable of reform.

    If the “no” side fails to win with more than 55%, especially in the absence of full devolution of tax and welfare, I think it’s only a matter of time until Scotland leaves the UK, probably within 10 years. Just as in Northern Ireland, Unionist voters are concentrated in the oldest demographic. If England rejected EU membership in a referendum, that would probably provide the crisis.

  2. Francis Teeney says:

    I really do hope they vote yes. Scotland has a long, proud and interesting history. They are quite capable of running their own affairs. As for consequences for Northern Ireland – it is none of our business. It is for the people of Scotland to decide. We had our referendum and we voted to stay part of the UK as long as the majority want to. How much more democratic can you be.

    • A “yes” vote would have a huge effect on Northern Ireland.

      For a variety of reasons, a “UK” of England, Wales and Northern Ireland simply isn’t viable in the long term. Northern Ireland lacks serious linkage with the other two – culturally or economically. The other two have no reason to continue pumping billions into Northern Ireland (not least since Wales, not Northern Ireland, is the poorest constituent country).

      There would be a mammoth psychological, economic and constitutional impact. Anyone who denies that isn’t in the real world. (The assumption that that impact would be negative is one I would challenge, however – it need not be).

    • Red&Black says:

      We’re only a ‘wee bit’ part of the UK, a quarantined part that can’t elect the UK government – and I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to vote on staying in the UK or not. The last Border poll was 1973 wasn’t it?

  3. Red&Black says:

    I was recently in Scotland for a weekend and to meet some old friends from the Borders. I was surprised at the momentum the Yes campaign has – even from people working in finance and banking. I came away with the view that the Scots rather liked the post-war full employment and welfare consensus and that they were acting conservatively (ie as conservers) to first choose devolution and then press for full independence in order to avoid the effects of the (often 3 party) liberal and Thatcherite consensus in England.

    I came away from that weekend thinking (totally unscientific) that I’d be surprised if Yes got less than 45%.

    the effect on Northern Ireland would be significant and welcome. Quarantined from governmental politics for more than a century now, it’d be a welcome shake up

    PS Worth reading Gerry Hassan’s blog on the Referendum debate

    • Great stuff! Thanks for contributing.

      My own reckoning currently is slightly different; with yes at 38%.

      I’ll come to why nearer the date!

      The good thing is we’ll find out soon enough!

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