The reporting of polls can sometimes be a curious affair. Only last week a poll from YouGov that put Yes on 47% and No on 53% (after Don’t Knows were excluded) was widely reported as a hammer blow for the No side. Today we have another poll from the same company that puts Yes slightly higher than last week, and this has been widely reported as a major disappointment for Alex Salmond.
Today’s poll, conducted jointly for The Times and The Sun, puts Yes on 45%, No on 50%. That represents a two point drop in Yes support since YouGov’s previous poll, for which the fieldwork was undertaken towards the back end of last week, and a five point increase in No support. Once the (now very small number) of undecided voters are omitted, Yes are on 48%, No on 52%, representing a three point swing to No. So whereas Yes were narrowly ahead (for the first and so far still only time) in the company’s previous poll, now the No side’s lead is narrowly restored.
In one sense the disappointment of this poll for the Yes side is obvious. YouGov’s three previous polls had all shown successive increases in Yes support, thereby suggesting that the Yes side had a continuing ‘momentum’ that might take it on to victory. Now its progress has been checked, suggesting that voters are not simply turning in their direction in ever growing numbers.
But this is also yet another poll that suggests that the referendum race is an awfully lot tighter now than it once was, albeit with No apparently still narrowly ahead. That matters, given the doubt about whether a swing has actually occurred created by the failure of both Panelbase and Survation in their two most recent polls to identify one.
Moreover, we had further evidence last night that Yes are now in a stronger position than they were during most of the summer from a poll of the south of Scotland alone conducted for ITV Border by ComRes. As two previous such polls have demonstrated, this part of Scotland is hardly fertile soil for the Yes side. But at 33%, the Yes vote (once Don’t Knows are excluded) is three points higher now than when ComRes last polled in the region in June.
One feature of today’s YouGov poll on which some have alighted is that support for independence amongst women is down five points (from 47% to 42%) on the company’s previous poll, whereas amongst men it has fallen by just a point (from 55% to 54%). In its coverage of the poll, The Times suggests that women in particular may have become more concerned about the deleterious consequences that the No side believes independence would bring. More likely, the finding suggests that previous speculation that the gender gap has narrowed was premature. The 12 point gap in today’s poll is exactly the same as it was in the YouGov poll in early August that put Yes support on 39%.
One other feature of the demographics of today’s poll should be noted. As compared with YouGov’s previous poll, Yes support has fallen by far the most (by 13 points) amongst the youngest age group. Such a pattern always raises a few alarm bells, as all polls struggle to interview young voters and thus upweight those they do manage to interview quite considerably. However, the difficulty in securing interviews with young voters means that any poll’s estimate of how those in that age group are going to vote can vary rather a lot simply as a consequence of the random variation to which all polls are subject. This perhaps is further reason for not overinterpreting the three point decline in Yes support in the poll as a whole.
One other trend of note on today’s poll is that the sharp rise in optimism about the economic consequences of independence evident in recent YouGov’s polls has now been reversed. Those who think that Scotland would be economically better off under independence now stand at 37%, down three, while the proportion who think it would be better off is, at 48%, up six. It may well be that some of the evident nervousness in the financial markets and amongst some businesses during the last week has communicated itself tovoters. Even so, optimism about those consequences is still more widespread now than at any time before last August. Plenty more work for both sides to do on this issue in the few campaigning days that are left.