Whose votes will help determine the outcome of next year’s Scottish elections?
Taking into account previous voting behaviour and propensity to switch together with the impact of cuts to income and to valued local services, the burd has determined that Scotland’s squeezed middle is most likely to accommodate women, voters aged 35 – 54, and people with C2 socio-economic status. Two recent polls disaggregated their findings along roughly these (and other) lines. Are these groups saying anything different from the general population, of portent for Labour and the SNP?
This table details the findings from today’s Scotland on Sunday poll across these groups:
|Scottish constituency vote||Lab||40||36||45||45|
|Scottish regional vote||Lab||36||33||43||42|
|Preference for First Minister||Alex Salmond||41||34||39||41|
And prompt several observations:
– the role of women voters and to a lesser extent, C2s whose minds are not yet made up in key marginal constituencies may swing some results
– the sheer number of don’t knows means there is all to play for on the regional vote; targeting to women, voters aged 35-54 (or 40 -59 as this poll bizarrely categorises them) and C2s may well reap electoral dividends
– Alex Salmond being everyone’s current preference for First Minister augurs well for the SNP’s presidential campaign strategy, yet the huge numbers of don’t knows make it a high risk one
John McTernan commenting on the poll suggests that “over a third of voters are in play for Gray” and that “there are voters who could be peeled off from Salmond”. That analysis contains a kernel of truth but is too simplistic: some of the don’t knows will be won’t tells or confirmed for another FM contender and won’t say, and some will be genuine don’t knows and therefore as much in play for Salmond. But being in pole position across all groups, particularly the three key ones I’ve identified, does make Salmond a target to be shot at. Focussing on Salmond’s strengths by definition also highlights his weaknesses and risks polarising opinion. Underpinning the strategy with tactics designed to woo the squeezed middle, both in general messaging across the country but also more particularly in key marginal seats, many of which the SNP currently holds by a slender thread, would appear sensible.
Is the SNP on the right track with policy commitments announced so far? The headline grabber was to continue to freeze the council tax. Scotland on Sunday’s poll asked respondents about this in what seems like an unnecessarily complicated question but the results suggest the SNP has called it right:
|End to council tax freeze||oppose end||59||60||61||65|
Across the squeezed middle, more oppose the end, and therefore by implication, support the continuation of a freeze, than across all voters and in key swing voter territory – the C2s – nearly two thirds support freezing it. This is a policy that clearly resonates.
The BBC Scotland poll on cuts asked participants to rank a range of options, including to increase prescription charges for those who pay them. Overall, only 5% supported doing this, meaning participants were very reluctant to do this in order to cut spending. This finding was replicated for women, respondents aged 35 – 54 and for those living in areas of average or moderately high deprivation, suggesting that the SNP’s decision to make prescriptions universally free will find favour with these three key groups of voters.
But there was a marginal difference of opinion with regard to the two top options for saving money in this poll, namely, freezing public sector pay and raising the age for free bus travel to 65.
|all||women||35 -54||ave deprivation||mod high deprivation|
|freeze public sector pay||21||20||21||20||20|
|raise free bus travel to 65||31||32||29||32||32|
The SNP has already suggested that there will be no change to the free bus travel policy which will no doubt find favour with voters aged 35 -54 but could frustrate other potentially key voter groups. Given too that Scotland on Sunday’s poll, albeit amongst a slightly different demographic, suggests this age group is pretty solidly Labour on both the constituency and regional votes, the SNP might be wise to heed their views less than the other groups. Moreover, slightly fewer – not less! – of these voters support the idea of freezing public sector pay. This may well be because more of their households depend on a public sector pay packet. Choosing to freeze their pay, for example, instead of raising the age for free bus travel could influence their voting intentions, particularly when they are also likely to be badly affected by UK Government measures, many of which kick in just before Scotland votes.
Polls often provide an awful lot of ifs, buts and maybes. And on the face of it, on voting intentions alone, Labour would appear to have it all sewn up already. But election victories are won on turnout, and in particular differential turnout. The squeezed middle will be crucial in these elections and three of its component parts are suggesting that there is still all to play for. The SNP appears already to be wooing these voters: how will Scottish Labour and Iain Gray respond when they gather in Oban for their annual conference next weekend?