Which is a lot like stating the bleedin’ obvious but bear with me.
The methodology might be a little one-sized and loaded towards particular age groups and demographics, but IPSOS Mori’s Scottish Public Opinion Monitor has been around long enough now to be credible and authoritative. And while SNP and independence supporters might be a little disappointed that the saturation coverage of the launch of the referendum hasn’t produced a poll boost, 37% saying they will vote yes isn’t a bad launch pad. What’s better is that this is a pretty consistent finding across different polls, including those with derisory sample sizes.
Yes there is a pretty solid and stolid no camp coming in at 50% but we are still two and a half years out from referendum day. It’s all to play for.
It’s the findings underneath the top line that are most interesting. To be expected older generations, particularly those who are retired but also higher earners and least deprived groups who are more likely to be nay-sayers. I guess if the union is delivering for you, you are more likely to want to keep the status quo.
But when you look at the other demographics, it begins to become clear why aspiration and positivity play such a big role in the SNP’s electoral strategy these days. Folk who might be attracted by the promise of more/different/better are most likely to be up for a big change.
Young voters are clearly a key group: 46% of 18 to 34 year olds are already saying yes, compared to less than one third of over 55s. More people employed in the public sector support independence than those in the private sector (46 to 36%), and more people who rent their home from the council or a housing association are “up for it” than either private renters or owner occupiers. Indeed, an astonishing 61% of this category are already in the yes camp.
Those who are not working or who work part time are more likely to be independence supporters. And when defined by the deprivation status of the area they live in, the contrast among potential voters is stark. Nearly two thirds (63%) of those living in the most deprived areas say they will vote yes compared to only one quarter (26%) of those in the least deprived areas. The issue here, though, is likelihood to turn out and vote: experience suggests people in more affluent areas will come out and vote. Turn outs in more deprived areas tend to be much lower which will be an issue for the SNP and other pro-independence parties to overcome.
More people with children in the household than without are likely to vote yes – 42% versus 36% – which is in line with the intended voting pattern across the age groups. But more worryingly for the SNP is the return of a gender divide. While 46% of men intend to vote yes, only 30% of women do, suggesting that the oft-quoted innate conservatism of women is a factor. If the SNP want to persuade more women to vote for the potential upheaval of change, the party will need to move off the debate off the big ticket territory it currently occupies. Yes, the economic issues matter but they need to be expressed and articulated in a way that women in particular can relate to.
Also an issue is the relatively low support in rural areas for independence currently, despite the SNP’s huge electoral strength in many of Scotland’s rural heartlands. Indeed, the level of rural support for the SNP before the May election was quite extraordinary and was borne out by the election result. The SNP will need to find a way of turning that trust and confidence in parliamentary elections into a pro-independence vote in the referendum. One issue is the perceived – however inaccurate – dominance of the central belt and central belt issues in the constitutional debate. If the SNP is to win the referendum, it will need to ensure that the discourse envelopes all airts and pairts.
Obviously it is early days and a lot more movement in the polls is likely. An early poll like this offers succour that the key messages first rolled out before the election and which continue to dominate the SNP’s narrative, are still finding favour among key voter groups. But the poll also shows the scale of the challenge. The SNP and other parties who want to achieve a yes vote will need to persuade those who are relatively happy with the status quo – or who are minded to keep the devil they know – to shift their view.
As we have seen, no party gathers momentum like the SNP in campaigning terms. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it managing to shift opinion, or at least enough opinion within key voter groups, once its bandwagon gets going. And it will be interesting too to see what the pro-Union camp does in terms of trying to arrest the yes vote among younger and poorer voters, in particular. Poll-watching in the next two years is going to be fascinating.
Or at least, this political anorak will be fascinated…