Beware the polls of March

While there has always been tension within the Scottish Labour party about how and where to target resources during elections, never have we enjoyed such a ringside seat to the internal drama. Such is the panic in their breasties that it’s all being played out publicly for our delectation. It makes for a very bad farce. Or even a Greek tragedy.

This weekend, we’ve had unnamed sources calling for the West of Scotland and Glasgow, those previous citadels of Labour electoral dominance, to be abandoned in favour of seats that can still be saved in the East of Scotland. Then there’s been the criticism of the amount of support going into Margaret Curran’s Glasgow East constituency at the expense of others. Finally, some have questioned how it was worked out which seats would benefit from £1,000 of Blair’s filthy lucre, while some of the beneficiaries appear to have tried and failed to not accept the donation.

Every day provides another round of apparent Labour in-fighting. And there’s still weeks to go to polling day. For observers and commentators, and hard pressed and harried political journalists everywhere, this is, as the saying goes, the gift that will keep on giving.

For the SNP, well do they even have to turn up?  What need is there of a campaign when Labour is managing to dig its own political grave, with little help from any of the other parties? I’ve taken to listening to BBC Question Time on the radio: it’s a much more edifying and interesting experience. Tuning into last week’s show, never in all my days have I heard an audience in Scotland so hostile to the Labour party; poor Kezia Dugdale couldn’t even finish a sentence before being shouted down or eliciting collective disapproval or worst of all, the audience guffawing. In Glasgow.

And setting the mood music are all those polls: doesn’t matter who runs them, the numbers are largely similar. The SNP is in unprecedented territory for a Westminster election, Labour is in freefall, the Conservatives are static and the Liberal Democrats are finished as a political entity.

Everything – every nuance, detail and scrap of information at macro and micro political level – suggests that something huge is going to happen on Thursday 7 May in Scotland. The SNP is going to win, Labour is going to lose. It’s going to be massive.

And yet.

Call me Cassandra but some caution is required.

I worry that those leading the SNP campaign are not quite managing to contain their glee and successfully play down expectations.  “We’re taking nothing for granted” is not the same as “the only poll that counts is the one on election day and there are a lot of votes out there yet to be won”.

What if what the polls are predicting doesn’t quite come to pass?  What if Labour manages to narrow the gap by even just 5%? How would a gain of say 20+ seats, taking the SNP’s tally to a remarkable 30 look like a loss because the 50 seat total predicted by these wild February and March polls did not in the end materialise? That’ll be the mainstream media’s role.

Suddenly, Jim Murphy looks like a miracle worker and his party didn’t do as badly as predicted. The surge towards the SNP was a mirage, momentum has halted and it is portrayed as having lost the General Election, putting the party on the back foot right at the start of its campaign for 2016. Headlines abound like “Can Jim Murphy build on this to regain lost ground in 2016?” “Is the end nigh for the SNP?” “Is this the high point for the SNP’s electoral fortunes?” “Is it all downhill from here?”

So, I – and I know I’m not alone – would feel a lot more comfortable if the SNP was talking down the polling, as well as working away on the ground to turn opinion into fact.

Because it is not entirely clear that the polls will translate into results – and given the providence of some of the pollsters, we need to beware their March polls.

There is no such thing as a uniform shift as predicted by the headline, aggregated results in all the polls, as discovered by any activitists this weekend who were out in No voting constituencies in the referendum and in particular, those better off areas which did indeed vote No in considerable numbers. Clearly, people can only provide anecdotal snapshots but what they found on the ground is at least a live possibility of the beginnings of an anti-SNP tactival voting alliance among those whose antipathy to the SNP is all-consuming. In short, those who voted No might well be considering holding their noses to vote for another party to thwart the SNP’s landslide.

There are clues too below the headlines. Let’s look at the Ashcroft poll in the 14 Labour held constituencies which voted yes, in which a swing to the SNP of over 25% was predicted. Taken together, the polling results suggest that 37% of people intend to vote SNP compared to only 27% Labour. There is little difference between men and women, though Ashcroft suggests a much closer split among women with only 33% saying they will vote SNP compared to 29% for Labour. Taking socio-economic data, the SNP appears to enjoy a lead across all groups, including a remarkable 16% gap among AB voters, narrowing to only a 1% lead among DE voters.

But the most interesting breakdown relates to age. There is no doubt that the SNP enjoys astonishing levels of support among younger voters. The gap is around 20% for everyone aged 18 to 44 – that’s a huge chunk of the potential voting population in May. But we all know who actually can be relied upon to turn out and vote, whatever the weather and largely, whatever the election and among older voters, the gap narrows. In Ashcroft’s poll across 14 Labour seats in Yes voting areas, the SNP only leads by 5% among 55 to 64 year old voters. Among the over 65s, Labour still enjoys majority support, with 39% of those voters intending to stick with Labour compared to the 22% preparing to twist with the SNP.

And in that one statistic lies the seed of my disquiet. Everyone enjoying poll leads in the stratosphere would do well to check this one out.  It would seem the pensioners are still not shifting and just as their intransigence was a key factor in the outcome of the referendum, they may well yet decide the outcome of this historic election.

In short, all those pensioners opting to stay with what they know might cause Labour-held constituency dominoes to wobble but not fall down.  Which could well result in a quite different overall result to this Westminster election. And then what happens?

23 thoughts on “Beware the polls of March

  1. Be interesting to see what the Tories do in East Ren and a few other places.
    Do they hold their noses and vote for Murphy?
    That in turn would probably finish off Ruth Davidson if Scotland’s Tories desert to Labour to stop the SNP.

  2. Spot on. I’ve been sceptical of the polling to say the least on my own blog, I think they’re will be a narrowing anyway, but suspect that if there is widescale “anti-SNP tactical voting” then it will be more nip and tuck than most people think.

    I kinda suspect there has already been an element of anti-SNP tactical voting in the Dunfermline & Cowdenbeith Holyrood by-elections.

  3. Nerves are a terrible thing yet a good thing, nerves will get us put chapping on doors and leafletting. I’m in Stonehaven and the local guys put out an email today saying that we might not all be able to go out because others want to join in too.
    You’re right Burd, let’s all keep on going, our local guys out tonight canvassing and it’s crap weather out there, saw a post from Natalie McGarry earlier, she’s out with a team too.

  4. Ach stop being so canny.

    The pensioners know they have been shafted by Labour. Most i speak to ( NO VOTERS) are voting SNP as they believe the Labour party finished. Most activists are out canvassing and the pensioners are they’re target. The lies and spin from the referendum has carried on and folk are pissed by this.

    I know 6 pensioners who voted no but have since responded to clear info and a few pointers. They know their vote is for their families. Many pensioners are out there too . Giving it big licks for the SNP. posters in windows etc.

    By all means go easy and wait for the result but remember. We YESSES and SNP voters will vote and make sure our families too. 1.6 million votes might be a big ask but why not ??

    If the polls said Labour had such a lead they would be dancing at WM. But they don’t and the buggers are shitting themselves. Just listen to the news.

    We should have gone back in the box. But that never happened.

    40 plus seats is the target,

    labour are finished. fact.

    And the anti-Scots drivel coming from the London based media is making it so much easier.

    Roll on May. . 🙂

    • I totally agree with this article, they shafted us at the referendum and we were too cocky then,lets not make the same mistake play down everything and when we win we will do it with humility

    • Also meant to say great read. It’s always safe to wait and see but things really did change after the referendum.

      good manners cost nothing and give back much more.

      And we have some good news for a change so why not enjoy the moment. Sometimes the journey is better than the destination.

      We’re winning and LIEbour are’nt 😀

  5. “What if what the polls are predicting doesn’t quite come to pass? What if Labour manages to narrow the gap by even just 5%? How would a gain of say 20+ seats, taking the SNP’s tally to a remarkable 30 look like a loss because the 50 seat total predicted by these wild February and March polls did not in the end materialise? That’ll be the mainstream media’s role.”

    The MSM will play this role whatever the result, unless somethg totally amazing happens.

    Sadly, I’ve become so cynical about the media that even if the SNP get more than 35 seats it will be painted as a failure.

    Noses to grindstones, folks.

  6. One thing the SNP should do is what they should have done during the Indy campaign.

    Point out that they must have control of income tax relief. Scrap higher rate income tax relief for pension contributions. Use the savings to increase the state pension by £15 per week/£30 pw for a married couple.

  7. I think 35 should be the internal target for the SNP. That’s enough to say to Westminster. Scotland has returned an absolute majority for an independence party.

    With 35 the SNP can hold the balance of power and demand more powers. If the powers are not forthcoming then they will have a right to call a referendum.

    The referendum would not need approval, as Westminster is only sovereign if the majority of Scottish MP’s, don’t want a referendum.

  8. A timely reminder. It certainly is wise to urge caution at this stage, and dampen down expectations considerably. If the pensioners are persuaded to stick with Labour, then a reduced SNP lead could lead to a lot of close seconds, which would be impressive, but a major disappointment. It is worth remembering that, such is the size of Labour majorities in most of their Scottish strongholds, that they only have to reduce the SNP lead slightly in order to save many of their seats.

  9. Excellent post. Still so much to do and especially so to target the older generation. I don’t think even the most reckless of us truly believes 50 seats will fall. 25 would be fantastic but even to get that requires us to dig in and get door stepping. All to play for!

  10. Where does the Burd get the idea that the SNP leaders and activists are complacent.

    Where I am in Ayrshire I have never taken part in a campaign where there was remotely like as much SNP activity as now; more activists than ever; lessons learned from the referendum campaign being used; more street work and canvassing than ever before – and I am sure the same can be said throughout Scotland.

    No one thinks in terms of job over; the positive polls have been a motivating factor do get out and do even more to make sure that we get the result we want.

    The article is a complete misreading of the actual situation

  11. Definitely needed to be said, although i would assume the SNP election strategists are only too aware- but no harm in helping them along. The real question is : where is the message about being cautious of the pools from the SNP leadership ?

  12. The extraordinary polling results are mainly being quoted by the MSM and have not figured in any SNP party or candidate statement. As far as I am aware the SNP are working towards sending a “significant group of MPs to Westminster” . Sensibly not falling into the trap of positing a specific number .
    Good politicians promise & deliver but refrain from over-promising & failing. As a prescient example think of Murphy’s future as he has to explain to Ed the reasons for failing in his promise of “holding onto all of Labour’s Scottish seats”.
    There is a massive amount of hard work to be done by the SNP to ensure a resounding #GE2015 victory and success at #Holyrood2016

  13. If anyone in the SNP was talking about winning 50+ seats then there might be some point to this article. They aren’t. So there isn’t,

    • You’ve not been watching Twitter when the Michael Ashcroft polling was leaked. “X poised to win y constituancy….” every couple of minutes…

  14. Right to be cautious-but if the SNP do manage to win more seats than Labour in Scotland it won’t be possible to convincingly portray that as a defeat.

  15. Well to be cautious – well warned!
    Smart Burd!

  16. agreed a fair assessment of how things are right now i don’t like this supposed rise in SNP support it (a) induces a sense of job done what’s next ? (b) its a great motivator to those who just hate the SNP ,and this misconception that Labours daily mantra of vote SNP get Tory wont work well waken up it will and it is working remember the referendum and these polls assume people tell the truth really ? that’s a first ,take nothing for granted the ones who stole the future the last time will do exactly the same again while looking at you and denying they voted no last time

  17. A good article that resonates well with my own concerns. I was so optimistic about a ‘yes’ in the referendum that I was stunned by the result. I don’t want that to happen again so everyone needs to take care not to become complacent.

  18. Reblogged this on davidsberry and commented:
    No Cassandra she: the Burd deploys a shrewd, spot-on analysis of subtle key factors surging beneath remarkably smooth polls.

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