Posts Tagged polls

Election round up: Never mind the parties, what about their voters?

How do you round up when there’s nothing to round up?  I mean, they might as well not have bothered this week.

It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day: every morning the meeja are summoned to some inane photo opportunity in some poor unsuspecting town; the respective machines reel off constant announcements and statements (go visit the Steamie to see how relentless they are); news programmes dutifully report the day’s headlines and if they’re really lucky, a gaffe.  And then everyone goes leafleting, canvassing, to hustings and meetings and then they do it all again the next day.  Yep, so far, so dull.

What happened this week?  More polls showed a super soaraway lead for the SNP;  a relaunch for Labour put Salmond, the SNP and independence firmly in its sights;  Annabel presented a ridiculous caricature of herself, if this is possible, in a hairnet eating teacakes;  Iain Gray failed to fight Salmond in the Asda aisles;  and Hadrians wall was breached as UK leaders and big hitters headed north to shore up the faltering Labour and Lib Dem campaigns, and Mr and Mrs Salmond went to London to see the Queen and that wedding;  shock, horror there was a wumman in charge of the country and the sky didn’t fall in.

Dear voter, hang tight, the end is in sight. Here’s hoping for a rip-roaring grand finale with two leaders’ debates this Sunday on the BBC and then on Tuesday at STV.  Please inspire us with a gripping toe-to-toe discourse on the key policies and issues.

So that’s the parties;  what about the voters?  Who is actually voting for whom in this election and what does that say about, well, anything?

Using the IPSOS-Mori poll because it has the most detail in terms of voter disaggregation, there are few surprising variations on what we might expect.

If you intend to vote SNP on 5 May, you are most likely to be male, aged 35 -54, working full time, born in Scotland and living in a rural area, in the least deprived communities.  However, the SNP can also expect a considerable vote from pensioners, though amongst younger age groups, its vote is pretty evenly split between those having children and those not.

Given that Labour and the SNP are fighting it out for the centre ground, they might also be tussling over the same voters?  Actually, no.  Labour voters are more likely to be female, under 35, working part time, living with children in a council or housing association house in the most deprived areas in cities or towns.  Interestingly, their voters are just as likely to come from other parts of the UK or indeed, beyond, as from Scotland.

What does this tell us?  That Labour is holding onto its traditional voter ground, is resonating with the “squeezed middle” but needs to do more to secure the aspirational vote.  It is clear that this vote still sits largely with the SNP.  And despite big efforts, the SNP is still toiling to appeal to women and urban voters.  This matters: if the SNP’s projected lead turns into seats, expect Scotland to turn largely yellow all across the North and South of Scotland, but the central belt will stay stubbornly red.  One other interesting demographic is how few people (according to this poll but probably backed up by experience) born outwith Scotland intend to vote SNP:  the party’s civic nationalist messages do not appear to be getting through.

Perhaps the most significant development is the switch of the all-important pensioner vote, which has been mirrored in the polls throughout this election and which I blogged on previously.  Given older people’s propensity to actually go and vote, these are the voters likely to have a huge bearing on the overall result.  And the shift would appear to be just reward for the SNP Government’s overt woo-ing with a range of pensioner-friendly policies.

What of the other parties?  Conservative voters are most likely to be female, retired, without children, born elsewhere in the UK and living in the most affluent areas in rural communities.  Little surprise there then, but note that their main challengers for this vote are the SNP (who are winning it hands down).

The Lib Dems’ vote is most likely to be younger (25 -34), have no children, own their home, and again live in the most affluent areas of rural communities.

Do you see the pattern?  It seems to support the headline findings which show that the SNP is taking votes from both these parties.  And it also shows the danger of believing the national polls in terms of how big the SNP’s lead over Labour actually is.  Unless and until the SNP is winning votes from Labour in urban constituencies, few seats in the central belt will change hands.

Effectively, the SNP is in the lead because it is taking votes away from the Tories and Lib Dems in largely rural seats, which is also supported by IPSOS-Mori’s findings on the regional vote.  These suggest more Tory and Lib Dem constituency voters intend to vote SNP on the list vote than for Labour.

It all points to two things.  First, that we are likely to have a big urban-rural divide in terms of election outcome.  How that will play out in Holyrood and government remains to be seen.  Secondly, Labour has indeed got its campaign strategy wrong.  Its lagging behind the SNP has less to do with losing the national battle (though this has undoubtedly had an impact), and more to do with mistaking this election – as veteran political journalist Angus McLeod deftly pointed out – as a core vote one, when it has actually been a switcher election.

Finally, what of the Scottish Greens?  Well, the party enjoys pretty even support across all the demographics, though its vote is more likely to be urban, living in the least deprived areas and most likely to have been born outwith the UK.  Everything else is pretty marginal: while having a universal appeal across age groups, gender and employment status might suit the egalitarian spirit of the Greens and their need to pick up regional votes from all types of voters, one wonders what might happen if it targeted more heavily towards particular groups and communities?

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There now follows a poll warning

With three polls in the last week from  IPSOS-Mori, YouGov and Scottish Progressive Opinion, we anoraks have had plenty to chew over.  They all employ quite different methodologies, so comparing them is a bit like trying to find points of similarity between broccoli, carrots and onions.

But they all indicate a significant shift in support towards the SNP.  Without any doubt, the electoral sands are shifting in Salmond’s favour, though we should be wary of hailing the victors based on what is being reported, for there are some fine details that are worthy of consideration.

First, the figures are being massaged a little at the edges.  This pre-occupation with dismissing don’t knows and uncertains to vote has a bearing on the findings.  The IPSOS-Mori poll gives the most detail with which to examine this phenomenon.  The headlines gave the SNP an 11 point lead on the constituency vote (45% to Labour’s 34%) and put them head by 10 points on the regional vote (42 to 32).  But that finding is based on participants’ voting intention and which party they are inclined to support and how certain they are to vote.  Which means rather than simply being a pure who will you vote for result, it has other things factored in as well.

One immediate consequence of doing this is to lower the sample size from the 1002 people polled to 681 respondents (or 667 if the weighted figure is used and we want to confuse matters further).  Thus, the margin for error increases on a lower number and moreover, it is universally accepted that you need a sample of 1000 to make a survey fully representative.

If we include all participants, the sample size goes back up and the figures shift slightly.  On the constituency vote it now looks like SNP on 43 and Labour on 34, a margin of 9 per cent, and on the regional vote, it is 40 to 32, a difference of 8 points.  See below for how this might impact on seats in Holyrood.

The sample then drops dramatically for the question on which party people are inclined to support.  Looking only at the findings for the constituency vote – I’m trying to simplify this, honest – we see that only 294 responded to the question and of that number, 88 were undecided or didn’t know and 73 refused to answer.  This means that only 133 people gave a substantive response, yet this finding was applied to the whole sample to come up with the headline finding ie SNP on an 11 point lead.

So what happens if we take out all the extraneous stuff and simply ask all people whom they intend to vote for?  We get a very different result.  On the constituency vote, the SNP is on 29%, Labour on 20%, Tories on 7%, Lib Dems om 6% and the don’t knows are on 23%.  For the list, it’s 28% SNP, 21% Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems on 7%, Greens on 4% and the don’t knows on 18%.

It is still a commanding lead for the SNP but suddenly, the large numbers of don’t knows – as also found by Scottish Progressive Opinion - become more relevant.

The adjustments for certainty to vote are much more subtle in YouGov’s poll findings but it is not clear how many people fall out of the sample because that detail is not given.  However, the vagaries of the electoral system mean that even a percentage point of difference – Labour is on 32% when the findings are adjusted compared to 33% when they are not – results in Labour gaining another couple of seats when those findings are entered into ScotlandVotes predictor.

It is also worth noting that YouGov’s sample size has increased considerably.  In March’s poll, it was 1025; last week’s Scotland on Sunday poll was based on a sample of 1135 adults;  and this week’s sample was 1332.  It should make for a more accurate picture but there is still considerable weighting being applied, one presumes on the basis of Westminster voting record rather than previous Scottish Parliament vote share.

The general point holds true: every time the raw data is poked around with, no matter how stringently rules are adhered to, there is a risk of contamination and affecting the findings.

And every time don’t knows are airbrushed out of the equation, the findings are being skewed somewhat.  Some of these will be genuinely unsure voters who will make up their minds at the last minute, some as late as when they reach the polling booth;  others will actually be won’t says ie they know how they are going to vote but they won’t share it;  others can now be considered as won’t votes.  At this late stage of the campaign, if people have not made their minds up, often they simply will not bother to vote at all.

So while the large numbers of undecideds might still give the Labour party a glimmer of hope, their potential for causing a swing back is diminishing day by day.  Indeed, some will simply make for the winners’ bandwagon which is more good news for the SNP.

Finally, a percentage poll lead does not translate into a gain by that margin.  A ten point poll lead translates into a much smaller swing which means most Labour MSPs will escape, albeit with their majorities scythed.  The SNP’s potential gains are just as likely to come from the Tories and the Liberal Democrats but in all cases, local factors and incumbency come into play.  On the face of it, Ayr and Galloway and West Dumfries should fall but both have longstanding, respected Conservative MSPs.  Moreover, both Tavish Scott and Iain Gray are unlikely to lose their seats and Kevin Stewart in Aberdeen Central, as depute leader of a council forced to make horrendous cuts to balance the books, might find it harder to shift an incumbent MSP than all the polls suggest.

It all adds up to a great big headache and a couple of truisms:  all to play for and the only poll that counts is the real one on 5 May.