WITH the First Minister seemingly very close to launching a push for a second independence referendum next year, the new Ipsos MORI telephone poll is a timely reminder of how astonishingly far the Yes movement has come over the last three years.
Telephone polls are more expensive and much rarer than online polls, so it’s easy to get caught in an online trance and conclude that current polling is only moderately better for Yes than what we often saw during 2013 and 2014.
But the flip-side of the coin through most of the first indyref campaign was that telephone polls tended to portray an almost hopeless picture. Until the summer of 2014, the quarterly Ipsos MORI telephone polls for STV consistently placed the Yes campaign well below 40 per cent, even after Don’t Knows were excluded.
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The nadir was reached in the spring of 2013, approximately eighteen months before the referendum (perhaps the same distance we presently find ourselves from indyref2), when No were reported as having a greater than 2-1 advantage.
Bearing that precedent in mind, the fact that the first telephone poll of 2017 suggests a dead-heat between Yes and No, and a higher Yes vote than any online poll has reported since the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, is undeniable proof of a breathtaking transformation. By all accounts, the original Better Together campaign reassured itself with the belief that telephone polling was more accurate than online polling, and that No therefore probably enjoyed a more impressive lead than many polls (typically online polls) were indicating.
The outcome of the Brexit vote unexpectedly cast doubt on the old assumptions of telephone superiority, but that no longer seems to matter very much as far as independence is concerned. Regardless of data collection method, all recent polls agree that Yes will start a new referendum firmly in the hunt – thus depriving any new No campaign of its predecessor’s comfort blanket.
A first 50 per cent showing for Yes since last summer also raises the obvious question of whether there has been genuine movement in public opinion over the last few weeks, perhaps caused by Theresa May’s confirmation that Britain will leave the European single market. On the face of it, Ipsos MORI appear to be providing a degree of corroboration for the sensational BMG poll a few weeks ago which saw the Yes vote surge to 49 per cent. However, the jury is still out, because in between those two polls was a Panelbase poll which reported that Yes had failed to break out of its recent normal range. If the next poll from any firm suggests a Yes vote of 49 per cent or higher, that would tip the balance of probability firmly in favour of real change on the ground having occurred.
Aside from conducting independence polls by telephone, Ipsos MORI also differ from most of their competitors in that they do not routinely ask how their respondents voted on Brexit. However, in this poll a question was asked about the relationship an independent Scotland should have with Europe, which found that, excluding Don’t Knows, an outright majority of respondents favour full EU membership. Superficially that would appear to give the green light to Nicola Sturgeon to embark upon a full-throttle pro-European Yes campaign.
And yet we know from other polls that pro-European No voters from 2014 have thus far proved remarkably resistant to making the jump to Yes, giving rise to a theory in some quarters that Sturgeon should instead hedge her bets and offer a little hope to wavering independence supporters who passionately want to leave the EU.