It’s been a long journey, but we’ve finally arrived at the eve-of-referendum polls. For a lot of the Scottish referendum campaign the discussion about polls was one of right or wrong – we had lots of polls showing the same trend (flatlining!), but showing different absolute figures. Companies like MORI, TNS and YouGov were showing big NO leads; companies like Panelbase and Survation were showing a tight race. Then we had a period of some companies showing a strong movement towards YES, some not, and we have ended up with everyone showing much the same figures (what was the true picture earlier in the campaign we will never know for sure – by definition you can check eve-of-election results against reality, but never mid-term ones). With one MORI poll still to come, here are the YES shares in the latest polls from each company (taking the online and telephone methodologies seperately for those companies who have done both):

Ipsos MORI (phone) 49%
ICM (phone) 49%
TNS (face to face) 49%
YouGov (online) 48%
Panelbase (online) 48%
ICM (online) 48%
Opinium (online) 48%
Survation (online) 48%
Survation (phone) 47%%

Essentially everyone is predicting the same result, the margin of error on most of the polls is around plus/minus 3%, every poll is within two percentage points of the others. This isn’t going to be a case of individual pollsters getting it right or wrong, they’ll either all be around about right or all be horribly out.

There’s a temptation when the polls are like this to say YES and NO are within the margin of error, that it’s “too close to call”. It doesn’t really work like that – these polls are showing NO ahead. The margin of error is on each individual poll, and it’s equally likely to happen in both directions. Hence if the “true” balance of public opinion in Scotland was 50/50 we’d expect to see a random scattering of results around that point, some polls showing yes, some polls showing no. We’re not seeing that. We’re seeing polls randomly scattered around the 48/52 mark, suggesting that’s most likely where public opinion is – a very small lead for the NO campaign.

It’s possible there will be a very late swing, that people will have changed their minds in the last few hours or in the polling station itself. In most polls there really aren’t that many don’t knows left to make their minds up though.

The alternative route to an upset is if the polls are wrong, if there is some systemic issue above and beyond normal random sampling error that affects polls from all the companies. I wrote yesterday about what the potential risks are – the main challenges in my view are first whether people who are on the fringes of society and normally play little part in politics don’t get picked up in polls but do vote; and secondly whether there has been an issue of differential response rate, have the obviously more enthusiastic yes voters been more willing to take part in polling that no voters are?

Personally I’m a little more worried about the latter – I think there’s more chance of the polls ending up underestimating the NO vote than the YES vote, but there comes a time when you just have to trust the data. The polls say the result will be around about YES 48%, NO 52%. We will see on Friday morning.


166 Responses to “What the final polls tell us”

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  1. Murray clearly just didn’t like that the No side had gone to length to paint half of Scotland as rabid violent nationalists.

  2. Was there a YouGov Westminster VI last night?

  3. @OLDNAT – I dunno, sounds like no on no violence!

    @ADRIAN B – Doubt it makes much difference, maybe stops the softer yes vote drifting. Murray was reported to have been upset about Salmond’s saltire waving at his wimbledon win, so I’d say its still a bit of a coup for Yes.

  4. Martin – yes, a bit of a coup (better that he said something than nothing or supported No I guess), but so late in the day and not entirely unexpected either.

  5. So Murray based his decision on STYLE of the rival campaign rather than facts and future of Scotland itself?

    Will he receive a backlash in Wimbledon next year?

  6. Indeed the news media can’t report it (I think) due to news restrictions about recording campaigning when people are going to the polls.

    (I think that’s right? Someone correct me if I am.)

  7. There is no point in speculating now on how undecideds will vote . In 24 hours or so , we will know the only “poll” that counts, i.e. the final vote tally.

  8. @ Mactavish – yes, he certainly will, at least from the media (the British tennis public are not really bothered, they supported Rusedski! As long as the player has GB after their name they get the cheers). I can’t help thinking he will be targeted by the tabloids now, which would be sad.

  9. Adrian B

    Sounds like you are accusing the London tabloids and the Wimbledon crowd of intimidating someone for their political views. :-)

  10. Correction

    Just the tabloids

  11. UK Retail Non-food, Non-fuel Sales volumes continue to steam ahead.

  12. “Claire Perry, the minister of state in the Department for Transport, said Scotland must not be offered “financial party bags”.

    Her comments, reported by Sun and Telegraph journalists, warn against a “whole raft of goodies on offer for Scotland that will be paid for by us south of the border to appease the Yes voters”.

    Politics Home.

    Hotting up nicely :-)

  13. @Alec

    Control over foreign policy,defence, welfare, trade, ….. small beer stuff like that.

  14. @Bill Patrick

    If the devolution of tax is so common I wonder why the Unionist proposals are so timid. Any thoughts on that?

  15. @ OldNat,

    Who would accuse the tabloids for doing such a thing?? It happens in all tabloids, in all countries, on both sides – Days of Reckoning are not just an invention of the SNP.

  16. Murray clearly just didn’t like that the No side had gone to length to paint half of Scotland as rabid violent nationalists.

    I can’t allow this disgraceful piece of misinformation to stand.

    As a matter of fact they went to great lengths to try and paint 45-49% of Scotland as rabid violent nationalists.

    Seriously though, the argument about campaign tactics is about as interesting as Labour accusing the Tories of being bankrolled by one billionaire from Belize, and the Tories inferring that the Labour leader is the trade union barons’ puppet, and little more informative. To give one example from each side it’s hardly a surprise that cross-border media organisations will naturally lean towards having one rulebook instead of two, nor is it a surprise that troublemakers tend to gravitate towards the anti-establishment side of any argument, regardless of whether they are welcome to do so. It’s hardly a surprise that BT haven’t asked the media to be a bit less favourable to them, nor is it a surprise that YS have trotted out “this isolated incident has nothing to do with the official campaign” once or twice.

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