Time to dish out another of the much sought after UKPollingReport “Crap media reporting of polls” awards. The Daily Record is proudly reporting that “Support for Lib Dems in Scotland down to just 3%, according to new poll”. I thought for a moment I has missed a new Scottish poll (hardly unlikely), or that Scottish commenters on UKPR had missed a new Scottish poll (much less likely). Alas not – the Daily Record has, in fact, precariously balanced the headline upon the Scottish cross-break in a single Angus Reid survey, consisting of 161 respondents.

The Daily Record’s article does at least mention this later in the article, and puts it in the context of Scottish cross breaks from other polls that, er, don’t show the Liberal Democrats at 3%, rather suggesting that they’ve cherry-picked a single outlying figure from extremely volatile cross-breaks to make a good headline. Cue lots of politicans cherry picking their own favoured cross-breaks to show how wonderfully they are doing. It’s down to whichever beleaguered toiler was on the Lib Dem press office that day to give the only sensible comment in the piece “It would be ridiculous to draw any meaningful conclusions from this poll given the minuscule Scottish sample size” (and that, one cynically observes, is probably only because no cross breaks look pretty for the Lib Dems).

I can only repeat the same thing I’ve repeated a million times – for fine tuned questions like voting intention, where are couple of percentage points make all the difference, individual regional cross-breaks are pretty much worthless. Sample sizes are typically very low, meaning large margins of error (in the case of this poll, about plus or minus 8 points) and numbers will jump about wildly from one poll to the next.

Equally, polls are normally weighted to be representative overall, rather than within individual crossbreaks – a poll that is representative of GB overall may have, for example, too many Tories in one region and not enough in another. Hence while aggregating lots of crossbreaks together will get you over the hurdle of small sample sizes (and is certainly better than looking at the crossbreaks in individual polls), it won’t magically transform aggregated crossbreaks from a GB poll into a properly sampled and weighted Scottish poll.

(*Well, strictly speaking they could be, since the whole point is that we don’t have any recent proper Scottish polling to judge it upon)

The Independent this morning carries a new TNS-BMRB poll on the AV referendum. It shows a much tighter race compared to the recent polling by ICM and YouGov, with YES on 32%, NO on 34%, 21% don’t kmow and 13% won’t vote.

Leaving aside their Scottish polling, I think this is the first TNS GB polling we’ve seen since the election, though notably this poll was conducted online, rather than the face-to-face methodology TNS was using for political polls before the election.

There are no tables available yet, so I can’t really speculate on the difference between what ICM and YouGov are finding and the TNS findings. Note that the fieldwork was conducted between the 14th and 18th April, so covering the same period as ICM (15th-17th), and slightly earlier than YouGov’s fieldwork (18th-19th), so the differences are likely to be methodological or due to the question, rather than timing.

The Independent’s headline for the poll – “Voting referendum neck-and-neck as Yes campaign gains support”, incidentally, wins our coveted “crap media reporting of polls” award by claiming this shows the YES campaign gaining support. It does not – there is no earlier TNS poll to compare it too, and it predates one of the polls showing a bigger lead (Andrew Grice’s actual article does not make the same error!).

UPDATE: Tables for the poll are here, all appears to be above board and shipshape. The topline figures aren’t adjusted by likehood to vote, but that doesn’t make a massive difference anyway, so no obvious explanation as to why it is showing a different picture.