Kevin Schofield at the Sun has just tweeted out the latest YouGov Scottish polling from tomorrow morning’s Sun (£). Topline figures are YES 35%, NO 55%. Without don’t knows it works out at YES 39%, NO 61%. The fieldwork for the poll straddled the debate – just over half took place pre-debate.

39/61 is exactly the same as the last Scottish YouGov poll, but it isn’t directly comparable. There are two slight changes in YouGov’s Scottish methodology since the previous poll. The first is that the sample is extended to include 16 and 17 year olds – though this didn’t actually make any difference to the result.

The second is that YouGov have added an extra weighting variable, weighting according to people’s country of birth. For some reason raw samples seem to contain too many respondents who were born in England, and English born people are more likely to vote NO (Panelbase found the same, and also adopted place of birth as an extra weighting variable in their latest poll). This additional weight does makes a slight difference to final result, making the results slightly more “YES”. Under the old weighting scheme the results would have been YES 38%, NO 62%, a slight shift towards NO.

The weekly YouGov poll for the Sunday Times is up here. Topline figures are CON 33%, LAB 37%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%.

Most of the rest of the poll dealt with Boris Johnson’s planned return to Parliament. Dealing with the practical implications first, 35% think Boris should stand down as mayor if he wants to stand for Parliament, 54% think it is fine for him to do this at the same time as being Mayor. If he actually gets elected 60% think he should stand down as Mayor, in the event he becomes Tory leader 79% think he should resign as Mayor.

Looking forward to whether there is a vacancy, 44% of people think that David Cameron should resign as Tory leader if he loses the next election, only 29% would like him to stay (a majority of Tory voters would actually back Cameron staying on as leader after a defeat, though personally I can’t imagine it being an issue – I think he’d step down anyway). If David Cameron wins the next election then by 46% to 28% people would like him to remain for a full term, 80% of Tory voters would want him to serve a full term.

Were Cameron to go, Boris is the frontrunner to succeed him. 30% would back Boris as the best Tory leader, ahead of Theresa May on 16% and George Osborne on just 7%. Amongst Tory voters Boris leads Theresa May by 41% to 15%.

Asked which words best describe Boris Johnson likeable (34%), buffoon (32%), entertaining (31%) and intelligent (26%) come top. It’s unusual for any politician to have three positive words in the top four of a question like this, but it flags up Boris’s shortcomings too: statesmanlike (1%) and competent (7%) are down at the bottom of the list. In a separate question 36% think Boris Johnson would be up to the job of Prime Minister, 43% think he would not.

And what difference would Boris as leader actually make? Well, with all the usual caveats for questions like this (people are crap at answering hypothetical questions and have no idea what Boris would actually do and say as leader) it wouldn’t actually make much difference to voting intention at all. A control question asking how people would vote with the current leaders produces voting intentions of CON 33%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%… with Boris as Conservative leader it would change to CON 34%, LAB 35%, LDEM 10%.


This morning’s Scottish Daily Mail has a new Survation poll of Scotland. Referendum voting intention figures with changes from last week are YES 37%(-3), NO 50%(+4), Don’t know 13%(-1). Excluding don’t knows that works out at YES 43%(-4), NO 57%(+4). Tabs are here.

Survation are one of the companies that have tended to produce some of the better figures for YES. Their last three Scottish polls have shown figures of YES 47%, NO 53%. 43% is the YES campaign’s lowest score in a Survation poll since January, before Survation switched their weighting scheme to Holyrood recalled vote.

Normal caveats about any sharp movement in the polls apply, but this the first full natrep Scottish poll since the Salmond-v-Darling debate, so obviously people will look at that four point swing and conclude that the debate has indeed moved public opinion towards NO. I’d urge a little caution – as ever, it is just one poll, all polls have a margin of error, and when other post-debate polls come along they may or may not paint the same picture. This first bit of evidence though suggests the first debate has helped NO.

Marginal polls

Back in May when ComRes first launched their marginal seat Omnibus I wrote about some of my reticence towards marginal polling, why it isn’t usually quite as useful as it should be, and why I hoped that might change. Marginal seat polls matter because they are the seats that might change hands, and therefore the seats that will decide the election. If they behave differently to the national polls, and if different groups of marginal seats behave differently to one another, it’s obviously a very big deal.

What has limited their usefulness in the past is their infrequency, and the lack of comparability and empirical testing. Marginal polls used to only come along occasionally, varied a lot, polled different groups of seats, and didn’t often happen right before elections so weren’t tested against reality, meaning methods weren’t finessed and improved over time in the same way national polls are.

In practice their rarity and inconsistency rendered them a very blunt tool when we’re looking to spot quite subtle differences – the reality is that marginal seats aren’t that different from the country as a whole:

  • In English & Welsh seats at the last election (the swing in Scottish seats is consistently different) the average swing from Lab to Con was 5.8%. In the 50 most marginal seats the swing was 5.6% – no real difference at all. In the real core battleground (Lab-v-Con seats), there was a slightly more noticeable difference, but it was still small. Amongst all Lab-v-Con seats the swing was 6.7%, amongst those with a majority of less than 10% the swing was 8% – so 1.3 percentage points bigger.
  • In 2005 the average swing in all English seats was 3.2%. In the Lab-v-Con battleground seats it was 3.5%, in Lab-v-Con marginal seats the swing was also 3.5%. No difference.
  • In 2001 the average swing in all English seats was 1.6%, the average swing in Lab-v-Con seats was also 1.6%, the average swing in marginal Lab-v-Con seats was -0.5% (that is, overall there was a small swing to the Conservatives, but on average there was a tiny swing to Labour in the Lab-v-Con marginals).

You can see that marginals do behave a little differently sometimes – the Conservatives managed a better swing in their target Labour marginals in 2010, Labour did better in those seats where they had fresh incumbency in 2001 – but the differences aren’t huge. We’re talking 1 or 2 percent difference. That’s enough to make a genuine difference in seat numbers, but is very difficult to determine from a single opinion poll. The difference between the national picture and the marginal picture will normally be so subtle that it could easily be lost under or mistaken for normal sample variation, or the methodological differences in doing marginal polls (or vice-versa, normal volatility or methodological impacts could be mistaken for a different pattern in the marginals when there is none).

More recently though things have been looking up. We’ve seen an increase in marginal polls and, more importantly, we’ve seen an increase in regular marginal polls – Lord Ashcroft and ComRes are both doing regular polls of the same groups or group of marginal seats. Different pollsters are also doing marginal polls of roughly the same marginal seats – Ashcroft, ComRes and this week Survation have all done polls that include ultra-marginal Conservative -v- Labour seats. However, despite covering the same ground, the results are very different.

The table below is an attempt to make the results roughly comparable. There are much more obvious differences between different battlegrounds (that is, between seats that are Con-v-Lab battles and seats that are Con-v-LD battles), so I’ve looked at only the Con-v-Lab battleground – those marginal seats with the Conservatives in first place ahead of Labour. Sample size for each poll is just for the Con-v-Lab marginals, the swing just those seats, and I’ve compared it to the average of national polls at the time of each marginals poll’s fieldwork.


As you can see – three companies, three completely different stories. ComRes show the Conservatives doing much better than nationally in these key marginals. Lord Ashcroft shows very little difference between the national picture and equivalent marginals. The Survation poll today showed Labour doing much better in similar marginals.

Some of the differences will be methodological. For example, Ashcroft uses the two stage question wording to try and coax out local considerations though frankly it makes very little difference in Con-v-Lab marginals. I don’t think ComRes prompt for UKIP in their marginal polls, but Survation and Ashcroft both do. The weighting regimes are very different – I think Ashcroft weights by age, gender, social class and recalled vote; ComRes weight by the same plus housing tenure; Survation appear to weight only by age and gender, with no political or socio-economic weights. Lord Ashcrofts poll are also, it’s worth noting, of a substantially larger size – they are an aggregate of full size single constituency polls, rather than a poll of a group of marginals.

You pays your money, you takes your choice. My own expectation is that, if there is a relatively small Con to Lab swing the Conservatives will do very slightly better in the marginals thanks to the double-incumbency effect – the historical evidence for such an effect is extremely strong and I see no obvious reason for it not to happen this time round. If, on the other hand, there is a hefty swing towards Labour then it might well be cancelled out due to a stronger performance in Labour target seats, like we saw for the Conservatives in 2010 or Labour in 1997. Time will tell. Either way, I wouldn’t expect Con-Lab margins to perform radically differently to the national picture – if there’s a systemic difference between marginals and the country as a whole, I’d expect it to be a small one. In a close election that could still be the difference between a majority and a hung Parliament, so don’t underestimate its potential importance, but it would be a remarkable election if the swing in marginal seats really was 4 or 5 points bigger or smaller than the national picture.

Tonight is the long awaited Scottish debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. STV released their latest Ipsos MORI at the start of the debate – topline figures there are YES 40%(+4), NO 54%(nc), don’t knows just 6%. Excluding don’t knows that works out at YES 42%(+2), NO 58%(-2).

MORI tend to be one of those pollsters who show more favourable figures for the NO campaign, so by their standards its a favourable poll for YES. Then again, if MORI are right, then a sixteen point lead for NO is still a a big gap to close with only six weeks to go.

Following the debate the only instant poll I’m aware of is ICM for the Guardian, due to go out about 9.40 (results will hopefully be before ten, but it obviously depends on how quickly people respond!)

UPDATE: ICM’s instant poll crowns Darling the winner – 56% for Darling, 44% for Alex Salmond. The figures are, incidentally, very close to the sort of NO/YES figures ICM report in referendum voting intentions. We’ll know properly when we see ICM’s tables, but I suspect we may find that people who were voting YES anyway thought Salmond won, people who were voting NO anyway thought Darling won.

UPDATE2: Full figures including don’t knows were Darling 47%, Salmond 37%, Don’t Know 15%. Sample size was 512.

UPDATE3: Tabs are here. People’s perceptions of who won were, as suspected, largely in line with their pre-existing dispositions towards independence, though not entirely. Amongst people who were voting NO before the debate people thought Darling won by 83% to 6%. Amongst pre-debate YES voters people thought Salmond won by 72% to 16%. Amongst people who said they were don’t knows, Salmond was slightly ahead – 44% to 36% (albeit, there were only 63 don’t knows, so we’re talking about the difference of 4 or 5 people). Bottom line is that there was no big knockout blow here – the large majority of both sides thought their own “champion” won, don’t knows were pretty evenly split.