Yes on 58%: What’s behind the poll lead?

The latest polling on independence is some good news in tough times for Yes supporters. 58 per cent in favour of independence is reaching into new territory of independence support, even if it is just one poll. As polling expert professor John Curtice points out, this is “the ninth poll in a row since June to […]

The latest polling on independence is some good news in tough times for Yes supporters. 58 per cent in favour of independence is reaching into new territory of independence support, even if it is just one poll. As polling expert professor John Curtice points out, this is “the ninth poll in a row since June to put Yes ahead. On average, these polls have put Yes on 54 per cent, No on 46 per cent”.

Curtice looks at the numbers behind the Yes poll lead and identifies four trends. First, the rising popularity of the First Minister, with Nicola Sturgeon’s polling numbers back to “her early weeks and months as First Minister”, with a 72 per cent satisfaction rate, including positive ratings among those who voted No in 2014 (55 per cent). Second, the huge age divide in support, with Yes dominating younger voters and No dominating older voters, which means “demographic turnover” trends towards Yes over time. Third, the gender gap in the 2014 referendum – women were significantly less likely to support Yes –  has “seemingly disappeared”, with polls now regularly showing marginally more women than men are pro-independence. Fourth, Curtice finds there has been a shift in thinking among a section of the No voting cohort since 2014 about independence, with 38 per cent of former No voters now attracted to the idea of independence on the basis that Scotland could head in a different direction from England. 

It’s worth reflecting on this latter point in particular. It’s pretty clear that the multiple crises Britain has faced since 2014 – Brexit, economic stagnation and now the pandemic – has chipped away at confidence in the UK and encouraged people to look towards an alternative constitutional future as a new way forward. But that then leads to the thought: what would a period of stability do to Yes support? For instance, let’s imagine in a year’s time there is a vaccine in widespread use and that Britain has left the EU with a deal. Is the growth in Yes durable in a more stable period? 

There are some aspects of yesterday’s polling that leave question marks about the resilience of this new found support. Only 15 per cent of former No voters think Scotland’s economy would be stronger outside the UK, while even among those who have switched from No to Yes, 30 per cent believe leaving the UK would be a big risk for the Scottish economy. These are findings that will give some hope to the No side, that there are vulnerabilities in Yes support, even as it is rising. 

It’s not clear at all that stability is round the corner in the UK. It’s just as likely that we are now in an era of permanent crisis. But either way, the Yes side has to work on consolidating its gains. As Ellen Höfer points out in Source, new White Paper’s on independence which were promised by Sturgeon at the start of the year, and apparently placed on the back burner when the pandemic hit, are sorely needed, given the evident holes in the SNP’s case, particularly on currency. There is also the question of how a polling majority is to be translated into a referendum, with the UK Government as belligerent as ever in its opposition regardless of the 2021 election outcome, and likely to become more so when they look at these numbers. 

Nonetheless, the polls should help give positive energy to the independence movement in bleak times. There remains everything to fight for.

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