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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds So, Ailsa, it’s been a long time since the referendum. Have people’s views changed in that time and coming up to this election about whether they want Scotland to remain in the UK? Well, in a way, the results that we would get now if you did a poll seem to be quite similar to what you would find – what you found on referendum day. We’re finding support for ‘yes’ is in the mid-40s. But what that misses is that between the referendum and now, support has steadily increased. I mean, it went up to a high well over 50, 53% last summer, summer 2015.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 seconds So while it looks the same as it was a while ago, it has risen and come back down again, yeah. And what about the impact of the UK leaving the EU? Does that have much of an impact on people’s views about independence? Yeah. We seem to notice that if you ask people how they would vote in a referendum and then if you raise the possibility of the UK being outside the EU, we find that support for independence for Scotland does increase by around 5, 6, 7%, yeah. So it does seem to make people more sympathetic. That’s not surprising.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds We’ve had high-profile figures on the Labour side saying that they would rethink a ‘no’ vote in the event of the UK being outside the European Union, so it’s not surprising, I suppose, that those results would be higher in the event of Brexit, yeah. And one of the big stories from the polls has been that the SNP are so far ahead. But if we dig deeper, is there anything else that we can notice about that, apart from the SNP being so far ahead? Yeah. Clearly they are well ahead. And if you’re interested in the horse race, I suppose the story ends there. But I mean, there’s a clear battle for second place. That’s something that occupies us.

Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds So depending on the polling firm, we’re finding the Conservatives either slightly ahead of Labour or at the very least catching them or achieving polling house-level highs in terms of their support. So we’re seeing a steady kind of increase for the Conservatives. And it’s an open a question whether they will have more support than Labour come May, yeah. So there’s certainly that. And what about people’s votes on the regional list. Does that tend to matter in elections under this system? Well, what’s interesting for us to explore is the extent to which parties are able to retain their supporters from the constituency vote to the regional vote. And what we see is that there’s three different stories.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds There’s the Conservatives, who are able to retain about 80% of their supporters across the two votes. Then the SNP and Labour are actually in a fairly similar position. They’re able to retain about 75%, 70 to 65% of their supporters from one vote to the other. And Lib Dems are far behind. They are far more likely to lose their supporters for the regional list. If we’re looking at where they’re going, for SNP supporters, a large chunk, a sizable chunk are going to the Greens for the regional list. If we’re looking at Labour supporters in the constituency vote, well then, their support on the regional list is kind of spread evenly across the other parties.

Skip to 3 minutes and 1 second Lib Dems, they’re breaking in all different directions. But also, there’s a sizable proportion who say they don’t know what they’re going to do with their regional vote list. And that’s a consistent message across all Lib Dem support. And what about the issue of tax? Ailsa, we’ve had a lot of debate in this election about the parties wanting to raise tax. Is that where Scottish people are in terms of wanting more taxes and higher taxes? Well, I think there’s two issues there. I think there’s the issue of what people want the tax level to be in Scotland. Do they want it to be higher than it is at the moment?

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 seconds Do they want it to be lower than it is at the moment? So that’s one issue. And I think the other issue is what people want for the tax rate compared to the rest of the UK. So if we’re looking at what people think the tax rate in Scotland and the rest of UK should be, we have clear support, majority support, about 60% support for keeping the tax rate in Scotland the same as it is in the rest of the UK. If we’re looking just within Scotland and what people want to happen to the tax rate, how you ask the question matters in terms of the results that you get. So different polling companies ask the questions in different ways.

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds And so for some polling companies, we find that we get 50% support for raising taxes. In others, it’s 40% support for raising taxes. In others, it’s 30% support for raising taxes. And the difference appears to be when you refer to what that increase in taxes will pay for. If you mention public services, then support for increasing taxes rises to about 40%. But if you don’t mention it at all, it’s back hovering around 30%. So there’s a real difference there across polling firms in terms of the results they’re getting for support for raising taxes. And what about the parties’ strategies in this election, Ailsa?

Skip to 4 minutes and 38 seconds Are the parties focusing mainly on issues like competence, or are they focusing more on issues like tax? Well, I mean, it’s hard to know. But what we can glean from the messaging coming out in the media, but also what they’re saying in the debates, there does seem to be an effort to really push this issue of tax. They’re mentioning fracking as well. But on the issue of tax, we do seem to have three large parties all committed to increasing tax in Scotland. And you can see an effort to kind of tap into these sort of directional positional issues that voters might be interested in.

Skip to 5 minutes and 13 seconds But what we’re finding is that even though we get patchy support, patchy evidence in terms of support for raising taxes, and even though you get parties promising what they think the electorate wants, it doesn’t seem to be translating into support for those parties. So a party announcing that it’s going to raise tax is not seeing an increase in its support. And we think it’s largely a holdover of the things that were mattering we know in the 2015 election. Who’s going to stand up for Scotland? Who’s best going to represent Scotland’s interests? So again, it’s kind of valence politics.

Skip to 5 minutes and 45 seconds But parties seem to be chasing the electorate using a kind of directional or a proximity approach, rather than one that focuses on voice and valence issues. And what about the popularity of leaders in this election, Ailsa? Yeah. Across the three largest parties, we’re seeing a marked increase in satisfaction with the job they’re doing. So voters were – 55% of voters were happy with the job that Alex Salmond was doing, 51%. But Nicola Sturgeon’s figures are up in the 60s. But we’re seeing an increase for Ruth Davidson compared to how Annabel Goldie was perceived to be doing. We’re seeing an increase for Kezia Dugdale compared to how Iain Grey was doing.

Skip to 6 minutes and 21 seconds So across those three leaders, we’re seeing increased support for the job they’re doing as party leader, which should be encouraging for them, I would imagine. And we know we had some problems in the run-up to the UK election 2015 with opinion polls. Has some of that been corrected for these devolved elections? Well, it depends in part on your assessment of what the problem was. But we think that a large part of it had to do with the quota sampling. And the one thing we know is that they’re still employing quota samples for polls.

Skip to 6 minutes and 48 seconds So if we were a bit – if we were slightly concerned about the accuracy of the results before, then there have been no significant changes that would lead us to conclude that things would be different. They’re also polling as quickly as they were before. And we know that that was something that was an issue, because you tend to get the answers of those who respond fastest. But one thing that’s a little bit different is that they’re polling much less frequently. Largely because the leader is so obvious, we’re seeing fewer polls, and that might well make a difference.

Parties and the Polls

Alan Convery and Ailsa Henderson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, discuss the latest opinion polls for the Scottish elections. How do the parties stand and how might the independence question affect this election?

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Scotland and Wales Vote 2016: Understanding the Devolved Elections

The University of Edinburgh