Polls tighten, a little, as election approaches

As the crucial Holyrood election approaches, we are awash with polling data with which to gauge the mood of voters.

Looking at this wealth of data, it is clear that the trends apparent since the beginning of the year now appear to be more embedded in public opinion, namely that support for the SNP and, by extension support for independence, has fallen marginally since the high points of the second half of 2020.

Support for the SNP remains at historically high levels and its prospects of being the largest party after the election remain rock solid; but the latest polling does throw some doubt on the party’s ability to win an overall majority on May 6th, thereby strengthening its mandate in calling for an independence referendum.

The two polls published this week illustrate the point perfectly. Both show support for the SNP has slipped a little since previous reading from the same pollster. Looking at the constituency element of the ballot, polling by YouGov suggests SNP has fallen by 4 percentage points, from 56% to 52% since November; similarly, equivalent polling from Savanta ComRes indicates a 7-point fall since December, from 55% to 48%.

The impact of that movement in opinion is that it adds to the uncertainty over whether the party will achieve an overall majority in May; the YouGov polling suggests that the SNP would achieve an overall majority, gaining 71 seats, six more than needed to achieve that majority, while the ComRes polling suggests that it would fall one seat of the coveted majority.

What is striking from a dive into the polls is that, while core support for the SNP remains solid, the party retaining well over 9 in 10 of its 2019 voters, it is the party’s ability to attract votes from supporters of other parties which has diminished in recent times.

This week’s YouGov survey estimates that 25% of those who voted Labour in the 2019 general election indicate that they will vote for the SNP, a fall from 30% from the same group in their November poll; a similar pattern is observed in those who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2019, among whom 15% say they now back the SNP, a fall from 21% in November.

While these movements are modest rather than seismic, they may prove the difference between a majority or minority government after May’s election.

Similar patterns are apparent in attitudes to independence; having had more than 20 polls showing support for ‘Yes’ in front, both of this week’s polls indicate a marginal lead for ‘No’.

And once again, while core support for independence remains strong, it is the group who had indicated a change of heart in pervious polls which has shrunk in size; so, YouGov’s November survey suggested that 22% of ‘No’ voters from 2014 had switched allegiance; that has fallen to 17% in this week’s poll.

Again, a modest movement but enough to have changed the narrative, at least in the short term.

In the next few weeks, the fifth term of the Scottish Parliament will finish and the campaign proper will kick off. There is enough happening in the world of Scottish politics between now and May 6th to suggest that there may well be more polling movement ahead.

This article was published in The Herald Voices Live on 12 March 2021

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