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The latest polling on the budget, NHS salaries and Scottish Independence
There were three immediate post-budget polls on the day of the budget from Opinium, SavantaComRes and YouGov. They all showed very high levels of approval - YouGov found 46% support, 11% opposed; Opinium found 52% approve, 12% disapprove; SavantaComRes found 60% satisfied and 11% dissatisfied. The following day YouGov also put out new voting intention figures, which showed a Conservative lead of 13 points. While the Conservative lead has been steadily growing over recent weeks anyway, at least part of that looks likely to be a bounce from a positively received budget. Worth remembering that it was conducted immediately after the budget, before the press coverage turned rather less positive…
This would not be the first initially popular budget to come unstuck in the following days as people look in more detail at the details. In this case the downside doesn't appear to be in the details of the budget itself, but in the proposed NHS pay settlement that was announced the following day. The first actual polling on this has come from Opinium in the Observer. This found 24% thought the proposed pay rise was too high or about right, 72% thought it was too low.
While high, this is by no means new, or different, or surprising. All past polling on nurses salaries has always shown the vast majority of people support increases - look, for example, here or here or here or here or here or here. That's about ten seconds of googling. The public have very consistently and very widely supported increasing nurses' pay for many years. It has not lead to large rises, or prevented the Conservative party winning elections in their absence. A better question is perhaps to what degree it is a more salient issue given the coronavirus, and whether it actually damages Conservative support. Time will tell if that’s the case.
All past polling has shown that nurses are held in extremely high public regard (look, for example, at the Ipsos MORI veracity index). In terms of public sympathy, this is a fight that is probably unwinnable for the government. The question is more weather they knuckle down and accept any hit to public support (because something is unpopular it does not necessarily damage support at the ballot box), or whether they U-turn on it.
There are two Scottish polls in the Sunday papers, one from SavantaComRes for the Scotsman on Sunday, one from Panelbase for the Sunday Times.
The Scotsman on Sunday one makes great play of No being ahead in their SavantaComRes poll - 46% No, 43% Yes, Don’t know 10%.
This has been rather complicated however by methodological issues. Previous ComRes polls on Scottish Independence have been weighted by likelihood to vote. This one was not, meaning it can’t be easily compared to the previous figures. More to the point, the impact of weighting by likelihood to vote has sometimes been quite large in previous ComRes polls, so it’s quite hard to work out what the impact would have been.
In ComRes's last Scottish poll, conducted in late February for ITN, applying turnout weighting had minimal effect. However, in their last poll for the Scotsman at the start of Feb 2021 it made a huge impact, transforming a 3 point No lead to a 5 point Yes lead. In other words, it’s quite possible that if the same turnout filter had been used this wouldn’t have shown any change in support for Independence at all.
The Scotsman on Sunday article also reports people claiming that the Salmond Inquiry makes them less likely to support Independence. I’d take that with a bucket of salt. I've written before about the perils of "does X make you more or less likely to vote Y" questions. They are tricky to ask, as committed supporters of something tend to pick "more likely" as the most supportive option (even if their opinion is completely unchanged), and the same for committed opponents. This means you get odd results like 16% saying Alex Salmond & Nicola Surgeon calling each other liars makes them support independence more*. Really, it is just committed supporters of independence saying they still support independence, and the claimed percentage saying it makes them less supportive of independence will include a lot of people who were concrete opponents of independence anyway.
The way to see if an event has actually changed the level of support for independence is to ask about support for independence and compare it to a poll conducted before the event. It does require you to ask it in a comparable manner though, rather than buggering about with the turnout filter.
The Panelbase poll does at least do that. They found topline figures of YES 46%(-3), NO 47%(+3). Changes are from their previous poll in January. The No lead is pretty much a rounding error - according to John Curtice who has written them up in the Sunday Times, without don’t knows it ends up as a 50/50 split. It is, as ever, just one poll, but does suggest some damage from the Salmond-Sturgeon row. One should again consider the context of the polling - just as the YouGov voting intention poll at the top of this post was conducted in the midst of extremely positive coverage about the budget, this poll was conducted in the midst of the SNP having a huge row between its current and former leaders. In both cases one should probably wait for things to calm down before assuming any long term impact.
(*As an aside, the best example of the useless of more/less likely to vote questions I've ever come across is this one from the US Alabama Senate election in 2017. The Republican candidate faced several accusations of sexually assaulting underage girls. A question asked in that same “more or less likely to vote” format found 36% of people were less likely to vote for him because of these accusations, and 28% were MORE likely. Either 28% of people were genuinely more likely to vote for a candidate because he'd been accused of molesting schoolgirls... or perhaps questions like that don't really show what they appear to show.)