ICM Agree The Race Is Now Close

Earlier today, the Guardian released the findings of a poll conducted for it by ICM. Unlike the polls that ICM have been conducting for Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman, this poll was conducted over the telephone (using random digit dialing) rather than via an online panel. Not least of the reasons for this approach was to check whether the tight race now being reported by many an internet poll (and during the campaign ICM’s own internet polls have been amongst those that have tended to paint a relatively optimistic picture for the Yes side) was confirmed if a different approach were to be adopted. However, the difference of methodology does mean that caution should be exercised before making any comparison between the results of this poll and ICM’s previous exercises.

In any event, the message of the poll appears to be unambiguous; the race is indeed very tight. The poll puts Yes on 40%, No on 42%, while 17% are undecided. Once the Don’t Knows are left to one side, that translates into 49% for Yes and 51% for No. At the same time all the by now familiar differences found in other polls are apparent in this poll too, with men (52%) more likely to support independence than women (45%), working class voters (51%) more than middle class ones (46%), while those aged 65 and over (39%) are least likely to be enamoured of the idea.

The last poll of referendum voting intentions to be conducted via telephone was undertaken by Ipsos MORI and was released on the day of the first leaders’ debate at the beginning of August. It put Yes on 42% and No on 58%. That poll was not conducted and reported in exactly the same way as ICM’s and thus we cannot simply presume that all of the difference between the two sets of figures is simply accounted for by a swing to Yes over the last month or so. But the direction and extent of the difference is certainly consistent with the proposition that there has been a considerable swing in that direction.

Following the publication of this poll and the YouGov poll yesterday evening, our poll of polls now stands at Yes 49%, No 51%, representing a one point swing to Yes since the previous poll of polls (dated 9 September) and the narrowest No lead yet. All of the polls included in the calculation are now ones conducted since the poll in which YouGov first put the Yes vote on 47% and thereby gave the initial indication of a major change in the character of the referendum race.

Today’s poll also adds to the accumulating weight of evidence that turnout is going to be remarkably high. No less than 87% of ICM’s respondents said that they were absolutely certain to vote (but with Yes supporters still a little more likely to give that response than No ones). In contrast when in their last regular telephone poll of UK-wide voting intentions ICM asked people how likely they were to vote in a forthcoming UK general election, only 55% said they were certain to vote. However, 16-24 year olds are apparently still a little less likely to be caught up in the political excitement that is currently apparently gripping the nation; only 82% of this group says they are certain to vote.

ICM also asked respondents to today’s poll how much of a risk they thought both independence and staying in the Union would be. The former continues to be regarded as the greater risk. Asked to say on a 5 point scale how big a risk they think independence would be, 39% gave it a score of at least 4 out of 5, whereas only 32% said the same of staying in the Union. But that difference is much smaller now than it was in June and July when ICM asked the same question – albeit via the internet. Voters’ concerns about risk are evidently still a potential problem for the Yes side, but the No side may be unwise to presume that they can hope to generate a more secure lead simply by telling voters that independence is too much of a gamble.

John Curtice

About the author

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen, and Chief Commentator on the What Scotland Thinks website.