Friday, August 8, 2014

Marking your card for tonight's Survation poll

There's a new Survation poll on its way tonight, but unless it appears very soon I'm not going to be able to cover it with any speed, because I've got an early start tomorrow and I'll be away all day.  (That should fuel the cynicism of our favourite No trolls!)  What we know so far is that it shows some kind of increase in the No lead since the Survation poll last week showing Yes still on an all-time high of 47% - that's obvious from Alan Roden's eagerness to talk about the poll so early in the evening, and by the usual assortment of thuggish No campaign staffers who have retweeted him.  So there are three broad possibilities -

1) This is a minor, margin-of-error increase in the No lead of no statistical significance, but the No campaign are latching onto it in an effort to generate an impression of post-debate "momentum".

2) This is a more substantial increase in the lead, but is caused by a more extreme form of 'margin of error noise', and is still of no great significance.  (A previous example is when ICM showed an increase in the No lead from 3% to 12% a few months ago, but in retrospect it's clear that nothing had happened.)

3) It's a substantial increase in the No lead, which is genuinely caused by a reaction to the debate.  If so, there is absolutely no cause for panic, because post-debate bounces are often built on candy-floss.  (Witness the Cleggasm, which was ultimately followed by the Liberal Democrats suffering a net loss in seats.)  Indeed, in this case, Darling's so-called "win" in the debate wasn't even real - the only instant poll on the night pointed to a draw.  So a bounce built purely on the spin the media have put on a debate is likely to recede even faster.

I'll update the Poll of Polls as soon as I can, although I suspect by then we may have even more polls from the Sunday papers.

How was it for you, Darling?

Just to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about Tuesday night's Salmond v Darling debate, and Darling's attempt to sabotage it with a wall of noise about the currency non-issue.  You can read the article HERE.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Concerns mount over the role of No-friendly pollster Ipsos-Mori in hand-picking the audience for the STV leaders' debate

Ipsos-Mori are not merely one of the two most No-friendly pollsters in this campaign. They've also played two other unique roles. Firstly, they've secretly carried out internal polling on behalf of the UK government and paid for by the tax-payer, the results of which were disgracefully shared with the No campaign, effectively meaning that the No campaign's private polling has been subsidised by the public purse. And secondly, in spite of the rather obvious conflict of interest, they were commissioned by STV to hand-pick an audience for Tuesday night's debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond. The idea that nobody is entitled to raise the odd eyebrow about this is risible - can you imagine what the reaction would have been if STV had used Panelbase, a pollster which tends to produce Yes-friendly results and which counts both the SNP and Yes Scotland among its clients?

Since Monday, a number of specific allegations have been made about Ipsos-Mori's conduct, and other related shenanigans -

* Yes supporters who were originally selected for the audience were turned away at the venue, after being told that the paperwork had not been cleared by Ipsos-Mori. Some were reduced to tears. They were replaced by No supporters.

* Ipsos-Mori have pinned the blame on STV's own security.

* No campaigners were present at the queue, offering helpful "suggestions" for questions that audience members might like to ask Alex Salmond.

* Some of the No supporters in the audience were "bussed in" and have no vote in the referendum itself.

* At least one of the five-strong panel of "undecided voters" that appeared on ITV News after the debate to give their verdict is a known No campaign activist.

* Ipsos-Mori made determined efforts to contact a particular teenager by telephone, because they were short of people in his age group for their sample. When they finally made contact, they asked him for his voting intention, and immediately after he said he was voting Yes he overheard the interviewer being told to terminate the call and to use a "technical fault" as an excuse.

It's obviously impossible to know how much of this is true - the suggestions of audience members being bussed in from south of the border do seem rather fanciful. But given the sheer number of complaints that STV have apparently received, it does seem likely that there's at least some truth in the claims of audience members being turned away at the venue. And just from observation, a good number of the questions that were asked could easily have been scripted by No campaign staffers.

It goes without saying that it is incumbent on the BBC to ensure that there is no repeat in the second debate at the end of this month.

* * *

UPDATE : Thanks to the person who contacted me this morning and pointed me in the direction of a first-hand and on-the-record account of what happened on Tuesday from Neil Gillespie -

"A very interesting read on all the comments about the man who was refused entry to the live debate, the bullshit the fact that he's a NAT spreading propaganda, copied and pasted and that the whole thing was made up to deflect from Alex Salmond's poor showing. Well the reason why you wonder why I find this interesting is because I was that man.

A little background about myself:

I am a firefighter of 18 years, aged 42 married with four children. Professionalism, honesty and integrity are things that I hold in high regard. I was selected, along with a No voting friend of mine from Barrhead Main street by a representative from Ipsos Mori to attend Tuesday night's Debate. I was really looking forward to it. I had to get the night off as I was working. I received a text from the Ipsos Mori rep 20 minutes before the opening of 18:30 hrs asking if I had received a call from STV today. I hadn't. She replied to say that this would be a problem and that I wouldn't get in! I tried anyway. Here is a rough transcript of the conversation:

I was asked by a STV Rep for my Name.

I said Gillespie.

He said, John, we spoke today.

I said, No its Neil.

He replied, I don't have a Neil Gillespie. Who contacted you to attend this evening.

I said the Rep from Ipsos Mori Name.

He replied. You are the third person to mention her name. I'm afraid that your information was never passed on to us and as a result that you wont be getting in this evening.

I argued with him telling him that I had taken time off and that a mistake had been made.

I was still refused entry.

I had the Ipsos Mori Rep's Mobile number from her text to me and I called her to see what she had to say.

She stated that this was all bullshit and that she had given them the details the Thursday before. She said that she would phone her boss in London and find out what has happened.

I walked down the steps of the auditorium and felt deflated. I was gutted.

5 minutes later she phones me back.

This next bit took me back.

She said that all of the Yes voters and undecided persons that she had put through to attend the event were not contacted and instead STV had replaced them with their people, No people. This came from high up in STV.

I will repeat that as this is the important part.

She said that all of the Yes voters and undecided persons that she had put through to attend the event were not contacted and instead STV had replaced them with their people, No people.

This made my blood boil. I was and am still livid. I have spread this everywhere I can. Please share it, it needs done. Oh and one last thing, my No voting friend who was vetted at the same time I was, what happened to him...

He was in the audience, he got a call from STV, he was allowed to attend! So the bullshit response from STV stating that Ipsos Mori hadn't passed on the details is exactly what it says on the tin...Bullshit.

I have made formal complaints to STV and Ipsos Mori and I am still awaiting a reply from this. I wouldn't lie about this, I could lose my job if I was caught out lying about something as important as this. I will chat with anyone on here as to the post and any other referendum issues. I am a passionate Scot who loves his country and this is just another example of the lengths the powers in Westminster will go to, to win this referendum."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : You may be interested to learn of some additional perks...

"Scotland, voting Yes in the referendum will consign the Tories to oblivion, you'll feel like Ripley blasting the Alien out of the airlock."

Comedian Frankie Boyle.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Yes campaign surge to new record high in sensational poll from traditionally No-friendly pollster Ipsos-Mori

Has the Glasgow 2014 effect worked its magic?  Since the campaign started, Ipsos-Mori has never shown a gap anything like as close as this -

Yes 40% (+4)
No 54% (n/c)

With Don't Knows excluded, it works out as...

Yes 42% (+2)
No 58% (-2)

The previous record high for Yes from Ipsos-Mori with Don't Knows excluded was 40% - and in all but one poll from the firm, the Yes figure has always been in the 30s.  When you bear in mind that Ipsos-Mori are one of the two most No-friendly firms, and traditionally show a much lower Yes vote than the average, this is a huge breakthrough for the pro-independence campaign - and could well translate to a neck-and-neck race among the more Yes-friendly firms.

*  *  *

A couple of hours on, and I've now had a look at the datasets.  The first thing to say is that the Yes campaign missed out on being rounded up to 43% by the absolute tiniest of fractions -

Yes 42.48%
No 57.52%

But even that is likely to be an underestimate, because for reasons that I simply cannot understand, Ipsos-Mori continue to ask respondents for their country of birth and then fail to weight by it - or if they are weighting by it, the target figures clearly bear no relation whatever to the 2011 census results, and it's hard to fathom where the extra English, Welsh and Northern Irish people are supposed to be coming from.  A full 14.3% of Ipsos-Mori's weighted sample were born in a part of the UK other than Scotland, which on the face of it is significantly too high.  The percentage of the sample who report that their national identity is either exclusively or predominantly Scottish is also suspiciously low at just under 50%.

It's important to stress that the methodological errors that Ipsos-Mori appear to be making had a bigger impact tonight than simply suppressing the Yes vote in this poll.  You see, the firm also selected the audience for STV's debate.  Did it seem to you that there were a disproportionate number of No voters in the audience?  Were you surprised that Darling sometimes seemed to receive greater spontaneous applause than Salmond?  Did it strike you that significantly more No-friendly questions were asked?  That's because the audience were hand-picked to be representative of what Ipsos-Mori think is the demographic balance of Scotland.  I saw a Yes supporter rather narkily suggest on Twitter that there were an awful lot of English accents - this is obviously a very delicate subject, but at the end of the day it's a simple and plain fact that if the audience were supposed to be demographically representative of the Scottish population, there should have been no more than about 10% who were born in England.  Yet due to Scotland apparently having completely different demographics over on Planet Ipsos-Mori, the figure is likely to have been considerably higher - and that will have been a deliberate and conscious choice.  Why do they do it?  Answers on a postcard, folks, because it's beyond me.

I gather that an instant poll conducted by ICM suggested that 44% of respondents thought that Salmond won the debate, and 56% thought that Darling won.  That gap isn't particularly significant, especially given the unusual difficulties of putting together a representative sample for a poll like that (ie. you have to choose between being representative of the Scottish population as a whole and being representative of only the people who watched the debate, because you can't do both).  Nevertheless, it does obviously have a little bit of importance in terms of bragging rights, and for my money there's no way on Earth that those numbers would have been produced if it hadn't been for the 'social proof' of the support Darling was getting from the hand-picked audience.  So Ipsos-Mori have got a lot to answer for - and so have STV for commissioning them.  It's been a long while since I praised the BBC, but their approach of using audiences that are strictly 50/50 divided between Yes and No, with a sprinkling of undecideds added in, has a lot to commend it.

Incidentally, the Yes campaign can take huge heart from one particular aspect of the ICM poll - of respondents who were undecided about their referendum voting intention before the debate started, more thought that Salmond won (54%) than Darling (46%).  The only reason that Darling had a slight lead in the overall numbers is that people who are already on the No side were more likely to have been impressed by their man than Yes supporters were by Salmond - and that may simply have been the problem of Yes voters having higher expectations of the First Minister.

Hand on heart, I burst into uncontrollable laughter when Colin Mackay said at the end that the real winner of the debate was Bernard Ponsonby.  STV's moderator is undoubtedly a man of considerable talent, but surely it's obvious to anyone that he was a big part of what was wrong with the debate tonight.  Claire Stewart said that she didn't hear enough vision - well, does it ever occur to her that her own colleagues might be predominantly responsible for that?  You can only set out a vision if you're given the space to do so, and tonight's format was only a very mildly watered down version of the bear-pit debates that have been repeatedly served up on Scotland Tonight.  I can only hope that the BBC aim for a more thoughtful and considered pace in their debate.  As for whether Ponsonby was actually guilty of outright imbalance, it's hard to say, but I do think he was bang out of order at the start.  It's perfectly reasonable to ask Alex Salmond about "poll after poll" showing a No lead (even though a great many of those No leads have been extremely slender).  But if you're being fair and even-handed, what you then do is challenge Darling about the fact that the No lead has dramatically narrowed in the new Ipsos-Mori poll to a record low.  Instead Ponsonby repeated the "poll after poll showing a No lead" line, and put it to Darling : "you can't lose, can you?"  I mean, what?  WHAT?  Had Darling hypnotised him or something?

*  *  *

This post is meandering around in a slightly chaotic way, but there are still two other important points to make about the Ipsos-Mori poll. Firstly, when undecideds are pressed further, they break for Yes by 29% to 23%. It's not possible to calculate what the headline figures would be if these undecided leaners were added in (because Ipsos-Mori use only definite voters for the headline numbers), but it seems a reasonable guess that it would increase the rounded Yes vote to 43%.

Secondly, the sample size for the poll was a completely normal 1006. That means the mystery of why so many people have reported being interviewed by Ipsos-Mori recently has not been solved. My guess is that more than one poll has been in the field, and that the other one is an internal poll for a No-supporting client - quite possibly the UK government using taxpayers' money. Perhaps there's another explanation, but we'll see.

* * *


Swing required for 1 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 3.0%

Swing required for 2 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 3.5%

Swing required for 3 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 4.5%

Swing required for 4 out of 6 pollsters to show Yes in the lead or level : 5.5%

* * *


There's been a lot of interest in the fact that ICM's instant poll shows voting intention numbers of Yes 47%, No 53%, which on the face of it represents a whopping 8% decrease in the No lead since the last ICM poll. That's certainly encouraging, but unfortunately I can't include it in the Poll of Polls update because it wasn't a full-scale poll (it was demographically weighted, but by definition anyone who didn't watch the debate was excluded). However, even just taking into account the new Ipsos Mori-figures, the updated Poll of Polls still shows the No lead slipping back to just 11% when Don't Knows are included.

MEAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 43.5% (+0.4)
No 56.5% (-0.4)

MEAN AVERAGE (not excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 37.0% (+0.7)
No 48.0% (n/c)

MEDIAN AVERAGE (excluding Don't Knows) :

Yes 43.4% (n/c)
No 56.6% (n/c)

(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the pollsters that have been active in the referendum campaign since September 2013, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are six - YouGov, TNS-BMRB, Survation, Panelbase, Ipsos-Mori and ICM. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample. Changes in the Poll of Polls are generally glacial in nature due to the fact that only a small portion of the sample is updated each time.)

Can someone please explain to STV how debates are supposed to work?

Try to imagine a tennis umpire saying something like this -

"Advantage Djokovic.  Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Federer is challenging the call, on the left-hand baseline.  The ball was called out.

Call stands.  Advantage Djokovic.  Incidentally, ladies and gentlemen, I've just heard from the commentary box that John McEnroe feels that the Federer backhand is under severe pressure, and that the Swiss player has it all to do if he's not going to be broken in this game.  Word is also coming through from Ladbrokes that the odds on a Djokovic win have tightened since I announced that the Federer backhand is under pressure.  Play."

Or how about the moderator of a US presidential debate saying something like this -

"Each candidate will be allowed a two-minute introductory statement, and a three-minute closing statement.  I will also ensure that the time they receive to answer my questions is roughly equal.  We do have an audience present but they have agreed to remain silent.  Governor Romney won the toss and chose to make his introductory statement first, but before we go to him, let's have a look at our exclusive Gallup poll!  It shows that 57% of Americans feel that Governor Romney is smug, arrogant and out-of-touch.  Looks like you're fighting a losing battle here, Governor Romney, but feel free to give it a go anyway.  The floor's all yours."

Are you starting to see the point?  That would never happen in a million, zillion years, but what STV are planning for this evening isn't far short of such lunacy.  First of all, they shouldn't be starting a debate with a poll, full stop.  Debates are supposed to provide a neutral environment and an entirely level playing field for both sides to make their case, and for viewers to weigh up the arguments without the intrusion of extraneous factors.  It defeats the whole purpose if the debate's moderator informs viewers right at the outset that one side is "winning", and it self-evidently unbalances the playing-field.

But it's even worse that that, because this is a very unusual campaign in respect of the polling landscape.  In their leaders' debate at the start of the 2011 Holyrood campaign, STV did exactly the same thing (and as you can see here, I criticised them for it at the time), but at least their poll was reasonably representative of what all the pollsters were showing in that campaign.  The only real outlier in 2011 was YouGov, who were far too Labour-friendly.  But this time around, there is a huge disparity between different pollsters, and by choosing Ipsos-Mori - one of the two most No-friendly pollsters - STV are making a hugely political decision with huge political consequences.  They may not have admitted that to themselves, but that's the position.

To put it in perspective, the highest Yes vote that Ipsos-Mori have found at any point during this campaign is just 40%.  All but one of the firm's polls have put it below 40%.  Contrast that with ICM, Panelbase and Survation, all of whom at various times have put Yes as high as 47% or 48%.  Even YouGov and TNS-BMRB have had Yes as high as 42% and 44% respectively.  So if Bernard Ponsonby starts the debate by pointing to the poll and echoing his words of last night that "Alex Salmond has it all to do because No have a big poll lead", what he'll really mean is "Alex Salmond has it all to do IF our own house pollster is the most accurate, but nobody knows whether they are".  Will viewers realise that they're only being given half the story (if that)?  Some will, but most won't.

I should emphasise that it's a very good thing that STV commission polls - if they weren't doing it, we'd have no telephone polls at all in this campaign, which would be extremely unhealthy.  But there's a time and a place for everything, and the time and place for polls is in a news programme, not in a debate that is supposed to help people decide how they want to vote, as opposed to telling them how they are supposedly going to vote.

*  *  *

One thing I'll be looking out for is the sample size of the Ipsos-Mori poll.  If it's a standard sample of 1000, it won't explain why we've heard so many people report that they've been interviewed by the firm recently, because that certainly hasn't happened during previous STV polls (but of course it did happen during the UK government-commissioned mega-polls).  I still have suspicions that there may have been more than one Ipsos-Mori poll in the field over the last few days - although if tonight's sample turns out to be 5000+, it would probably solve the mystery.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Road race and closing ceremony photos

I didn't intend to go to either the opening or closing ceremony, but somehow I ended up going to both.  This time they weren't mucking around, though - my £15 seat really did live up to its "restricted view" billing.  But it had its advantages - athletes were scurrying up and down the stairs beside me all evening, many of them from Team Scotland.  There were two women a few rows in front of me who were determined to get selfies with as many athletes as possible, so that gave me the opportunity to take a few snaps!

I dutifully bought a £2 saltire before I went in, and although it was a pain in the neck, I did my best to wave it at moments of maximum patriotic fervour, such as when Prince Imran declared Glasgow 2014 the best Games ever, and when Dougie MacLean sang Caledonia.  However, as I was in the ultra-cheap section, I have a feeling my efforts may have been in vain as far as the TV cameras were concerned...

I don't know how the ceremony came across on TV, but I must say that I didn't cringe at all this time (except maybe during the opening part of the Gold Coast presentation, and we can hardly take the blame for that).