Scottish Parliament Polling: Reflections

One month on from the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, the most recent polling figures for the Scottish elections next May remain grim reading for Scottish Labour.

Polling company YouGov have conducted a follow up poll of Scottish voters on a range of issues, notably voting intentions for the Holyrood elections. The image below, from YouGov’s twitter feed illustrates the headline story from the poll (https://twitter.com/YouGov/status/654600997034196992).

The polls, taken a month apart, show negligible change, which is problematic for Labour in particular. During the summer’s Labour Leadership campaign, Corbyn attracted attention, acclaim and packed out hustings and venues in Scotland in parallel with the rest of the UK. Moreover, there is a belief, perhaps even a firm expectation, that the election of Corbyn will help Labour to recover voters and electoral ground lost to the SNP over the last year. This is becaus the electorate are perceived to be more receptive to Corbyn’s left-wing political ideology and policies including anti-austerity overtures.

However, any prospect a Corbyn bounce or a honeymoon period for the new leader north of the border does not appear to have come to fruition thus far. Furthermore, direct opinion polling on Corbyn himself also serves as cause for concern for Labour. His personal approval ratings and questions about whether voters feel his election makes them more or less likely to vote Labour work against him. Also, in contrast to the expectations, the polling suggests that Corbyn is performing worse in Scotland when compared to England and Wales .

“When asked specifically if Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership makes you more or less likely to vote Labour, only 15% of Scottish voters say ‘more likely’, compared to 16% of voters in England and 20% of voters in Wales. What’s more, a higher percentage of Scottish voters say Mr Corbyn is performing badly (46%) than say the same in England (44%)”

Source: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/10/15/no-corbyn-effect-scotland/

The SNP are also consistently polling above 50% for the constituency ballot and around 45% for the regional ballot. Together, this illustrates that the scale of the challenge for Labour is colossal, and the evidence suggests that the election of Corbyn has not made things any easier.

To understand this conundrum in more depth, other explamatory factrors need to be considered, such as partisanship. That is, the extent to which voters identify with a political party, and the intensity of that identification: how many voters claim they ‘very strongly’ identify with that party.

Professor Charles Pattie has written about these factors and notes that the SNP is going against the pervasive trend in British politics (https://theconversation.com/depth-of-snp-support-bucks-a-political-trend-that-has-held-since-the-1970s-40707). Generally, the percentage of voters who identify with a particular party has been decreasing across the board, as is the strength of identification. The one exception is the SNP. The post-referendum surge has been captured by data from the British Election Study’s panel wave and shows that the number of voters who identify with the SNP is increasing. More dramatically, the number of voters who identify strongly with the SNP is also increasing: 16% of voters say they ‘very strongly identify with the SNP’ with a further 11% stating their identification is ‘fairly strong’. So almost 1 in every 6 voters identifies as strongly as possible with the SNP, while combined, more than a quarter self-identity within the strongest two categories. Practically, this means that it will take a lot of persuasion to dislodge SNP supporters and encourage them to shift their voting intention to Labour.

Consequently, it would not be overly speculative to suggest that the elections next May will prove too soon for Labour to overturn their position and make any progress in Scotland. This could have wider ramifications for the Labour Party. It is muttered that the Parliamentary Labour Party have unofficially given Corbyn leeway until after the May 2016 elections in order to test Labour’s electability under his leadership. Consequently, a further bad night for Labour in Scotland could contribute significantly towards another change of leadership for the party, and who can say what direction they would go then?

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