Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Final Scottish Referendum Polls have NO Narrowly Ahead

There have been seven Scottish referendum polls released in the last two days. All have NO leading by between 51-49 and 53-47, with five polls showing NO leads of 52-48.

When we have many polls clustered around the same point (52-48 to NO here), we can confidently say that NO is narrowly ahead. Unless there is systematic pollster error or a late swing, NO will win the vote tomorrow Aus Eastern time.

UK Polling Report says that a possibility for systematic pollster error is if fringe voters who are unlikely to turn out at normal elections do turn out at this referendum, and vote YES by a big margin. On the other hand, YES voters are more enthusiastic than NO voters, so pollsters may be picking up more YES voters than they should in their sampling.

How Votes are Counted in the UK

In Australia and most other established democracies, votes are counted at local polling stations once the polls close. Once counting in a polling place is finished, results are reported to election authorities and the media; this means that the winners of the vast majority of seats on election night in Australia will be determined within three hours of the polls closing. Checks are carried out later, and the official declaration of Australian results will be at least a week after election day.

In the UK, rather than count the votes at polling places, votes are transported to a central location. At that central location, ballot boxes from all booths need to be verified, and the actual count cannot start until all booths within an electorate have reported. Once a result is known, it is declared officially. UK polls close at 10pm, and it takes well into the small hours of the next morning for an election result to become clear.

In Scotland’s case, there will be 32 count totals declared, one for each of Scotland’s councils. Results for each council will then be forwarded to the chief counting officer, who will announce the official result most probably in the late afternoon Friday Australian Eastern time. Antony Green has a table showing when the Scottish councils are expected to announce. These times are estimates only, and high turnout could delay the announcement times. The first results are not expected until 11am Aus Eastern, four hours after the polls close.

I think the most important thing to watch as the results are reported is the YES vote in a particular council compared to the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) vote at the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections. In 2011, the SNP won 44.0% of the vote. For YES to win the referendum, it will need to exceed the 2011 SNP vote by at least 6.0% on average. So a swing recording movement from SNP to YES will be a good way to make projections based on the first councils to report.