The Two Percent and the Incumbency Effect

Another day, another poll – and, finally, slippage in support for the SNP at Westminster!

Well, to be fair, maybe that needs to be put into some kind of context…it’s a YouGov poll for The Times, showing that over the 5 months since October, the SNP’s 48% support has slipped two points to 46%. A fall coinciding with the change in party leader and First Minister, perhaps? Unlikely, I would have thought – it was clear on 19th September who the successor would be, and I don’t think she has suffered anything save a lower level of opprobrium in the press as the new McDevil Incarnate (although last week’s Miley Cyrus PhotoShop job and Steve Bell bile outrush might indicate that all that is about to change). I wonder if, as the hatred is poured out of the press to increasingly Salmond-like levels of hysteria, the SNP’s support will start to rise again. Be that as it may, I’d personally prefer any change in the polls – however small and within the margin of error – to be in the opposite direction, but the real question is where the net flow of support is going. Perhaps finally to the new reinvigorated Labour Party, clawing its way out of the arc of Lamont’s fall and Murphy’s appointment, finally seeing some of its confusing and contradictory messages having an impact on the SNP?

Actually, no. Labour support is static on 27 – and the Greens and LibDems are static too. The figures are further supported by John Curtice’s average projection, which similarly gives SNP/Labour/Con/LibDem/Green as 46/27/13/5/3. What strikes me as surprising in all this is not so much that there has been no positive impact from Murphy’s appointment…but there has not even been a (not unreasonably predicted) drop in support: he has had zero effect. Perhaps it makes little difference what Jim does, because as far as voters in Scotland are concerned he will always be in the shadow of the prospect of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, and that may be the real weight that Labour cannot struggle out from underneath in Scotland. It is worth comparing these figures with a UK-wide ICM poll for the Guardian published on the 16th February, which showed Conservatives 36(+6), Labour 32(-1), LibDems 10(-1) and UKIP 9 (apparently their weakest for months), and apparently supplying the Conservative rise.

The noteable gain in these (broadly) identical Scottish results separated by 5 months, is by the Conservatives, up 3 points – and the shift from UKIP to the Conservatives is in the UK-wide poll is echoed. I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that this is the start of incumbency effect – we are less than 7 weeks from the date of the general election, and the usual swing back towards the party currently in government (and you will forgive me for not including the LibDems in that category, as I feel that would not be the general impression of the populace) has begun. In that context, the SNP are undoubtedly the only party offering any sort of radical challenge to what is going on at Westminster (note also the two point drop in support for UKIP, arguably for the same reason), so one might expect the shift to come at their expense in the first instance. I am hopeful that they will still retain a good 38% by the time of polling, regardless of how few seats (maybe just another 10-16) that actually manifests as. The truth is that now that Lord Ashcroft has published a poll suggesting the ludicrously unlikely 56 out of 59 Westminster seats in Scotland going to the SNP, Labour can claim virtually anything less than that number as a victory.

And the Labour Party in Scotland certainly need to find something that they can call a ‘victory’ mighty quickly.
Full polling results for YouGov/The Times (1,049 polled between March 10 and 12)
SNP 46 (-2)
Lab 27 u/c
Con 18 (+3)
LD 4 u/c
Green 3 u/c
Ukip 2 (-2) (since Feb)
“At the May election, most Scots will not be voting for which Englishman should be in Downing Street but who can best represent Scotland’s interests in Parliament.” (Professor Richard Rose, Strathclyde University, 2/2/2015 – his study suggests 45 out of 59 Westminster seats in Scotland will go to the SNP)

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