A knife edge?

Home » A knife edge? » News » A knife edge?

Ed_Parl 2 smallerNow the referendum campaign is polling on a knife-edge, the whole world has decided to sit up and give it serious attention.

Despite the divisions, and despite the reports from both sides of unpleasant incidents, there’s something undeniably happening in Scotland that hasn’t been seen for a long time: overwhelming political engagement.

The referendum is creating an energising of voters as perhaps never before; this is obvious to anyone in Scotland right now. Posters in windows, campaigners on streets, concerts and debates being led as often by people as political parties.

Turnout is expected to be upward of 75%. (Turnout in 1997 for establishing Scottish devolution was 60%). 16 and 17 year olds will be voting, too. Scotland is a trending topic on Twitter just about every day. There’s never been anything like it.

For these very reasons, it’s also difficult to see these polls as accurate predictors. These variables present an unprecedented challenge for polling companies. Many polls weight their findings on the basis of the outcomes of previous elections, a system usually helpful in predicting results more accurately, however those previous elections had a fundamentally different demographic and, in the case of 2011, a turnout of only 55%.

Also, let’s not forget how woefully inaccurate these polls were ahead of the last Scottish election – the SNP landslide it seemed no-one saw coming.

There’s expected to be turnout from those who don’t usually vote, including from some of the poorest communities in Scotland. These people may well not be on the polling companies’ radar – not as accessible by phone and not as likely to sign up to internet polls. There’s analysis saying that these factors could mean that the Yes vote is being underestimated (Radical Independence) or possibly even overestimated (John Curtice).

Whatever may be the truth behind the numbers, there is a challenge to be faced by all parties no matter which side wins the day: how to keep those voters engaged after September 18th.