Young vote crucial to Yes lead

Yes sustains its lead in latest polling, buoyed by massive support among under 35s.

Denis Donoghue

9/13/20233 min read

man wearing black letterman jacking facing window
man wearing black letterman jacking facing window

My latest poll from Find Out Now has Yes leading No by four points in future Independence Referendum voting intention. The question wording was:

If there were a referendum on Scottish independence with the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, how would you vote?

The overall figures break down as:

  • Yes 49.5%

  • No 45.1%

  • Don't know 5.4%

With don't knows excluded, the figures are:

  • Yes 52.4%

  • No 47.6%

The polling data is based on a Scotland representative sample of 1,402 adults aged 18+ surveyed between 5th and 12th September 2023 and weighted by: Gender, Age, Social Class, Region, Brexit Vote, and 2019 General Election vote. Find Out Now are members of the British Polling Council and Market Research Society.

As is normally the case, there is a clear stratification by age group, with younger age groups strongly favouring independence, and the oldest demographic pretty solidly backing the union. But what is perhaps most interesting is how voting patterns have changed in the nine years since the Independence Referendum. If we compare the latest polling results with the most comprehensive study done at the time of the vote, it's clear that the vast majority of the change has been among the younger age groups. The current 18 to 24 group were too young to vote in 2014, and have grown up with the disappointment of broken unionist promises, Brexit and Tory governments that Scotland didn't vote for. With unaffordable housing, skyrocketing prices and insecure employment it's little wonder this group wants the opportunities of self-rule. They would vote by three to one in favour of independence.

The same is very much true for the 25 to 34 age group; many of whom were voting in 2014 for the first time. The year running up to September 18th was a hopeful and dynamic period with unprecedented political engagement among the younger population, and a real sense of change and optimism. The shift from barely half backing Yes nine years ago, to 74% support now suggests a generation who were sold short by the union, and who now want to forge their own future. The promises of EU membership, virtual federalism and economic growth supported by the 'broad shoulders' of the UK were subsequently shown to be lies. What's transpired is Brexit, more right-wing extremist governments and vague promises from Labour politicians who pander to voters in their English heartlands. But young people know that any short-term hope from UK Labour will simply be undone by the next Tory government voted in by English voters.

Older voters are perhaps more cynical and wary of change. There is little change evident in the voting intentions within the age groupings aged 35 and over, despite all that's happened since 2014. Older voters are most likely to access news from traditional media such as mainstream TV news, BBC Radio and tabloid newspapers. These news sources are overwhelmingly reactionary and often push a pro-union or anti-Scottish Government narrative. This might explain the lack of real movement among these groups. This does present a challenge to Yes groups moving towards another referendum campaign. But, more positively, there's no evidence of any major erosion of Yes support among these groups despite all the propaganda and media leanings. The message might be that those persuaded through the 2014 campaign have remained solidly pro-independence, but that outside of a campaign it's hard to shift the dial further. The population as a whole remains stubbornly polarised.

There have also been changes based on gender since 2014, as the chart below shows. Women were much less likely to vote Yes in 2014 than men; a phenomenon which remained until around 2020. The Covid pandemic, and the response from then FM Nicola Sturgeon in dealing with it, helped bolster support for Yes among women. The slightly higher support among women has more or less remained in polling since then. However, it's worth noting that women are twice as likely to be undecided on the independence question as men.

I'll be adding more details from the polling in the coming days and weeks, so please follow me on Twitter to keep up to date.

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