And you thought Scottish opinion polls were peculiar

The Scottish opinion polls leave me scratching my head.  Apparently Scotland is full of people who are firmly opposed to independence, but most people I know seem to be either yes voters, unsure, or are still too interested in the results of Strictly to have given it much thought.

I figure that it’s best not to worry too much about polls and concentrate on badgering my friends and relatives, and telling them that if they promise to vote yes, I will stop nipping their heids about the subject.  On the whole it’s proven quite a successful tactic so far.

But opinion polls in Spain are even weirder.  The latest polls on Catalan independence, published in the Spanish language media, show that in the space of the past couple of weeks there has apparently been a catastrophic decline in the percentage of yes supporters, and a corresponding surge in the percentage of no voters.

According to these polls, published by the anti-independence papers La Razón and El Mundo, independence now enjoys less support than remaining a part of Spain.  Only 35% want independence, with 39% opposed.

Previous polls showed a large majority in favour of independence, which certainly chimes with the sense I get from talking to Catalans.  These polls all showed support for independence to be over 50%, a pattern confirmed in the most recent poll done on behalf of the Catalan government in November.  I wrote about these polls in a previous post.

The CEO polls carried out on behalf of the Catalan government are widely accepted as the most reliable.  They are carried out with a relatively large sample, on a monthly basis using the same methodology, and the full results and data are published.

The most recent polls were carried out by private companies.  One had a sample size of just over 860, compared to the 2500 of the government poll.  The raw polling data and details of the weighting methods do not appear to be publicly available.

If these new polls are to be believed, in the space of the past few weeks hundreds of thousands of Catalans have decided that this independence malarky really isn’t such a good idea after all, while also coming to the conclusion that Mr Rajoy probably isn’t such a bad chap.

It just doesn’t seem believable.  Nothing has happened in Catalonia over the past couple of weeks which could have caused such a huge fall in support for independence.  Nothing has happened in Spain which might give Catalans hope that their future will be better with la Moncloa.  Such a dramatic shift in public opinion must surely have an equally dramatic and obvious cause.  Yet I’m struggling to think of any.

The most significant development has been the announcement of the referendum question, a two part question which asks: Do you want Catalonia to become a state?  If so, do you want that state to be independent?

And here we are, just a few days later and the Spanish polls are saying there has been a massive drop in support for independence.  Which all seems terribly convenient.  I know that polling experts tell us how you frame a question makes a difference to the answer, but can it really turn overwhelming support for independence into majority support against?  It doesn’t seem likely.

But what do I know?  I’m not a polling expert.  Unlike José Ignacio Wert, he’s an expert on opinion polling in Spain and founded the polling company Demoscopia.  He’s also the Education Minister in Mariano Rajoy’s government.  I should add, just for clarification, that Wert has no connection with the recent polls claiming there is a drop in support for Catalan independence.   But he does illustrate the point that the line between political polling and political campaigning is one that is crossed more often in Spain than in the UK, and we all know that’s a blurry line to begin with.

José Ignacio Wert wrote a scholarly article, in English, all about the history of polling in Spain and Portugal, for the Fulbright International Conference on Elections and Democracy held in Lisbon in 2002. You can read here if you’re interested.  I only skim read it, because I have a real life, but it definitely doesn’t mention how polling in Spain is regulated.  There doesn’t appear to be any Spanish version of the British Polling Council, at least none I can discover.

José Ignacio Wert knows a lot about polls.  He recently figured in one as the least popular minister in Mariano Rajoy’s government.  Which is like saying someone is the least likeable person out of a bunch of misanthropes with terrible BO who’d turned up uninvited to use your bathroom after they’d fallen into a vat of syrup of figs.  José Ignacio excels at unpopularity, so he is actually very good at at least one thing.

As Rajoy’s Education Minister Wert is threatening to impose a new system of education on Catalonia which would destroy the immersion language model which has proven so successful in ensuring that schoolchildren in Catalonia gain fluency in both Catalan and Spanish.  Wert even said that the goal of a public education should be to “hispanicise” children.

Wert’s threat to Catalan education hasn’t gone away, and neither have Spain’s financial crisis and political corruption troubles, but the polls show a collapse in Catalan support for independence and a massive boost in support for the political system which caused the crisis and benefited from the corruption.

It must be one of those unexplained mysteries, like crop circles.  Nothing to do with men with planks treading things down to produce the desired pattern at all.  Oh no.  It’s really cosmic woo.

There’s only one vote that counts, that would be the one that José Ignacio Wert and his political allies don’t want the Catalans to have.  But they’re going to have it anyway. We’re all best served by ignoring opinion polls and concentrating on persuading our friends, relatives and acquaintances to vote for independence in the only vote that counts.

At least in Scotland we have certainty about the date of our vote.  What Catalonia teaches Scotland is that votes like ours do not come easily, and they do not come often.  We need to persuade our friends, relatives and acquaintances to make the most of our historic opportunity to change our country’s future.   And my New Year’s resolution is going to be to ignore opinion polls.

2014 is going to be an interesting year.  Let’s make it one to celebrate.  Here’s to the only vote that counts.

0 thoughts on “And you thought Scottish opinion polls were peculiar

  1. Pingback: And you thought Scottish opinion polls were peculiar - Speymouth

  2. I suspect that the title of your previous post would have been just as appropriate for this one. This could be the start of another line of attack against a referendum, claiming that it is a waste of money because most Catalans do not want independence.

    If, on the other hand, it is a genuine result, then perhaps the Spanish government should allow a referendum, as a ‘No’ vote will put the issue of Catalan independence on the back burner for a few years at least. I do not expect this to happen.

    I wonder whether Cameron would have signed the Edinburgh Agreement if opinion polls had been showing a clear majority in favour of independence.

    • I think if there was a large and consistent majority in the polls for Scottish independence, Cameron and Westminster would have fought tooth and nail to ensure that it was Westminster who administered the referendum and determined the question. It would have been 1979 all over again.

  3. Pingback: One thing the Scottish referendum campaign can do without: polling voodoo | cartesian product

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