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Month: September 2014

Polling Observatory Scottish referendum special: who is ahead, and how close is it?

By Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien

This is a Scottish independence special of our regular series of posts that reports on the state of support for the parties in Westminster as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in the polls are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the state of public opinion – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

In recent weeks the debate over Scottish independence has reached fever-pitch, and debate over some of the polls has been just as fierce. Most notably a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, published on September 7th, caused shock waves both North of the border and in Westminster when it showed Yesmarginally ahead, the first lead for the “yes” campaign in many months.

Alex Salmond’s biggest gamble

He’s the politician of the moment. Every media organisation in the world will descend on Edinburgh in the early hours of Friday morning to listen to his reaction, once the votes are counted in the Scottish independence referendum. But what do we really know about Alex Salmond, or ‘Big ’Eck’ as he is known North of the Border? Is he a force for good or a divisive figure responsible for tearing apart the United Kingdom?

The first thing worth noting about Alex Salmond is that he has always taken a gradualist view of Scottish independence. In the late 1980s, Scottish nationalism was going nowhere, following the inconclusive result of the devolution referendum in 1979. The SNP had boycotted the Scottish Constitutional Convention, meaning that plans were drawn up for the Scottish Parliament without the SNP having a say. When he first became leader of the SNP in 1990 Salmond called a halt to his Party’s over-ambitious dreams of independence. He swallowed his pride, and backed the ‘Yes, Yes’ campaign in the 1997 referendum. 

The Polling Observatory Forecast #4: Conservative hopes recede slowly

As explained in our inaugural election forecast, up until May next year the Polling Observatory team will be producing a long term forecast for the 2015 General Election, using methods we first applied ahead of the 2010 election (and which are also well-established in the United States). Our method involves trying to make the best use of past polling evidence as a guide to forecast the likeliest support levels for each party in next May’s election, based on current polling, and then using these support levels to estimate the parties’ chances of winning each seat in the Parliament. We will later add a seat-based element to this forecast.


This month’s Polling Observatory reported falls in support for both Labour and the Conservatives. Our forecast again finds the parties locked in a statistical dead heat, although Labour has edged up slightly, by 0.3 points, to 36.5%, and the Conservatives have slid back further, down 0.6 points to 34.9%. The continued stagnation in the polls is starting to harm the Conservatives in our forecast, with a slight widening of the gap between the parties.

Social media: a political tool or apathy’s partner in crime?

With the disappointing turnout for the recent European elections, is social media the way to encourage increased political engagement ahead of the 2015 general election? Is it being used this way at the moment? If so, by whom and in what ways?

Social media is unique in that it offers a wealth of information that is constantly updated and appeals predominantly to those in the 18 – 24 age bracket who are so often criticised for their low voter turnout. After conducting some research into this area it was clear that much previous analysis on political socialisation has been on older people. Our research, therefore, focused on the political behaviour of the elusive 18 – 24 age group, whether they are using social media and, if so, whether it is for political purposes.

Social media can increase youth’s political interest


The rapid growth of social media in recent years means people are exposed to an abundance of information every day, but there is little research on the effects such exposure has on political interest and engagement. The two most popular social media outlets, Facebook and Twitter, provide vast amounts of political information, from news on politics to political campaigns, and young people, as heavy social media users, are the most exposed to this information.

Teaching Research Methods: A New Approach


Research methods modules have long been among the most-hated modules for undergraduate students on social science degrees, and students’ anxiety towards them, especially quantitative methods, is well-documented. They are frequently taught in a theoretical, dry manner, and students complain that the content has nothing to do with the rest of their degree. The more self-aware teachers have noted that the training reflects a cycle of abuse: new lecturers inflict the same awful teaching on the next generation as they themselves received as students.

New Sovereignty Challenges for the West

By Ignas Kalpokas

Sovereignty, once the key organising principle of the international system, has become increasingly problematic in today’s world. Globalisation, migration, the rise of international organisations, human rights, and transnational businesses – all of them have put sovereignty in question in their own ways. And yet, this post argues that the West currently faces a completely new sovereignty challenge, one that is, ultimately, also a question of the self. Drawing some inspiration from a 2010 book by Wendy Brown, I will endeavour to show that sovereignty, instead of being relegated to the margins of the modern world, has simply been disconnected from its usual referent – the state – and has taken new forms. And, the argument has it, this transformation underpins the West’s inability to deal with some of the most pertinent current crises.

The NATO Summit: Symbolism or Substance?

By Wyn Rees

It is the purpose of press officers within international organisations to convince the publics of their member states that each summit is of lasting importance. In reality, most summit declarations are full of symbolism and struggle to find ‘deliverables’ of substance to make them memorable. However the NATO summit in Wales will truly be of historic importance.

This summit was pre-destined to rank amongst the substantive meetings of the post-Cold War era because it preceded the withdrawal of NATO combat forces from Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, assumed by the Alliance in 2003, has been its first ever ‘Out of Area’ mission. It has been a microcosm of the tensions within the organisation: between a superpower and its regional allies; a group of European states unwilling to pay for credible expeditionary forces and of a growing inequality of risk taking amongst its members. The impending withdrawal of those combat forces raised questions about the future orientation of the Alliance. It was the task of the Summit in Wales to wrestle with these issues and chart the future course for NATO.

Are Political Finance Regulations Helping to Combat Party Corruption in Europe and Latin America?

By Fernando Casal Bértoa

As has been repeatedly stated, money is the main fuel of politics. Without it political parties cannot function, elections cannot take place, and democracy – at least as we know it – cannot exist. It is for this reason, but not the only one, that most political systems in the world guarantee (at least some) political parties access to state resources either to finance their electoral campaigns or to keep their political organizations running, or both.