The Demographics of Independence – 2018 Edition

Overview —

An update to the study published in early 2017, this paper examines trends in polling on the question of Scottish independence to look at shifts in attitudes amongst groups such as the developing trends based on voter age, income, gender and nationality.


Dr Craig Dalzell

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Despite regular polling before, during and after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum there appears to have been little analysis of which segments of Scotland’s society voted in a particular way. Less still has been conducted in the time since with most of the headlines and attention given over to not much more than the overall Yes/No split.

This paper – an update on one published in January 2017 – investigates many of the polls published since September 2014 in an attempt to draw out trends which other reporting may have passed over. Through this, the independence movement may be better able to understand how the “materially changed” circumstances which have triggered the  upcoming independence campaign may have also have affected voters intentions and preferences. By better understanding the current priorities and preferences of voters, it will be easier to build a new independence campaign which specifically targets those voters who need to be convinced or re-convinced of the merits of independence.


― As of March 2018, the overall headline Yes/No poll lies within a margin of error of the results of the first independence referendum in September 2014. Approximately 43% Yes, 57% No.

― Age remains a very strong correlator of voting intention. Voters aged 16-41 are more likely than not to vote Yes whereas voters above 41 are more likely to vote No.

― The median age of Scotland’s voting population is 48 implying that there may exist a “natural majority” for No based solely on age.

― A significant rural/urban split has been identified. Council areas with a higher population density were significantly more likely to vote Yes than council areas with lower population density.

― There was a general trend of increasing voter turnout correlated with age although the then newly enfranchised 16-17 year old voters were particularly motivated to take up their first ever opportunity to vote.

― Since 2014 there has been a steady decline in support for independence amongst SNP voters, particularly since “Brexit”. This decline has been largely counter-balanced by an increase in support amongst Labour, Liberal Democrat and (marginally) Conservative voters.

― Since 2014 there has been a steady decline in support for independence among voters within the ABC1 social grade bracket. Pro-independence sentiment within the C2DE bracket declined for much of this period but has recently upturned.

― The ABC1 bracket experienced a significant “bounce” in support around the time of the EU referendum but this has proven short lived and has since vanished.

― Age is an important indicator of pro-independence sentiment. 16-24 year olds of both genders are significantly more pro-independence than the equivalent age group was in 2014.

― Older voters have become less in favour of independence since 2014 – male voters in particular are changing their minds.

― Non-UK citizens – long against the idea of independence – appear to have been profoundly affected by the EU referendum and are now pro-independence by a strong majority.

― Given the disparate nature of the various segments the of Scottish voting population an independence campaign based on targeting any one group or based on the political ideology of any one party would be highly unlikely to succeed.

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