The polls say No to Scottish Independence, the data says something else

scottish_independence_onlineThere are still more than 400 days to go before the referendum on Scottish independence, but one gambler has no doubts about which way the poll will go.

In the largest single political bet ever taken by bookmaker William Hill, he has staked £200,000 at total odds of less than 1/5 that independence will be rejected. He is a very confident man and will only win £36,666 if he does so, but he seems to be only acting with common sense.

This may be a PR stunt on behalf of a benighted bookmaker in a dubious profession, but our punter should beware. While all the polls suggest he will pick up his money, recent data from social media suggests that he might like to start hedging his bets.

Social media monitoring company Brandwatch has produced analysis that has captured the thoughts of social media users in Scotland and the results are not happy reading for our gambling man.

It reports that in June 75% of respondents said they would vote YES to independence, split broadly the same across male and female demographics, a figure that was up 2% from May. As social media has become a highly relevant tool for research polling and campaigning this is an explosive figure.

Brandwatch crawled around 65 million data sources a day across the web and for this study opinions were only taken from Scotland with more than three-quarters (77%) of online opinions being posted on Twitter, with 18% on found on Facebook and the remainder on forums and blogs.

According to the company, the sample taken is statistically representative within a margin of error of 4.9 points given the somewhat unstructured thoughts given online and on social media.

This voter intention will be crucial on the referendum and as it is still 14 months away means that there are more 16- to 17-year-olds (who use social media more than their elders) that can influence the result.


There is a precedent here in the 1948 US Presidential Election when the polls (and many newspapers that jumped the gun) predicted a landslide for Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey against the incumbent Harry Truman.

Truman went on to win easily and it transpired that the pollsters had used the telephone to ring up voters and ask them of their intentions. The Republicans were wealthier than Democrats and more likely to own telephones. Furthermore, many Truman voters lived in rural areas without telephones, so the polls were fatally skewed.

Perhaps that may also be the case with social media voters and Scottish Independence. If you’re of that persuasion, it might worth a visit to your local, or more likely online, bookmakers. But I wouldn’t ring them if I was you.

Monty (711 Posts)

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.