The Scottish independence referendum has produced an amazing engagement with democracy. Since 2011, the majority of eligible voters who weren’t on the electoral register have now registered. They make up over 7% of the electorate. So who are they?
Looking at the groups who are traditionally least likely to be registered gives some clues. According to reports by the Electoral Commission cited here, people renting accommodation from private landlords are much more likely to be unregistered than owner-occupiers. Relatedly, 16-24 year-olds, students and people who have moved recently are less likely to be registered.
This profile looks promising for the Yes campaign. In canvassing returns, home owners are much less likely than private renters to support independence. And poll results consistently show that Yes voters predominate in younger age groups. Lower socioeconomic status (SES) also predicts Yes support, and it can be inferred from the other characteristics of unregistered voters that they are more likely to have low SES. So most newly registered voters fit the mould of typical Yes voters.
The big unknown is whether the polls are taking this new chunk of the electorate into account, let alone people who were already registered but have never or rarely voted before. Criticisms include phone surveys only calling landlines – this would seem to exclude renters, young people and low SES groups who tend to rely more on mobile phones. YouGov’s online panel is a self-selecting group who are presumably already interested in politics, the opposite of people who have never voted.
The polls do of course weight their results to boost the numbers of under-represented groups in their sample. But can this really be accurate when none of a certain social group is present in the sample to begin with?
Support for independence is higher in almost every social group with less power, influence and opportunity – people who are younger, less well off, less well educated, renting. Traditionally they haven’t had a voice, and so have been largely ignored by mainstream politics and media. But the beauty of a referendum is that one vote is worth the same as every other. And the nature of inequality is that advantage is accumulated by a small minority. If turnout is high enough on the 18th, the disadvantaged majority will vote for independence.