Attitudes and Voting Intentions

People’s perceptions and attitudes determine electoral outcomes. In this report we examined attitudes and beliefs about the Referendum options. Yougov administered a survey designed by the authors to a representative sample of 2037 people in December 2013. Our findings confirm many of the key predictors of voting intention with party political affiliation, national identity and trust in Institutions all having large predictive effects. Furthermore our report reveals interesting demographic patterns with women being substantially less likely to support Independence and older, higher income people also being more likely to support no. Those with Roman Catholic or no religious affiliation are substantially more likely to support a Yes outcome than Church of England and Church of Scotland voters. Policy preferences also play a role with No supporters being less supportive of universal benefits and immigration. Our report is unique in examining core attitudes to risk and the future in determining voting intentions. Both the Yes and No options involve uncertain costs and benefit is that will unfold over many decades. We asked simple validated measures of risk tolerance and future orientation of our sample. We find no role for future orientation with Yes and No voters scoring equally on these measures.


However we find a substantial role for risk attitudes with Yes voters being substantially more likely to be willing to take risks. For each point increase on a simple 10-point risk scale support for Yes increase by 3.6 per cent meaning that over the whole scale support for Yes goes from 25 to 65 per cent. Even given the fact that the bulk of people are between 4 and 8 on the risk scale, it is clear that attitude to risk is an important driver of voting intentions. It remains substantial and important once statistical controls for other individual characteristics, such as age, gender and country of birth are introduced. Attitudes to risk are also partly reflected in what Yes and No voters say they prioritise in deciding how to vote with economic risks to pensions and national debt being more important determinants for No voters.

It is clearly the case that many voters are deeply entrenched in their view and will likely not change. However, 30 per cent of our respondents said they would change their view if they believed they would benefit economically. Such voters hold the key to the outcome of this referendum. We hope our findings contribute to a rational debate on the risks and benefits of both sides and aids the process of understanding people’s concerns.  How people deal with the complex nature of the voting decision is itself an important issue and understanding this is an objective of our ongoing research. It will also examine further the nature of how people are perceiving risk and how this is influencing their voting intentions. This first piece of research on risk and constitutional change shows how important this issue may be for the outcome.

David Bell, Liam Delaney and Mike McGoldrick

About David Bell

David Bell FRSE is Professor of Economics at the University of Stirling. He graduated in economics and statistics at the University of Aberdeen and in econometrics at the London School of Economics. He has worked at the Universities of St Andrews, Strathclyde, Warwick and Glasgow. His research is mainly in labour economics, fiscal decentralization and the economics of long-term care. He has been budget adviser to the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee. He is PI for the Healthy AGing In Scotland project (HAGIS).
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