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by Tom Freeman
11 February 2015
Vow ‘did not swing referendum vote’

Vow ‘did not swing referendum vote’

A joint statement promising further powers to Scotland by the three main Westminster parties in the run up to September’s referendum on Scottish independence had “no substantial impact” on the final result of the vote, according to analysis of internet use by researchers at Glasgow University.

Named ‘the Vow’, the declaration was published on the front of the Daily Record newspaper, and promised new powers for the Scottish Parliament and retention of the Barnett formula for funding the Scottish Government. It is still quoted by politicians.

The study into web search data also suggests the more people searched for information online, the less likely they were to vote Yes.

Reactions to the last TV debate also had little effect on the outcome, according to the paper ‘Information in the Ether’, published by Ronald MacDonald, Adam Smith Professor of Political Economy at the University of Glasgow and PHD student Xuxin Mao. The fact the paper has not been published till now is due to the time needed for peer-review and the academic printing process.

Researchers used Google Trends Big Data, a real time online search volume service, and analysed data in real time as the campaign was happening. It highlighted when people searched on google using the keywords ‘Alex Salmond’ or ‘SNP’.

MacDonald, who campaigned for Better Together, said: “Using Google Trends allowed us to make an accurate prediction of the support for both sides of the campaign using data telling us what internet searches were taking place.

“After certain events, such as the rejection of the potential currency union by George Osborne, those identifying as Yes voters were more likely to be driven by short-term emotion than long-term rationality.”

A YouGov poll on 5th September, which put Yes four points behind No, did have a significant positive impact on the Yes vote, but no effect on online search activities, the results suggest.

The researchers believe internet search data will prove valuable in predicting future elections because it provides more ‘robust’ information than snap opinion polls.

See Liam Kirkaldy's comment - If the Vow didn't swing the referendum, then what's the justification for further devolution?

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