Thirty days to go and although there have been a number of mildly encouraging polls for the YES camp over recent days, the odds of a nationalist victory are now out to 5/1, almost the biggest price it has ever been in the two and a half years since Ladbrokes started betting on a referendum outcome. Back in January 2012 when we opened our book, we made a YES vote just 5/2. The only time it was ever shorter was in April of this year, when it briefly dipped to 9/4.
As the clock ticks down and NO continues to lead with every pollster, one should expect the odds to continue moving in that direction, even if nothing else changes. If the vote was tomorrow with the polls showing the same numbers as they do today, the odds of a NO vote should probably be around 1/20 (i.e. a 95% chance). I don’t expect it actually will be that short, as there appears to be no end of people wanting to back YES, even though the polls give little encouragement for them to do so.
The arguments for backing YES probably fall into three main categories;
1. The polls are wrong. It’s certainly a possibility that none of the pollsters are accurately reflecting public opinion, given that they have very little experience of events like this in the UK. There is a section of the YES movement who have embraced a “polling denial” standpoint and criticised the methodology as being unable to pick up the real “feeling on the ground” or that canvassing returns are painting a totally different picture. This reminds me of certain Republican leaning commentators before the 2012 US Presidential election, who preferred to rely on the anecdotal evidence of campaign crowds and yard signs.
2. There will be a late shift of undecideds to the YES camp. Although some recent polls show a little bit of evidence that this might be happening, it’s currently nowhere near enough. In any case, political science tells us that it’s much more likely that undecideds will break for the status quo when it gets to polling day.
3. Something happens. Perhaps Salmond will win next Monday’s debate decisively. That might help a little, but any boost from debates tends to be short lived. Maybe the UK general election polls will move strongly towards the Tories in the last four weeks. That would definitely help the YES campaign (“vote YES or get another Tory government”), but there’s not much sign of that happening at the moment. Of course, there are all sorts of other “black swan” type events that might shake things up, but they could go either way, so not much sense relying on that when having a bet.