The prognosticators for today’s Scottish independence referendum are probably as anxious as the people of Great Britain – after all, the science of polling has been under siege lately as our society and its news sources have become more fragmented.
Another dimension is added with the advent of social media, where emotion and a greatly accelerated news cycle can strongly influence public opinion.
Add the proliferation of mobile technology, call blocking, and the growing trend of moving away from land-lines — the traditional communication channel for pollsters collecting information — and for pollsters, predicting outcomes has become exponentially harder.
When people relied on only a few news sources, opinions were more predictable and less volatile.
As an example, just before polls opened today, British (sorry, Scottish) tennis star Andy Murray tweeted his support for the Yes vote:
Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) September 18, 2014
What effect will this have on the vote? Is this simply preaching to supporters of the Yes side? And how will it influence the undecided?
Social media does influence opinion, but it can also be deceiving if not analyzed correctly.
During the 2011 general Canadian election, we observed that those who supported the NDP on Twitter outnumbered the Conservatives. But the Conservatives ended up winning the election (despite the NDP’s very strong showing).
We live in a very fragmented society. Ironcially, it could be even more fragmented with a “Yes” vote today.