After Scrapbook parodied Alex Salmond’s leading referendum question on Wednesday, Left Foot Forward’s Alex Hern has put the academic smackdown on the SNP’s dodgy wording:

“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

Technical literature on survey design is clear that questions phrased in this way result in a “small but significant increase in the amount of people voting yes.”

And it has now emerged that even students as young as 14 are taught that these types of questions are wrong.  Having explained why the sample is likely to be biased, this ExExcel GCSE statistics paper asks young students why a “Do you agree …” question will skew results:

2003 EdExcel Statistics GCSE Paper 1H

Back to school for Scotland’s most famous agricultural eonomist?

  1. “Why is her question biased?” is a terrible question, because it presumes that it is. It should be “Is her question biased?”

  2. Fortunately the temperate nature of the unionists can be relied upon to be utterly fair.

    What was it that bumbling old fool Rifkind wanted… something a bout being torn away from a union that has been successful (for him at least) for 300 years. of course the people who only live until they are around 56 in Glasgow’s slums might feel that that the union was a little less successful.

  3. Isn’t the question in the exam paper biased as they’re already in the queue and hence more likely to think it’s good value for money? How does that relate to Scotland?

  4. Asking “Do you agree that Brand X is better than Brand Y” is a leading question that will skew the results towards a positive response when asking people about something they have no strong preference over.
    But I don’t think it will significantly bias the result of a referendum that will be the focus of attention and campaigning for two and a half years and is of vital importance to those being asked.

    If it really causes concern to either side or those overseeing the referendum I suppose it would be fair enough to change it to “Should Scotland become independant from the United Kingdom?” Either way, I’m more concerned about the SNP’s fairly transparent desire to have the referendum immediately after the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow in the hope that a wave of nationalist sentiment prompted by a good showing for Scotland in the games will boost the yes vote.

  5. Siôn Eurfyl Jones says:

    Everybody has missed the point that the Scottish question is only a proposal, and will no doubt be amended before the referendum. The way the unionists are behaving, it really doesn’t matter how the question is phrased, independence will win by a landslide.

  6. It is in the Maths paper which I took last summer, the course teaches us that such questions are wrong as they encourage the person to ‘agree’ with the statement, such is human nature. Sometimes (during revision) we were asked to provide a better question and I can guarantee you that I would have got full marks for correcting the question to
    “Should Scotland become an independent country or remain in the United Kingdom?’
    I was 14 when I took the exam.
    On a personal note, it would seem a shame to put future prosperity into jeopardy by erecting barriers (both literal and non-literal) between two parts of a closely linked state. Salmond in his own words says that ‘Scotland yearned to be a good neighbour, not a surly tenant.’ however not only does he set the referendum on the anniversary of a great Scottish military victory over the English but about 1 year ago he wanted to axe the London- Inverness rail service, an important economic linkage. The SNP would break Scotland off Britain, not simply separate it politically.

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