Do two-thirds of people really want a referendum on rejoining the EU?
I got excited this week by starting my newspaper archive researches to find voting intention polls that are missing from the existing polling databases. I hit lucky with six extra polls from the short 1950-51 Parliament alone. Expect plenty more updates to the historic record in future releases of PollBase through the year.
But of more interest to most people is polling on Europe, so this week I’m taking a look at polling on a possible new referendum, followed by the usual recap of the latest national voting intention polls and then (for paying subscribers) a round-up of the other interesting, useful or baffling political polling results from the last week. Paying subscribers can also access the full archive of previous editions.
As ever, if you have any feedback or questions prompted by what follows, or spotted some other recent polling you’d like to see covered, just hit reply. I personally read every response.
With that, on with the show…
“Two-thirds of Britons now support future referendum on rejoining the EU”
It’s based on a properly conducted opinion poll from a pollster who is a member of the British Polling Council and who published the tables for anyone to inspect. All good so far.
The polling firm’s national voting intention polls have been towards the least accurate end of the polling league table in the last few general election (see Chapter 11 of my book, Polling UnPacked.) But they’ve not been a disaster by any means, and polling - like with financial investments - is one area where the past record is not a sure guide to future performance. It’s also only one poll. Yet it fits with a wider pattern of increasing dissatisfaction with how Brexit is working out.
However, although the question wording was fair, if the issue started being seriously debated, there are plenty of counter-arguments that could come to the fore. In particular, we know from other polls (such as from Ipsos) that the public thinks the government should concentrate on issues other than Europe. So a question asking, ‘Do you think the government should prioritise spending time and money on a new referendum on our membership of the EI, instead of spending that time and money on other issues?’ would, most likely, get somewhat different results.
There’s also a general public tendency to pick the ‘let’s have a vote on it’ question in polls, even though other evidence - such as Brenda from Bristol - shows an absence of such enthusiasm when actually given more voting opportunities.
Then there’s the risk of ‘expressive polling’, where people give answers that best express their general outlook, rather than their actual view on the specific wording in front of them. If you’re very strongly pro-European and asked by a pollster if there should be another referendum, the best way of expressing your pro-Europeanism may be to say ‘yes’ even if, actually given the choice to make, you’d be not quite so keen on having one, at least right away. (It’s why when a politician is in a scandal, we sometimes get polling results claiming some people are as a result more likely to support them. They’re just picking the strongest way of expressing their support, rather than actually having becoming even more keen on them.)
The difference between expressive and actual views was one of the features of 2019: millions of people signed a petition to revoke Brexit - it was an eye-catching way of expressing unhappiness with Brexit - but when the Liberal Democrats made it a policy on offer on the general election ballot paper, the appeal of that actual choice was rather less than the appeal of the petition had been.
Other evidence points towards this factor being at work on the referendum question now. Rejoin EU has had a series of very poor election results (Parliamentary by-election and London Assembly), for example. Likewise, focus groups pick up plenty of unhappiness over Brexit but without matching or growing enthusiasm to have another referendum on it.
Where does this leave us? That poll finding is certainly another way of illustrating the gradually growing unhappiness there is over either the fact of Brexit or how Brexit has worked out. But the absence of supporting evidence is good reason to doubt how popular a campaign for a referendum in the near term really would be.
National voting intention polls
Here’s the latest from each currently active pollster:
The spread between different pollsters has opened up again, with Labour’s lead varying from 14 points with Deltapoll (taking the ‘narrowest lead’ spot from its usual inhabitants of Opinium or Kantar) through to 27 points with PeoplePolling (who regularly provide the worst figures for the Conservatives). With all putting Labour’s lead well into double figures, that doesn’t matter so much, but as ever, it’s worth remembering that if the polls close and the spread doesn’t, interpreting the polls could get very interesting.
Also notable in the other questions in recent polls is how the gap between Rishi Sunak’s polling and the Conservative Party’s polling is narrowing. Sunak continues to poll better than his own party in many ways, but the gap is narrowing and it’s narrowing due to his ratings getting worse rather than due to his party’s standings improving. That’s not good news for either.
For more details and updates through the week, see my daily updated table here.
Last week’s edition
“Who is willing to consider voting Lib Dem?” is available to read here.
Know other people interested in political polling?
Why a Conservative comeback may be much more likely than it looks, and other insights from this week’s polling…
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