Majority of voters now want to remain in the European Union
Whatever the British people thought a thousand or so days ago when they voted in the EU referendum, there is no question that a significant proportion of them have reconsidered now that dream politics has collided so spectacularly with realpolitik.
We are, however, expected to believe that in these turbulent seas we are now navigating there’s one immutable and impervious rock – a fixed reference point, if not a symbol of faith for figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – and that is the statistic that only 48.1% want to remain in the EU.
As the Doomsday clock counts down the minutes to our scheduled exit on from the EU on March 29, I have been startled by how all of the usually impartial media – broadcast and the sensible print – have cheerfully repeated this figure over and over again. I have written to editors and producers and asked them why – when poll after poll has since told such a very different story – but my letters have been ignored. Only Chris Morris, the BBC’s diligent fact-monger, was kind enough to respond, acknowledging, though playing down, the trends my analysis reveals.
“I am certainly aware of the shifting opinion and will try to make others aware, too,” he wrote.
In any analysis of changing opinion, it is important first to go back to square one and recall what fractionally more than half of those who did vote had actually put an “X” beside. They did not, just for a start, vote to Leave the EU with no-deal. They did not vote to Leave the EU prepared – in the words of the late John F Kennedy – “to pay any price, bear any burden…” They voted simply to Leave the EU, having been led to believe that it would be in their best interests to do so.
I am now convinced that “Leave” can no longer honestly be said to be the “Will of the People” and here’s why. I know, of course, that there can sometimes be rogue polls, but polls of polls can generally speaking be taken as gospel.
Since the start of 2018, 113 out of 125 polls have favoured remaining in the European Union (EU). Only three polls have shown a majority wanting to leave, with nine tied.
- At the time of the referendum, 3% more people thought it was right to vote to leave. Today around 10% more people want to remain.
Those thousand days ago, when asked how people would vote, there was a around 1% preference to leave. Today 5% more people want to remain.
Then, less than 1% more preferred to leave. Today, that gap is over 6% to remain.
The UK’s psephological guru, Sir John Curtice, wrote an article on this shifting trend last August[i].
In fact, all the data in this analysis can be found at the National Centre for Social Research, where Sir John is responsible for compiling all their polls[ii].
Now, if I may risk being a tad controversial…
Within the polling data, there are some irrefutable facts:
- Young people want to remain. Older people want to leave. If the data results are weighted according to years to live, then over 70% of young votes wish to remain. There’s also the impact of those who have joined the voter list over the 1,000 days, who strongly wish to remain.
- Leave is largely supported by people with lower levels of education, and to use a non-PC term, those of lower social-grade. I hate this kind of language, but it is how psephologists talk. It suggests that Leavers tend to be those with the least access to the facts.
Nowhere is the relevance of these social differences better demonstrated than in YouGov’s snap poll [iii], which shows the reaction to this week’s antics in Parliament. It illustrates the very different views held by the young versus old, Conservative versus Labour/LibDem supporters, and the different “social grades” (horrible expression, I know).
The polls now show that the untruths – that wonderful £350m we were going to get each week for the NHS, the 12m Turks invading, those over-easy trade deals, that the EU would fall over the moment we puffed – have been exposed. None of these statements would have survived trades descriptions or sales of goods legislation, let alone the advertising standards code.
One observation I would make is that Parliament and the media – even the bi-partisan, licence fee payer-funded, unbiased BBC – have focused largely on the fifty shades of leave, which are largely based on opinion, not fact – with very little attention devoted in recent days to the factual arguments for remaining.
The sad thing is in journalistic terms emotion and theatrix make for better “copy” than hard facts. It seems obvious that audiences on the likes of Question Time, and those that tweet about it, and the phone-in show Any Answers, and the Derbyshire and Ridge programmes are easy prey to the loudest and most incendiary Leavers, at the expense the more reasoned advocates for Remain. The polls and the overwhelming facts coming from industry, finance, and academia seldom get a look-in because, quite simply, they are not as entertaining.
Having spent 40 years in the news media myself, I know the rules of the game and recognise that Messrs Farage, Johnson and Rees-Mogg certainly make for good Telly.
What dreams these men promised us. What nightmares we now face.
If we end up leaving the EU, it will be as much about the silence of the sensible as the loudness of the leavers.
Jim Chisholm is an Independent Media Analyst, with a background in research, news media management and consultancy.
[ii] NatCen Social Research: https://whatukthinks.org/eu/opinion-polls/uk-poll-results/