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Some New Evidence on Attitudes to the EU

In a recent blog post I discussed the evidence from the latest Welsh Political Barometer poll on how people thought they would vote in a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU; I also showed how the findings from that poll compared with previous ones. The Barometer polls have been asking a consistently-worded question on EU referendum voting intentions for over 18 months now. They have tended to show support for remaining in the EU ahead of support for leaving the EU, although the gap between the two has usually been fairly small. But a significant number of people typically indicate that they have not yet made up their minds as to how they would vote in such a referendum.

Over the last week a couple of new pieces of relevant evidence on this issue have emerged. The first was a poll conducted by Beaufort Research for the Western Mail. (One question was included in Beaufort’s regular Welsh Omnibus survey. Some 1,018 respondents were sampled, face-to-face, during June. I’m grateful to Martin Shipton for supplying me with the full details of the results). What is particularly interesting about this poll is that not only does it give us evidence from a different pollster, using a different survey method, from the Barometer polls. In addition, a different question format was used. While that makes direct comparisons with the Barometer findings difficult, I think that difficulty is more than compensated for by the interest of the different question format.

Beaufort put the following question to people:

“The UK Government intends to hold a referendum by 2017 on whether the UK should stay in the European Union (EU) or leave. Before the referendum, the Government will seek to renegotiate the UK’s membership of the EU. Which one of the following options best reflects how you intend to vote in the referendum?”

Respondents were then given several response options from which to select:

  • I will vote for the UK to stay in the European Union regardless of any renegotiation
  • If I am satisfied with the renegotiation, I will vote for the UK to stay in the European Union
  • I will vote for the UK to leave the European Union regardless of any renegotiation
  • If I am not satisfied with the renegotiation, I will vote for the UK to leave the European Union
  • I will not vote
  • Don’t Know

One might criticise the precise wording of these options. In particular, the two ‘renegotiation’ options are not really mutually exclusive; one could well imagine someone simultaneously agreeing with both – “If I’m satisfied I’ll vote to stay in, if not I’ll vote to leave”. Nonetheless I think it’s interesting to explore opinions on the EU referendum in this subtly different way from the binary Yes/No choice of referendum voting options.

These were the answers that people gave:

Stay in regardless of renegotiation 26%
Stay in if satisfied with renegotiation 20%
Leave regardless of renegotiation 13%
Leave if not satisfied with renegotiation 11%
Will not vote 11%
Don’t Know / Refused 18%

 

The evidence from this question is consistent with that from the Barometer polls in suggesting that those campaigning to remain in the EU will, in Wales at least, start the referendum with something of an advantage. Around a quarter of all respondents seem committed to supporting continued UK membership of the EU no matter what, compared to only half that number who are equally committed to supporting a British exit. This hardly suggests that the referendum is in the bag. But it does seem clear which side will have the easier task before it, particularly if Prime Minister Cameron is able to reach some sort of agreement on his renegotiation of the terms of British membership.

Of course it will not only be Wales voting in the EU referendum. I was therefore interested to see the latest data release from the British Election Study (BES) a few days ago: this was the immediately post-election wave of the large, multi-wave online survey that they have been running. (Details on the questionnaire, and the full data-set to download, are all freely available here). There is lots in this BES data-set that I will be having fun with over the next weeks and months. But one question in the post-election survey was about EU referendum voting intentions. The BES used the same question as we do in the Barometer polls: “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”

There have been, and surely will be in the future, plenty of Britain-wide polls asking about EU referendum voting intentions. However, few surveys carry large enough samples to enable realistic cross-national comparisons. The BES survey did: it had over 1,500 respondents in Wales, more than 2,500 in Scotland, and over 25,000 in England. (The BES does not cover Northern Ireland, which has long had its own, separate election study). What I was particularly interested to see was whether there was any difference in the pattern of voting intentions between respondents in England, Scotland and Wales.

Here was what the BES found:

 

  England Scotland Wales
Remain 45% 58% 50%
Leave 35% 28% 33%
Wouldn’t Vote 3% 2% 3%
Don’t Know 16% 13% 16%

 

Differences between the nations are not vast; nonetheless, they do exist. Our confidence that these are not fluke differences resulting from random sampling variation is boosted by the fact that they are consistent with the pattern found by other, separate studies (for example, see http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/2014/04/30/attitudes-to-europe-two-interesting-tables/). On EU referendum voting, and indeed on some measures of attitudes towards the EU, England tends to be the most inclined of the three British nations towards Euro-scepticism. Scotland is the most EU enthusiastic. Wales tends to occupy the middle position, while being a little closer to England. The differences are subtle – we are not talking about a situation where England is rampantly EU-phobic while Scotland is almost unanimous in Euro-enthusiasm. Instead, the picture is one of gradations of difference, but differences nonetheless.

Overall, however, the BES findings are consistent with findings of other studies which have shown the ‘Remain’ camp having the advantage at present across Britain as a whole. The referendum would need to get significantly closer before it became likely that it might produce a result where some nations voted Yes to remaining in the EU while others voted No.

Comments

  • John

    The real issues behind the referendum are still obscure for most people. The media are strongly pro-EU and have not even provided coverage of the £100bn pa balance of payments deficit with the EU, preferring instead to publicize businessmen who will benefit from staying IN rather than the effect on the whole nation.

    There is an excellent summary of the issues at Membership of the EU: Pros and Cons. We can only hope that the truth about the EU will get to the People before the referendum. This promulgation of truth was the traditional role of academics but sadly the Education Industry is one of those self interested businesses that have been bent by the EU.

  • J. Jones

    England 99%, Scotland 101%, Wales 102%. Depending where the extra percentages lie, England and Wales may be even closer?

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