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The BBC/ICM Poll, 2: Brexit

13 March 2017

Perhaps inevitably, the recent BBC/ICM poll included several questions related to Brexit.

First of all, there was a question which asked:

“Thinking about Brexit, the decision to leave the European Union, do you think it will have a positive impact, negative impact, or make no difference…”, respondents were then asked to apply this to the three following matters:

  • The Welsh economy
  • Your own personal finances
  • The way of life in Wales today in general

The first two questions here tap directly into what scholars generally term the ‘socio-tropic’ and ‘ego-centric’ dimensions of economic evaluations – respectively, how they affect society as a whole, and how they affect me. The final question is very, and presumably deliberately, vague – going beyond economic matters to a broader sense of the ‘way of life’.

These questions produced the following set of responses:


  Positive Impact Negative Impact No Difference/Don’t Know
Welsh Economy 33% 44% 24%
Personal Finance 17% 30% 53%
Way of life in general 26% 37% 38%


As we can see, for all the three options negative responses outweigh positive ones. It might appear puzzling that more people would apparently expect Brexit to have negative tangible effects that positive ones, given that Wales voted Leave last June. But research conducted on voting in the Brexit referendum has suggested that many Leave voters were more focussed on issues such as control of immigration and a general sense of ‘taking back control’ than they were motivated by specific economic or other consequences. It was enough for many of them to feel that the economic impact of Brexit would be broadly neutral.

The details for the responses to all three of these questions indicates men to be notably more likely to expect positives from Brexit than women, and those aged 65+ also much more likely than younger cohorts to expect positive impacts. Unfortunately, the BBC/ICM poll contains no information of how people actually voted in the referendum last June, not information on which party respondents to the poll currently support. So, unlike with the Welsh Political Barometer polls, we have no ability to disaggregate responses to these questions on these political grounds. This is a pity – and, bluntly, does make the information gathered from these questions much less interesting. Intuitively one would expect that Remain voters are much more likely to expect negative consequences from Brexit than Leave voters: that would be in line with what the Barometer polls have found thus far. But we don’t actually know that.

These questions were followed by one which asked the following:

“Following the referendum vote for the UK to leave the European Union, which one of the following best reflects your view on how politicians should now respond to the Brexit process?”; with several (rather wordy) options then offered to respondents:

  • The referendum result should be fully respected – politicians should support the Brexit process even if they voted against it in the referendum
  • Politicians should take account of how their constituents voted in the referendum and make a decision on whether to support or oppose the Brexit process after talking that into account
  • Politicians should act in line with their own conscience on whether Brexit is right or wrong for the UK
  • Don’t Know


Perhaps unsurprisingly, some 57 percent selected the first option: I would have been very surprised to see a majority of people doing anything other than endorsing the idea of politicians ‘fully respecting’ the decision of the people. This particular wording arguably somewhat slants the responses overall. Some 24 percent chose the – rather nebulous – second option (can anyone tell me what exactly it means?); a further 17 percent the third one; and two percent indicated Don’t Know.

Again, however, beyond a few demographic breakdowns (which show, for instance, men being more likely to choose the first option here than women) we have little useful information on how these responses disaggregate along relevant categories. It would be really interesting to see the differences between Remainers and Leavers, and also between supporters of the different parties, but that information is not available in this poll.

The final Brexit-related question in the BBC/ICM poll was one on immigration and the EU:

“All EU citizens currently have the unrestricted freedom to come to the UK to live and work. In light of the referendum for the UK to leave the EU, do you think that…”; once again this question was followed by a short set of fairly wordy response options:

  • All EU citizens should still have the right to come to the UK to live and work
  • Some EU citizens should have the right to come and live and work in the UK so long as they are considered to have the right skills or qualifications
  • No EU citizens should have the right to come and live in the UK, even if it means that no EU citizens can go to European Union countries to live and work
  • Don’t Know


One point that should be made is that the ‘factual’ statement at the beginning of the question is not wholly correct: EU citizens do not have entirely unrestricted rights to live and work in the UK. Leaving that aside, the poll found 19 percent of respondents selecting the first option, some 74 percent the second one, and six percent the third one, with only a single percent of respondents choosing Don’t Know. This finding is broadly in line with that in the last Welsh Barometer poll – which I talked about here – which showed few people wishing for a total ban on all immigration, but many wishing for at least some greater limitations on what they believe the current position to be. What is unfortunate in this poll is that there is only one intermediate option between apparently unrestricted immigration and more-or-less none at all; it is not very surprising that a clear majority of respondents should have plumped for this option. A slightly more refined set of answer options might have drawn out some further distinctions in attitudes.

Overall, the picture on Brexit suggested by the BBC/ICM poll is broadly in line with that shown previously by previous evidence. But that evidence demonstrated substantial divides on many issues between Remain and Leave voters. The lack of any insight into the respective attitudes of Remainers and Leavers, or of the supporters of the main parties, does make the BBC/ICM poll appear like something of a missed opportunity.


1 comment
  1. AHP

    It’s terrible that “No difference” and “don’t know” should be conflated in those statistics.

    There is a HUGE difference between someone who confidently predicts “This change will have no impact on my personal finance,” and someone who is genuinely uncertain.

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