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Will the Brexit Bubble Burst?

David Cowling looks at the polling evidence in a guest post for Survation

It did not take long, after the result of the June 2016 EU Referendum was declared, for numerous people to prophecy that Leave voters would soon regret their “disastrous” decision.

These poorly-educated people who did not live in vibrant metropolitan areas had been led into foolishness by better-educated individuals who, for their own nefarious motives, filled them with misinformation and downright lies. It would not take long for Leave voters to realise they had been cruelly duped, once the grim consequences of their actions became apparent.

Well, whistling in the wind does sometimes help, but, over a year after the EU Referendum, where is the evidence for this “buyers’ remorse”?

The only regular time series I have been able to find is provided by YouGov. The table below sets out the responses to their question:

Q In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union?

[N.B. in months with more than one poll, I have recorded the first one]

Little evidence there of any significant shift in public opinion.

Survation has asked respondents how they would vote in another referendum. Excluding those who said they would not vote, their findings were as follows:

Q Imagine there was a referendum tomorrow with the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” How would you vote? [N.B. in months with more than one poll, I have recorded the first one]

Once again, there seems little evidence of any significant change of heart among Leave voters.

ICM (2,046 respondents sampled 14-16 July 2017) took a different approach to the issue, asking:

Q Britain is due to leave the EU by the end of March 2019. If you had to choose only one of these two emotions, would you feel more..?

There seems little to provide a spring in the step of Remain supporters in these findings. And the demographic detail seems to confirm (at least to date) the demarcation lines that emerged in June 2016, namely, Leave supporters are more likely to be male, aged 35+ and C2DE.

 

Brexit Buyers’ Remorse?

Those who argue that Brexit will damage the economy, and Britain should backtrack, have not convinced the voters. The YouGov trend figures below suggest hardly any movement in favour of the Brexit gainsayers.

Q Do you think Britain will be economically better or worse off after we leave the European Union, or will it make no difference?

[N.B. in months with more than one poll, I have recorded the first one]

Survation (1,024 respondents sampled 14-15 July 2017) asked whether individuals felt they would be better or worse off as a result of Brexit. Some 15% said they would be better off, 34% said worse off and 37% said it would make no difference (14% answered “don’t know”).

However, it is also quite clear that the public has little confidence in the Government’s handling of negotiations to secure the UK’s departure to date. In the August edition of their monthly Brexit Tracker, ORB (2,076 respondents sampled 2-3 August 2017) found 39% approval of the Government’s handling, compared with 61% disapproval.

And when YouGov (1,665 respondents sampled 31 July-1 August 2017) asked how well or badly the Government were handling the negotiations, 25% answered “well” and 55% said “badly” (the same poll that found 45% saying it was right for the UK to Leave the EU and 45% saying it was wrong to do so).

There is much that could go wrong before the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union: much important detail has yet to be negotiated and the UK economy is hardly firing on all cylinders at present.

But the notion that people who voted Leave in 2016 will blame themselves if things go wrong as a result of that decision is, to my mind, highly questionable. I do not recall the promise of a golden age outside the EU generating a great tide of support for Leave during the 2016 campaign, so I see no great bubble waiting to be burst on that score.

I suspect that many Leave voters were willing to trade the risk of their long-stagnating economic circumstances not worsening, against much less immigration and an inchoate but nevertheless very powerful belief that they would get back control of their lives and their communities and no longer be made to feel strangers in their own country.

 

A second referendum?

In any event, is there an appetite for another referendum, where the terrible ‘mistake’ of June 2016 could be reversed? Opinium (2,006 respondents sampled 15-18 August 2017) suggests there is not.

Q Once we know what terms the government has negotiated, should there be a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, where voters can choose between leaving under the terms negotiated or remaining in the EU after all?

What I find most interesting in these responses is the relative lack of appetite for a second go among those groups that most favoured Remain in 2016. Fifty per cent of younger voters and just over half of Labour voters answered ‘yes’ to this question, along with two-thirds of 2016 Remain voters.

What do the advocates for Remain have to say to the majority of their fellow citizens who voted to leave the EU in 2016? Constant recycling of Project Fear from the 2016 campaign has not worked so far. Nor have attempts to discredit the decision of 17.4 million Leave voters by characterising them as poorly-educated dupes.

In fact, little seems to have shifted since June 2016. Vince Cable appears to have picked up Tim Farron’s fallen banner proclaiming a second referendum. Labour’s stance continues to be all at sixes and sevens. The SNP, with their attempt to revisit Scottish Independence under the guise of “Scotland in Europe” took a severe kicking at the 2017 general election. And the Conservatives remain badly battered but still unbroken.

We seem nowhere near addressing the concerns of those who voted Leave over one year ago. Until we do, there seems little prospect of breaking the log-jam that June 2016 dropped into our midst.

 

Survation is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. You can sign up to our press release list here.

David Cowling

David Cowling

David Cowling is a political opinion polling specialist. Former editor of BBC Political Research and visiting senior research fellow at Kings College London.

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