The position in the polls remains much the same as the last time I updated – the Conservatives still have a substantial lead, though one that varies from pollster to pollster due to methodological differences. The figures also remain somewhat artificial given we know that a major event with the potential to transform the political weather (either Brexit going ahead, or Brexit being delayed) is looming upon the horizon. Perhaps the more interesting question is, therefore, what impact is that likely to have on the polls? Or perhaps more to the point, can polls tell us *anything* useful about what impact it would have on the polls?

Most of the polling that has set foot in this rather difficult territory has attempted to shed some light on what will happen if Boris Johnson ends up seeking a delay to Brexit.

Several polls have asked who people would blame if Brexit ended up being delayed, and as a rule they’ve tended to show that people wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson or, at least, that he would not be widely blamed by Conservative supporters or Brexiteers – the voters he needs to keep hold of. YouGov found 39% of people think a delay would be Boris Johnson’s fault to a large or moderate extent, 46% think it would bear little or none of the fault. Among Leave voters only 18% thought Johnson would bear significant blame. A ComRes poll found 34% think Johnson would bear much responsibility for a delay, 33% some responsibility and 22% no responsibility at all. Among leave voters only 19% thought he would bear much responsibility, 35% some, 37% none.

However, polls that have asked how people would vote if there was an election after a further delay to Brexit have invariably shown the Conservative party losing support and the Brexit party gaining it (for example, this ComRes poll from last month). A naive reading of that might be these two approaches are contradictory (the ones asking about blame suggest most people wouldn’t blame Boris, the ones asking hypothetical voting intention imply he would pay a heavy cost) – in reality they don’t. Even if most of his supporters wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson for an extension, if 1 in 5 Tories voters blamed him enough to defect to the Brexit party it severely damage the Conservatives’ electoral hopes.

I would urge some degree of caution on both these approaches though. We are asking people to imagine a rather vague hypothetical situation. A delay in Brexit could cover all sorts of different scenarios. Maybe Boris Johnson will apply for an extension, maybe he’ll resign and someone else will. Maybe he’d have done it willingly, maybe he’d have been forced into it by the Courts. More recently it’s been floated that he could even end up seeking an technical extension in order to deliver a deal. People’s reactions may be extremely different depending on the different circumstances. For now these uncertainties should put a question mark over any polls asking hypothetical questions about how the public think they would react to a delay – if political circumstances become clearer in the next week then perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll be in a better position to do useful polling on the issue.

In the meantime we are left to speculate. The questions I ask myself when trying to predict what the impact on public opinion are these. Can I imagine Boris Johnson seeking an extension and it NOT damaging him? Well, in certain circumstances I suppose I can, yes. On the other hand, can I imagine Boris Johnson having to seek an extension and it NOT giving Nigel Farage a boost?


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