The Times today leads with a Populus poll showing that 82% of people would like a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
This does not surprise me. Referendums are popular per se, whatever the subject asked about, people will support having a referendum on it. I have only ever seen one poll that has asked a straight question about holding a referendum on a subject and found that people don’t want one – and that was on the monarchy where the overwhelming majority of people support the status quo.* I expect if you found something dull, obscure or procedural enough you might find a another topic on which people would oppose a referendum, but certainly on almost any subject important enough for people to seriously suggest a referendum there is overwhelming support for having one.
If you stop to think about it, it is exactly what you’d expect. People hold politicians in extremely low esteem and asking if they would like a referendum on a subject is pretty much asking “Would you like a say on this subject, or would you like politicians to decide for you?”
That said, the actual question that Populus asked was more nuanced than that, starting to get at the more interesting question of whether a referendum on Europe is something people thought should be a priority right now. As well as support and opposition, Populus gave people the chance of agreeing in principle with a referendum, but saying now was not the time. The detailed results were 18% opposed to a referendum, 33% agreeing in principle, but saying now is not the right time, and almost half – 49% – saying that there should be a referendum on Europe now.
*UPDATE: Thanks to Pablo’s comments below, I have actually found a poll that showed the public opposed to a referendum on something! Eleven years ago in 2001 MORI asked if people wanted a referendum on the monarchy, 40% did, 51% did not.