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.

68 Responses to “Public support a referendum on… well, almost anything frankly”

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  2. Anthony, has anyone asked a question about holding a referendum on the monarchy? Presumably that would be less popular?

  3. I have great confidence in the integrity of the UK Government and its supporters.

    Since so many pointed to polling that suggested that another referendum should be held sooner than later, and chided the relevant Government for not doing so,they will wish to avoid making the same error.

    Simultaneously, they will wish to point out that delay is bad for the business community, inward investment, and the economy in general.

    They should be able to schedule it for Spring 2013 at the latest.

  4. Pablo – I can recall a question on it, and given most people would like to keep the status quo it’s possible that it would have low support… I wouldn’t count on it though.

  5. Pablo – found one, and you were right! Back in 2001 MORI asked about it, and only 41% of people supported a referendum on the monarchy.

  6. Interesting article in the independent

  7. Brown turns up the heat at Leveson, detailing how the Conservatives fell in behind every strategic objective of NI following James Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture in August 2009… an end to the commitment to impartiality, neutering Ofcom, a series of measures against the BBC… none of which he felt a UK government should countenance.

  8. Gordon Brown having a real go at News International at the moment…Clearly,he feels that they set out to destroy him.

  9. Not sure how useful ‘Poll of the Polls’ are, when there are so many different methodologies used and often an adjustment (for DKs, turn-out, etc) makes it a little bit of apples and pears.*

    And the fact that pollsters have different frequency of polling – so if most pollsters have their fieldwork at the end of the month, do you take the YouGov for those dates? etc

    *This isn’t to say that the Independent haven’t adjusted polls for that as best they can.

  10. @Gary Gatter – “Interesting article in the independent”

    Well that would be a first!

    It’s not interesting. It’s mush. They’ve rehashed an incorrect headline from the Sunday papers and ignored other polling data that shows the lead narrowing.

    In the original report of the Angus Reid poll, the paper (Mirror, I think) claimed it was the biggest lead for 16 years or something, ignoring the fact that AR have showed a 2% bigger lead a week ago. Work that one out.

    The Indescribablyboring have now run with this story, cherry picking one poll that is at odds with the others, getting the headline wrong again, and generally showing why journalists as a whole are lazy, ignorant of the facts, and show about as much independence of thought as a herd of buffalo on the hoof. Where one goes, they all go.

    Lazy, lazy writing, not worth the paper it’s printed on. This is why we have the press we have.

  11. Brown is going to town!

  12. Mad bad and dangerous to know. The clearest statement you can get that Brown believes NI turned on him and supported Con to further its own commercial ends.

    Nothing much new so far, but completely politicises the argument.

  13. Alec – they haven’t cherry picked at all, the story is based on their monthly poll-of-polls – the average of ICM, Populus, ComRes and YouGov. It doesn’t even include the Angus Reid poll!

    It may not tell you anything particularly new or interesting, but taking an average of the main pollsters is very much the opposite of cherry picking the polls you like.

    Others – can we NOT have rolling commentary of Leveson please. From past experience people don’t seem capable of discussing it in a detached way, and it inevitably devolves into partisan speculation and argument.

  14. Back from the land of volcanoes (Eifel) taking the dangerous step of standing next to one, a super volcano no less (Laacher See) – puts everything into perspective. At least we avoided the J thing back here and return to find the French are exercising their peculiar form of AV. Le Monde has the best results service, I find. See the Henin-Beaumont result and Charente Maritime threatens a three way next week with S. Royal against a turncoat from her own party.

    The results of the monarchy polling and general attitude opinion makes one realise how isolated one is. Casual conversation with folk on my flight to Koln proved just how many of us were literally in flight from it all. Well, actually, thus very few, beware anecdote.

  15. @AW – Oops!

    As my Dad used to say – read before rant.

  16. I wonder if there would be public support for a referendum on banning referendums?


  17. @AW,

    As I suspected. It would probably be even less popular this year too…

  18. Have to say, as a very pro-democracy independent, my faith in referenda was highly shaken by the AV business last year, where I discovered how easy it was to i) make highly misleading statement and outright lies and get away with it, and ii) turn the referendum into a vote on the person backing the idea rather than the issue itself.

    My red line remains that any constitutional change as fundamental as the voting system must only take place with a referendum, no matter how misleading and well-funded and vitriolic the opposition is, but I have a lot of worries about an EU referendum. I’d love there to be an open and honest debate on whether it is worth staying in the EU, but if the AV referendum is a sign of things to come, the debate will be anything but open and honest.

  19. Although I notice support for a referendum on the issue is higher than support for change to a republic.

  20. Perhaps monarchists wanting to prove their devotion through the ballot box, in the vain hope that having done so the republicans might shut up for a couple of decades?

  21. @AW

    The mori poll was quite small at 814.

  22. Good Afternoon.

    On a different matter, there is a vg article in the DT on line entitled: Do not get involved; the focus is the incident with the young woman who was short of 20pence, and awful things happened to her after.

  23. “I expect if you found something dull, obscure or procedural enough you might find another topic on which people would oppose a referendum”

    Gordon Brown? ;)

  24. @ Chris Neville-Smith

    I am afraid that I have come to that conclusion also. For Referenda to play a useful roll in a democracy certain conditions need to exist so that they can be held in a reasonably fair and factual environment. Those conditions do not exist in the UK anymore (not sure if they ever did)

    I voted against the introduction of AV in the last referendum but the way that Matthew Elliott ran the “Yes” campaign was a disgrace and has killed off any notion that Referenda serve any useful purpose.

    Whether or not to stay in the EU would be a monumental decision for this country but there would be zero chance of there being any informed debate on the issue if there was a Referendum.

    For all its faults, the main reason that the BBC is constantly attacked by the right and Murdoch’s acolytes is that it remains one of the few things in this quasi-democracy of ours that isn’t owned and controlled by the wealthy and privileged

  25. “but the way that Matthew Elliott ran the “Yes” campaign”

    ITYM the “No” Campaign.


    Oh, that was cruel. Funny, clever – but cruel. :-)

  27. I don’t know how Leveson is going to make any sense of the various evidence given. Would not like to be in his shoes, in deciding whether people have given any deliberately factually incorrect information.

    Mind you, if I have to given evidence based on events that happened many years ago, I would struggle. Expect that most people would, unless they kept a diary.

  28. If we absolutely must discuss the Leveson enquiry, this is an informative source:

    “Years later, when I remembered how disgusted I probably was, I found the pluck, determination and strength of character to persuade one of my underlings that it was in fact their decision and that they should begin looking for another job immediately. After all, the buck has to stop somewhere.”

  29. The voters are so in love with the monarchy (I suspect they think the word is a synonym for ‘independence from foreigners’) that they would consider a referendum on it ‘lèse-majesté’..

  30. Google have done their usual fun map for the first round of the French Legislative elections:

    Though the “more detailed results” bits doesn’t seem to work.

    For anyone curious about the overseas constituencies which Virgilio mentions there is a general article on them here:

    ht tp://

    (re-mending break between ‘ht’ and ‘tp’)

  31. OLDNAT


  32. There is so much manipulation of information going on in the media today, that the public are persistently hoodwinked. However, the matters with which the Leveson inquiry is concerned are trivial compared to the following recent report that the Houla massacre was the work of Syrian Sunni rebels:

    June 10, 2012 – A report in the respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) claims the 98 civilians massacred at Houla on May 25 were in fact slaughtered by anti-Assad Sunni rebels, and most of the victims were members of Alawite and Shiite families in the predominantly Sunni town.
    The FAZ report quotes opponents of Assad who withheld their names for fear of reprisals from fellow opposition groups. During a 90-minute battle between rebels and soldiers at three roadblocks set up to guard Houla, armed men reportedly murdered dozens of members of a single family which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam, along with an Alawi family and a the family of a Sunni lawmaker regarded as a collaborator. The perpetrators are said to have filmed their victims and presented them as Sunni. This information if corroborated is further evidence that Syria is already beset by a full-blown sectarian war.

    The UK government needs to very wary of being trapped into any intervention in Syria by the propaganda being put out by the rebels, who are backed by Al Qayda and the criminal Saudi regime.

  33. @Chris Neville-Smith, @Olly

    Chris said “…my faith in referenda was highly shaken by the AV business last year, where I discovered how easy it was to i) make highly misleading statement and outright lies and get away with it, and ii) turn the referendum into a vote on the person backing the idea rather than the issue itself…”

    I understand this point (because it’s correct) but even so, I still think referenda are a good idea. You are correct that the AV “No” side lied so much God cried, and then congratulated themselves on the efficacies of their lies, but from remarks from the general public I don’t think the general public were fooled. I may be wrong (anecdote is not data) but the general consensus was that this was an attempt by some politicians to skew the voting in their direction and that any advantage gained in fairness was outweighed by the increase in complexity. That’s actually a fair summary of the situation and although I disagree with the second point, it’s a judgement call the public are entitled to take.

    If you are (rightly) concerned that a referendum would be dominated by bad people telling lies, then the answer is simple: have a long period between the announcement and the vote. If we announce a EU referendum now (2012) to take place in 2016, then I’m confident I could overturn any fib told by the anti- or pro- sides.

    Regards, Martyn

  34. @NeilA

    “Perhaps monarchists wanting to prove their devotion through the ballot box, in the vain hope that having done so the republicans might shut up for a couple of decades?”

    On the evidence of the small turn-out for the republican demonstration on the side of the Thames a week ago last Sunday, and the vituperation they apparently received from the monarchist herds hemming them in from all sides to see the royal flotilla, I’d say it’s the republicans amongst us who require some protection and respite from the royalist cacophony, not the other way around!


    As ever, many thanks for your highly informative posts on European politics, particular your most recent ones on the Assembly elections in France that took place yesterday. At first sight it looks like extremely good news for Hollande who should be able to now rely on a centre-left majority in the Assembly to assist him in delivering his mandate and programme. I feared he might be hamstrung very early on in his Presidency, like Mitterand was eventually, by a centre right Assembly determined to thwart his measures. Obama now, and Clinton before him, had similar difficulties with legislatures of different political complexions to their own, but it looks as if Hollande can now govern effectively, at least for the crucial first year or so as he attempts to steer his country on a markedly different path to that of his predecessor. Something tells me that he is likely to be Europe’s key player in the next 12-18 months, especially if Merkel is badly wounded in the forthcoming German elections and Cameron continues to ride a very wobbly and uncertain coalition in the UK.

    I would imagine that Miliband will be watching him closely and nervously too because a successful Hollande presidency would put some strong wind into Labour’s sales in the run up to the 2015 General Election in the UK.

    I wonder what Merkel’s fate will be later this year? Might we be heading, if Obama can get re-elected for a second term in November, to a situation where the world’s single superpower, and the two great economic powerhouses of Europe, will be governed by politicians of the left? By no means certain, obviously, but what an intriguing prospect all the same, both economically as well as politically. They’ll have to exhume John Maynard Keynes, won’t they? lol

  35. @Martyn

    Perhaps the public could be asked if there should be a referendum on whether there should be a knowledge test before taking part in referendums?

    On AV, I was under the impression that, besides the factors you mentioned, a certain Mr Clegg was influential, judging from the points made by Labour voters on this site and many others.

    A knowledge test on EU with even fairly simple questions would produce massive failure rates. It might not affect the outcome of the referendum though, as the knowledgeable people would possibly be divided in the same ratio as the total vote!

  36. “… but from remarks from the general public I don’t think the general public were fooled. I may be wrong (anecdote is not data) but the general consensus was that this was an attempt by some politicians to skew the voting in their direction and that any advantage gained in fairness was outweighed by the increase in complexity.”

    You make think that, No2AV clearly thought otherwise. Otherwise they’d have focused their campaigning on that argument instead of bare-faced lies like Australia wanting to get rid of AV. (Clue: search Google News for “Australia” and “Alternative Vote” for this year and see how many stories you find backing this up – I counted zero.)

    I have not given up hope that a referendum can work given a long enough campaign period, and maybe an EU one could work that way, but after last year my faith is waning very quickly.

  37. The interesting point for me to come out of Brown’s testimony to Leveson was about the BBC. He implied that the cutting of the BBC’s budget via the licence fee freeze and other measures was a sort of thank you for support from the Sun at the election. I noticed that Osborne was quick to denounce this as a conspiracy theory this afternoon

    Now YouGov had a poll covering the issues around media regulation last month.

    and something I noticed was the pattern of support for “a publically[sic] funded broadcasting service, such as the BBC?”. This was very strong among current coalition supporters. If the Conservatives start to become associated with trying to diminish or abolish the BBC, this could harm them among their core voters and cause problems with the Lib Dems – no matter how popular it might be among their other friends in the media.

    Of course Labour isn’t without form on this issue itself. Brown for example was pointing out the potential in the BBC’s internet presence – ignoring the fact that the first big cuts to that occurred in March 2010

  38. Some of you may have missed Anthony’s earlier comments about not discussing leveson as it all too soon descends into partisan bickering…
    This is a site for the non partisan discussion of political polling…..

    Now as its almost 5 O’clock,……



  39. ole nat:

    you’ve lost me: what was “funny” and, more particularly, “clever” about being rude about Gordon Brown?

    I’d say it was more glib and easy myself to be rude about someone.


  40. @Chris;

    Actually, I found the poll concerning Australia. They found the public did want to get rid of AV…

    … in favour of STV.

  41. @Howard

    I was particularly annoyed at the partisans who turned the referendum into “a chance to give Nick Clegg a kicking”. And at the time said as much to the red-bannered types who said it. It was of course cutting off their own nose to spite their face, the net beneficiaries of FPTP in three way marginals are still the Conservatives. So it wasn’t only knee jerk ‘attack’ politics, it was bad politics that’s probably increased the vote share Labour need for a majority.

    Should they not receive a majority, and balance of power be with the LibDems, giving them a kicking over AV will come back to haunt them.

  42. @Howard

    It always amazes me how illiberal the liberal democrats can be. A qualifying test to have a vote? That’s an incredibly dangerous path to go down.

    I’ve said before, and will no doubt say again – you have no right in a democracy to distinguish which votes are made for the right reasons and which for the wrong reasons. A vote is a vote is a vote. The responsibility is on the campaigners to argue their case more effectively.

  43. I don’t think the AV referendum is really comparable to an EU in-out vote. For a start, most people really didn’t care whether we had AV or not. And they didn’t really understand how AV works.

    Plenty of lies will be told about EU membership (by both sides, I imagine) but most people have a reasonable grasp of what it means, and most people have a pretty well-formed opinion about it.

  44. @Neil A

    Really? Reflecting on how even the Prime Minister failed to understand how the EU works during the Veto-that-never-was?

  45. We have just watched a Con MP, Louise Mensch, on Channel 4 (on the Gordon Brown evidence). I don’t know who the opponent in Corby was, but he /she must have been bloody hopeless. Do any of you have an insight into that election?

    We found her not very personable (aside from political views).

  46. As far as last year’s AV referendum goes, I know I’ve quoted YouGov’s post-match poll often before, but here it is again:

    And it shows that people voted No for small ‘c’ conservative reasons:

    The biggest advantages of voting to keep the present voting system [are…]

    It keeps elections simple: the candidate with the most votes wins 53%

    It is a tried-and-tested system that has served Britain well 42%

    It is clearer and more straightforward than alternative systems 38%

    It normally produces a clear-cut government, rather than coalition rule 33%

    It means we won’t have to waste public money on a more expensive system 32%

    It means candidates won’t have to pander to extremists to secure their second or third preference votes 18%

    It encourages parties to present clear policies and not to fudge or compromise 17%

    It will reduce the chance of the Liberal Democrats having a say in who governs Britain in future 10%

    It leaves open the opportunity to have a more proportional system in the future 7%

    It helps the party I normally support 4%

    (only those voting No – 2 or 3 choices possible)

    This shows that the main reason AV lost is not mainly because of incorrect arguments against it (though they didn’t help) but because no convincing case was made for change. Unless people are given positive reasons to vote for something they will vote to keep things as they are – not to annoy Nick Clegg[1] or because they’ve been lied to about Australia.

    There’s always a temptation to believe that the views of the tiny minority who are really interested in politics are representative of the country as a whole. But by definition, because they know more of the game they will have different views – just as fans of a particular sport will have different views about that sport from the rest of the population who will just pick up odd bits off the bits of the news that they’re not really listening to.

    [1] Only 5% of ‘No’ voters said that Nick Clegg’s position had the greatest influence of how they voted.

  47. Louise Mensch [does she have mobile home outside every studio?] is to objectivity what – oh…I dunno….. Wayne Rooney is to natural hair.

    I actually don’t dislike many politicians – but I’d make an exception for her.

  48. @RM

    But this poll was held after the referendum and supplied answers for people to respond to.

    Like most polling, it does not reveal what people actually reasoned, only their rationalisations in front of a pollster.

    Actually I found the NC percentage significant that so many would admit to that factor.

  49. I ( or should I use the “royal”-if you will pardon the expression-“we” ? ) like Louise Mensch.

    Tough cookie. Great gal.

    Gave the Murdochs a tough time at the Media Select Committee grilling…… a non-Watsonian sort of way. :-)

    Didn’t see her comments on Leveson-but Brown & Osborne together on the same day was very evocative of times past & the spirit of 2010,- which saw the young novelist win through in Corby.

  50. Sad news the death of John Maples.

    As most of you know I am no fan of the Tories, but That doesn’t mean in needs to be personal, although having said that I don’t particularly like Mensch much.

    She seems more interested in being on the Telly than why she is their.


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