David Cameron hasn’t actually given his long-delayed Europe speech, but today’s YouGov/Sunday Times poll shows the widespread media coverage and the debate around the speech is already having an effect upon public opinion.
At the start of the month YouGov was showing people would vote to leave the EU in a referendum by 46% to 31% who would vote to stay in – figures that were pretty typical of YouGov’s polling on EU referendums for the last year. Last week those figures had shifted to 42% get out to 36% stay in. This week they have moved even further and now 40% of people say they would vote to stay in compared to 34% who say they would vote to leave.
What appears to have happened is that normally people use an EU referendum question to express general disatisfaction with the EU, with the European Court of Human Rights (I know its different from the EU – most people don’t!), Eastern European immigration, bureaucracy, bans on straight bananas & bent cumcumbers and all the general media perception of the EU. In the last fortnight some will obviously have thought a little more about it as a referendum becomes a more likely possibility, as people like Richard Branson, the US Embassy, Ed Miliband, Vince Cable and David Cameron have all spoken of the importance of Britain being in Europe… and it has changed views.
That is not to say that Euroscepticism per se has faded away, it’s just support for leaving completely that has fallen. The poll still shows 58% of people support having a referendum on EU membership (though, usual caveat, they say that about everything), 59% of people say Cameron is right to try and bring some powers back from Europe and 58% of people say that this is the right time to raise the issue of Britain’s relationship with the EU.
The shift in views is also reflected in voting intentions. Topline Westminster voting intention today is CON 33%, LAB 42%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 7% – the seven point figure for UKIP is the lowest YouGov have shown for several months. More striking is voting intention in European elections, a week ago YouGov had UKIP support in a European election at 17%, figures now are CON 30%, LAB 38%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 12%. I would still expect UKIP to do much better than that in an actual European election (looking back at the 2009 polling they put on a lot of support in the run to the election itself), but it suggests the expected Cameron referendum promise is winning back some UKIP support.
It is also improving perceptions of Cameron himself. 40% think he is doing well as Prime Minister, 54% badly. These are his most positive (or least negative!) approval ratings since last March. Asked who they trust more on the issue of Europe Labour lead the Conservatives by 23% to 20%, with UKIP on 15%. People largely answered the question along party lines, but it does underline the fact that Europe is not necessarily an issue where the Conservatives have a natural lead, like say, immigration or crime. In contrast David Cameron has a solid lead on the party leader people would trust the most to negotiate in Europe – Cameron 26%, Miliband 18%, Farage 11%, Clegg 5%.