I’ve been on holiday for the last week, but hopefully haven’t missed too much polling in the August after a general election! One thing that did happen was the Electoral Commission recommending (and the government accepting) a change in the wording of the EU referendum, from a YES/NO question to a REMAIN/LEAVE question. This raises the question of whether or not the wording makes a difference.

At the end of May ICM ran a split sample experiment, asking the then Yes/No version of the question and the remain/leave question that the Electoral Commission ended up recommending. On the Yes/No wording the result was YES 47%, NO 33%, DK 20%; on the Remain/Leave wording the result was YES 43%, NO 35%, DK 22%. Results are here.

ComRes ran a similar experiment at the same time, they asked the then Yes/No version of the question, and a more general question on whether people would vote to stay or leave in a referendum (it didn’t use the exact wording the Electoral Commission have now recommended). On the Yes/No wording the result was YES 58%, NO 31%, DK 11%. On the Stay/Leave question the result was STAY 51%, LEAVE 33%, DK 16%. Results are here.

YouGov haven’t done a split sample, but since the general election they have asked the question in two different ways – one asking the old Yes/No referendum question, and one asking if people would like Britain to remain or leave the European Union. Using the Yes/No referendum question they have found an average YES lead of 8 points. Using a question asking if people would vote for Britain to remain or stay, they have found an average REMAIN lead of 6 points (figures are here, here and here)

The scale of the difference varies between 2 and 9 points and only the ICM poll used the actual question wording. However, the general trend is clear, a remain/leave question seems to produce a smaller pro-EU lead than a yes/no question.

However, what difference the wording makes in an opinion poll is not necessarily the same question as what difference the wording makes in a referendum. An opinion poll is getting someone’s instant reaction having bombarded them with a question they may not have had a firm opinion upon until you asked. A referendum takes place after several weeks campaigning on the pros and cons on each side of the argument and what the implications and consequences of voting Yes or No (or Stay or Leave) might be. I suspect in a referendum, as opposed to an opinion poll, there is very little real difference between Yes/No and Remain/Leave.

311 Responses to “The European referendum question”

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  1. Rob Sheffield
    ‘RE: “British troops as instruments of evil” !!’

    Are you seriously suggesting that there is not the remotest possibility of British armed forces being used in this way – or indeed that it might already have happened?
    Or is it your contention that the British electorate are intellectually and emotionally incapable of absorbing such a possibility?
    What really appalls me about this is the implication that if the Nazis had been British, there would have been near universal acceptance of their propaganda and we would have patriotically supported ‘our boys’ as they went into battle whilst turning a deaf ear to any atrocities committed in the process. The attitude of the German people in World War 2 to the Wehrmacht was very little different from that.Why do so many on here find it difficult to come to terms with the truth – that Britain is just as capable as any other state of committing aggression and that the 2003 attack on Iraq was an example of it?. That certainly appears to be supported by the vast majority of legal opinions expressed on the issue. Moreover, at the end of the day much of the British Empire was the product of past aggression – eg the rush for colonies in Africa.
    Re- Corbyn I actually believe that a proposal to bring legal proceedings against a former PM would have widespread – though far from universal – support.It might even help to cleanse our public life.

  2. Some speculation on Corbyn’s impact on Scotland on a party-by-party basis:

    The SNP- I think they’ll lose some support to a Corbyn-led Labour party, but not that much. That’s on the premise that a lot of the SNP’s support is based on people trusting them and seeing them as competent, and Corbyn alone won’t change that.

    The Lib Dems- Since a lot of Labour’s remaining support seems to be unionists in the centre/centre-left, I can see the Lib Dems picking up a little support, but they’re stuck in a bind in most of Scotland where they (a) can’t appeal to tactical voters and (b) a lot of their potential supporters tend to vote tactically.

    The Tories- Hard to say. They might pick up a few disillusioned right-wing Labour voters (or “Tartan Tories” if the SNP go left to counter Corbyn) and a more left-wing Labour party could weaken unionist tactical voting for them, but the party’s many well-known problems won’t go away if Corbyn becomes leader, and if anything we’ll probably hear a lot more about Thatcher, miners, and have a lot of identification of Scottishness with left-wing ideologies which helps the “Tories aren’t Scottish” narrative that the other parties understandably love.

    Greens- Not sure. If Corbyn attracts people who vote non-tactically for left-wing parties, this could be problematic for them. The SNP being a firmly left-wing nationalist party and Labour being a firmly left-wing unionist party is basically the worst case scenario for the Greens, I think.

    Labour- I see them doing a little better, but they were flattered by tactically voting in May, and alienating this vote will largely (or entirely?) offset any positive effects they may gain from being to the right of the SNP.

    Holyrood prediction: SNP with an increased majority. Lib Dems up a tiny bit, Labour down slightly, Tories down a fair bit and wiped out in the constituency seats (“pandas” and other original japes, ho-ho-ho ad nauseum) and Greens maybe up.

  3. @Bill Patrick

    I doubt the SNP will move left, it’s the centre and right wing voters they need to convince to win an independence referendum. Indeed they might go after Tory voters who are persuadable to independence.

  4. Couper2802,

    Perhaps, but they would need to do so without alienating other current Ayes. It’s also very hard for parties to convince themselves that what they need to do is appeal to people they don’t like.

  5. Although they might persuade some such Tories simply by staying where they are, staying well ahead of Labour in the polls, and if Labour were doing very well in England, i.e. if they could provide evidence that Scotland was less keen on socialism. However, this is impossible, since Scotland is left.

  6. News that Ros Altmann the pensions campaigner has been expelled from the Labour Party. Seems to be because she’s a member of David Cameron’s government. She’s an opponent of quantitative easing saying it takes money from the young in favour of the wealthiest in society.

  7. “However, this is impossible, since Scotland is left.”


    Eh? I thought they voted to stay…

  8. “Indeed they might go after Tory voters who are persuadable to independence.”


    They could go after English Tories!! There’s more of ’em…

  9. Carfrew

    “They could go after English Tories!! There’s more of ’em…”

    Maybe they did? Got any figures on how many Tory voters were resettled (voluntarily or compulsorily) in Scotland to boost the Tory vote?

  10. (Pandas ho-ho etc.)

  11. Well, ok, maybe you’re right Bill, they would be better off going after the panda vote…

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