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. “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.”

    ———-

    So what we need is a split sample on the eve of the referendum…

  2. To see how much difference the campaign makes…

  3. Is this new approach a follow up to last years’s Indyref?

  4. Forgive me for going of topic but I couldn’t help but notice that Ms Cooper’s odds on winning the leadership have tumbled overnight from 10-12/1 to as low as 3/1 has something happened or some information leaked out in reference to the vote to provoke such a dramatic surge in the betting market?

  5. @Mark Sadler

    “Forgive me for going of topic but I couldn’t help but notice that Ms Cooper’s odds on winning the leadership have tumbled overnight from 10-12/1 to as low as 3/1 has something happened or some information leaked out in reference to the vote to provoke such a dramatic surge in the betting market?”

    It’s probably in response to her strong, and widely praised, speech on the refugee crisis she gave a few days ago. The betting is likely swinging on the grounds that people suspect she’s now winning the duel with Burnham to be the Anyone But Corbyn candidate, and so win on the second and third preference votes.

    Ironically, of course, had Burnham and Cooper started the leadership campaign with the voices they’ve now been forced to take by Corbyn’s rise, they would be battling for the leadership outright. Still, better late than never I suppose…

  6. @ Mark Sadler

    I don’t know if it is related to Cooper’s odds, but many affiliate members are now told by the Labour Party helpline that they may get their ballot papers on Monday (7th). I really don’t want to create conspiracy theories.

  7. Mark Sadler: As brilliant as that speech was (and I can’t comment as I haven’t actually seen it), it’s not going to do her much good when most of the votes had probably already been cast.

  8. John B

    “Is this new approach a follow up to last years’s Indyref?”

    Or possibly a precursor to the next one?

  9. Does anyone know what polls showed on leaving the EEC (as I think it was then) around a year before the 1975 referendum?

  10. Welcome back Anthony!

  11. Would be good to get Anthony’s take on the IPSOS MORI Scottish poll which came out when he was scanning about on holiday!

  12. Oops. Meant swanning.!

  13. Aldo_MacB

    He could always point out that Craig and Statgeek (FPT) are much sharper than me and John Curtice – though, at least I, eventually worked out their point! :-)

  14. @Oldnat

    For the next Indyref you might want to try:

    Yes, I want to Leave the UK.
    No, I don’t wish to Remain in the UK.

    As for the poor little boy, the practical part of me wonders how we prevent more Refugee children from drowning in the Med. But while we clearly need to accept more refugees than we have been I don’t see how that stops more people drowning – the two things are not immediately related. It would require UN coordination near the Syrian border and not the dismal chaos in Budapest, Kos and elsewhere.

    Which takes me to the YouGov poll, if Remain really only has a 6-point lead then only 3 people out of a 100 need to lose confidence in the EU and we might be out. And it’s hard to see people how the EU has enhanced its rep this week.

  15. Thomas

    I suspect that whichever Government holds indyref2 will probably look more closely at the EC consultation than you may have done.

    One can look at the refugee crisis in moral terms (or various other dimensions) but on this site, we should probably restrict ourselves to the effect on polling – ie how do different people respond to both it, and the responses of the political parties.

    Presumably (since I don’t know any such folk), those most concerned with protecting the “native” (never sure what they mean by that) people of “the country”, will want to see strong resistance to “these people” ending up here.

    Those more concerned with human suffering will be keen to see their governments do everything they can to minimise the suffering.

    Politicians of both convictions will use emotional arguments and images to bolster their support.

    I suspect the losers will be those who are seen by “floating” voters to have responded in too limited a way, and too late.

    I suspect the effect on the EU referendum may be more confused.

    That the EU does not have a co-ordinated approach that is mandatory on all states may disappoint some, but demonstrate to others that the EU isn’t actually the all powerful dominant centraliser that its critics portray it as.

    We need more polling! :-)

  16. I should have said Politicians of both convictions (and none).

  17. A clever government, mindful of their own aging population, might find it a clever move to combine humanitarian concern, with bringing in a lot of young, aspirational, hard-working people to the economy.

    Hi Angela!

  18. And Stefan ( Löfven, Sweden).

    Regarding the EU polling i was just surprised at how close it is. I saw one survey earlier that had only 25% wanting to leave regardless of renogotiation. However it had 45% wanting to stay but only on condition of the repatriation of powers. If the You/Gov Remain/Leave poll is right then a large chunk of that 45% may actually be more inclined to leave than stay. And if the result does hinge on renegotiation then it is hard to imagine Cameron getting enough to swing it from every single EU leader, and this not being helped at all by the current debacle.

    One Observer Effect conundrum slightly bothers me. If the polling indicates a likely big win for Remain then the EU leaders don’t need to make any concessions and if there is a massive likely win for Leave then there is no point them making any concessions. So since neck and neck is the only thing likely to secure any significant concessions then might the sneaky UK citizenry be influenced by any polls suggesting a big lead one way or the other to narrow the gap slightly?

    Finally, will there be more shy Remainers or shy Leavers?

  19. Good evening all from East Renfroosher as it’s pronounced phonetically.

    AW…Hope you had a good holiday.

    I think the EU question should be quite a simple one.

    “Should British sovereignty be controlled by Westminster?”

    or

    “Should British sovereignty be controlled by Brussels?”

    and a similar question can be asked for the next Scottish independence referendum after the UK votes to leave the EU.

    There is no point making it difficult for peeps to choose an option.

  20. It’s gone very quiet in here now that teacher’s back. (Welcome back btw)

  21. Enjoyed YC grilling JG about his “Peoples” QE-“will the bonds be repayable-or is it free money”. Great question-THE question-which of course he didn’t answer.

    As some pundit said at the end -if that audience was representative, then JC will walk it.

    He could have read the Telephone Directory & they would have cheered & clapped. Extraordinary.

  22. Pete B

    I assumed the long silence was due to Lab folk being glued to the Sky debate. Didn’t see it. as Freesat was giving me a “No Signal” message.

    from Twitter, the signal seemed rather clear. :-)

  23. Colin

    There are some interesting entries in the telephone directory!

  24. OLDNAT

    There are in Jeremy’s for sure-it’s dated 1976.

    Most of the listings no longer exist , but his supporters are such a bunch of retro sentimentalists that they love to hear those old names:-)

  25. ON
    I did watch the debate. 80% of something apparently thought Corbyn won. I have to admit he comes over rather well, and his economic policies will certainly appeal to some.

    I wonder if there could be a few shocks coming along? In the same way that no-one expected him to do more than make up the numbers in this leadership election, but he’s now walking it; I wonder whether he might do better with the wider electorate than pundits seem to expect?

  26. Colin
    I think Corbyn appeals to youngsters as well, even though they weren’t born when his telephone directory was printed.

  27. “12,890 people voted 567,560 times in our unscientific Sky News #labourdebate poll. 80.7% said Jeremy Corbyn won”

    lol

  28. Mr N

    But how many voted often AND early?

  29. One would have thought if you wanted to vote often, better to start early. Harder to vote often if you leave it late…

  30. Carfrew

    NHS England figures may reveal an increase in repetitive strain injury due to the frenzied activity of those who failed to heed your advice.

  31. 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.

    Possibly, but there’s also the counter-argument that the sort of people who join online panels or who are prepared to answer a telephone survey are also much more likely to be opinionated and to be informed (not necessarily well-informed, mind). So the poll responses may actually be more clued-up than the average voter’s and less likely to be swayed by things such as wording.

    The greater knowledge that a campaign brings might be countered by this sample being already less prone to such biases. Even when the time comes to vote the less-savvy will have been paying less attention and still tend to be more easily confused or affected by how the question is put.

    To some effect this can be seen in the polls. The telephone figures for ComRes found a bigger gap caused by alternative questions than the online ICM and in turn that was bigger than YouGov – whose panel will probably be much more used to being asked political questions than ICM’s.

    (For what it’s worth I reckon the under-representation of the poorly-informed and easily-swayed may be part of why the polls failed in May).

    Incidentally some of the differences seem to be due to more people being prepared to say “Don’t Know” and I wonder if people may feel they ‘have’ to give a Yes/No answer when the question is put in that form.

    Anyway I’m glad Anthony managed to get away. It’s just that I had the horrible feeling that a few weeks back Mrs A said “Darling, you really need to get away from all these elections. I’ve booked us a nice holiday in Greece”.

  32. “but his supporters are such a bunch of retro sentimentalists that they love to hear those old names:-)”

    ———

    I’d have thought this might please ya Col., I mean it’s just catching up with the aging Tory retros really. Anyways, even if Corbynomics is harking back to the past, so woz Osborne and cuts following a financial crisis, which repeated the response of the Thirties, with similar outcomes. Though he’s changed tack a bit since then. Who knows, maybe Corbyn will too…

  33. @Oldnat

    “NHS England figures may reveal an increase in repetitive strain injury due to the frenzied activity of those who failed to heed your advice.”

    ———

    Ah, well, see if they used the Dvorak layout…

  34. “(For what it’s worth I reckon the under-representation of the poorly-informed and easily-swayed may be part of why the polls failed in May).”

    ————-

    Could be true. I mean, I certainly wasn’t polled…

  35. The SKY news debate polling was bizarre… they said the sample was balanced (?) but Corbyn started off at about 66% the others in the low double figures.

    Then, the audience were fanatically pro-Corbin cheering before he’d said a word and comically telling Bolton to stop picking on him. You’d almost think that SKY has set Corbyn up for the Win…. Now why would they do that?

  36. Roger Mexico

    “(For what it’s worth I reckon the under-representation of the poorly-informed and easily-swayed may be part of why the polls failed in May).”

    While it could well be the case that there were less “poorly informed” folk in Scotland because of the referendum, there is no evidence that we have a lower proportion of “easily-swayed”.

    In Wales & London the “poorly-informed and easily-swayed” seem to have been adequately represented – so what is it about England outwith London that means these folk are so under-represented?

    Do we need a campaign to persuade the politically ignorant [1] to take part in polls?

    [1] No need to persuade the easily swayed – just attach an instruction to register online on their Ready Meal box.

  37. Put away the tinfoil mate.

  38. Couper2802

    Yes those 12000 people voted on average 48 times each ;-) a bit like the Blackadder episode where Baldricks casting of several thousand votes reflected his faith in the candidate!

    I forget who owns Sky TV.

    But I hope it was not a billionaire ‘neoliberal’ who thinks JC guarantees a Labour defeat at GE2020- so packed the audience on his TV Channel with keffiyeh wearing members of ‘the movement’ !! Just to help push the great man over the line at a moment he was in trouble…

  39. The Graun helped push Cleggo into government. It’s possible that might have been a cause for regret…

  40. It did give us some fun editorials tho’…

  41. On the subject matter of this thread, while the question or questions may be simple, the issue is not.
    A poll or sample survey of the electorate’s knowledge of the EU, of the UK relationship with the EU, or of the meaning of continued membership or discontinued membership, would be a useful precursor to the referendum.

  42. The Sky tweet was a mistake.

  43. @ JOHN PILGRIM

    Where is the evidence that giving people information has any influence on the result? Most people here seem to hold deeply entrenched positions despite having loads of information. I agree that people should have the information, it just won’t make any difference to the result.

  44. Making a speech about foreigners isn’t going to make trade unionists vote Cooper. I’ve noticed Corbyn’s been very restrained on the Syrian issue.

  45. RM1

    It’s the meaning of the result which would, I suggest, be of interest. For example, if people vote yes or remain, would it be on grounds which all parties advocate of reform from within, would it be generally understood that that means change in the single labour market and free movement of labour, or change in the CAP or other strucfural funding?
    If the answer is no, the electorate does not understand or have information about these issues, that, to me, suggests that there is something wrong with accountability in this country’s governance, which may well be playing into current political issues and movement, e.g. responses to the government’s attitude to the migrant crisis and preference for a more clearly spoken candidate in the Labour leadership election.

  46. It certainly was an extraordinary audience last evening. When LK mentioned “sound public finances” you could hear the collective sigh. When Corbyn said he didn’t read the Sun there was clapping & cheering.

    I suppose these Corbynites realise that they are voting for Leader of the Opposition & not Prime Minister do they? Has anyone explained that this isn’t a General; Election?

  47. @Mark Sadler

    The betting at this stage, and with Corbyn such a short-priced favourite, is probably very thin. A couple of £100 bets on Cooper would probably produce the effect you describe.

    It is entirely possible that the betting markets can be manipulated in this way, as it is very helpful to be described as ‘favourite’ or ‘second favourite’ or ‘gaining ground’ in the press.

    An interesting point is that with voting papers being returned well in advance of the result, there are big security issues involved.

  48. @Colin

    Surely it would have made more sense to have an audience and poll of undecided, Labour and formerly Labour voters. As it was Corbyn was able to trot out left-wing platitudes to rapturous applause.

    I thought Liz Kendall talked the most sense she at least got the fact that the Tories are out to destroy Labour. Labour people are being far too complacent, look what happened in Scotland the same can happen in England.

    When asked about winning, Corbyn trotted out the ‘we’ll increase turnout’ line, he well might: turnout of Tories voting to make sure he is never PM. But Kendall acknowledged that Labour talked a lot to the poor & disadvantaged but had nothing to say to the middle-class or business people – something we have discussed on UKPR, and she acknowledged that Labour needs these voters to win. Corbyn on the other hand took quite the opposite view.

  49. COUPER2802

    I agree-I don’t know if Rob Sheffield was joking upthread-but it does make you wonder.

    Anyway looks like the “got our party back” brigade will be dancing in the streets.

    No more War, Universal Peace, Free Money.-I can see the banners now

  50. @Wolf

    So maybe the whole ‘Corbyn would never put winning ahead of principles’ is a load of BS.

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