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. Reminds of the PE Speak Corbyn thing:
    (Albeit in this instance misreporting something someone else said supposedly relating to Corbyn rather than something he said)


    Yes it will.

  3. Polltroll

    And a recent poll showed that there is now a majority in Scotland in favour of independence.

    Well maybe. Or maybe not. The trouble with MORI’s Scottish polling is that, consistent with their usual practice, they don’t do any political weighting. They use various socio-economic balancing actors to try to make sure they get a representative sample, but in a situation where there’s not a non-socio-economic issue dictating VI (Independence), it may not work as well as elsewhere.

    It’s particularly difficult when it comes to the Referendum question, because we know from other pollsters that even after samples have been weighted politically, if you then re-weight by how people voted last September, you then get a reduction in the Yes vote. Basically those who want thing to change are more likely to be be active in answering pollsters, joining panels, using social media and so on. If you don’t allow for that polling will appear more prop-Yes than Scotland actually is.

    There’s further problems with this particular MORI poll. They haven’t asked the referendum question since last September, so there’s no baseline to see if there is any movement since the actual vote. Even worse, while previous to the referendum they tended to ask this question first in a survey, in this case it comes last:


    after whole set of questions including VI, Party leaders, what the SNP government is good at, and when and why a referendum should be called. We know from that Panelbase poll for the SNP two years ago that such lead-in questions can make a big difference.

    The question order might explain one oddity about the result:

    Yes 53%

    No 44%

    Undecided/Refused/DK 3%

    The latter category is ridiculously low (only 27 people out of 1002), by contrast YouGov had 7% in May and you would expect online DKs etc to be lower. Even on the eve of the Referendum itself, MORI found 5%. So it may be that with all the lead up questions, people felt they ‘ought to’ say Yes, even though they were undecided or even leaning towards No.

  4. Neil A

    As always, Cameron is being presented as a cookie cutter caricature of a stupid, venal, entitled Toff-Buffoon and not as a basically decent [man] trying to steer a path through a difficult set of circumstances

    I actually think that Cameron is basically as you describe him, but the trouble is that the Conservative leadership can’t seem to resist playing silly political games that undermine all their good intentions.

    If you look at Watt’s piece in the Guardian, he says:

    Tory sources suggested over the summer that a parliamentary vote could be held as early as this month to serve as a test for the new Labour leader, who will be elected on 12 September. This plan was drawn up when No 10 thought one of the mainstream candidates – Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall – would be elected leader. Downing Street hoped that as leader, Cooper, Burnham or Kendall, who have raised questions about extending the strikes but have not rejected them out of hand, would be nervous about appearing to be weak on security.

    In other words the whole purpose of a Commons vote isn’t to agree on the best strategy to tackle ISIS, it’s to embarrass a new Labour leader and presumably cause a backbench revolt against them. Corbyn’s election would spoil this fun because it would mean the Conservatives would be embarrassed instead by losing the vote (the piece says that 20 Tory MPs would be expected to vote against).

    Again the reaction to this changed circumstances isn’t to try to find the best way to tackle the situation, but to try to blame Corbyn by some sort of tortuous logic for Cameron being unable to control his own backbenchers. By bringing it up at this time it also makes it look as he is intervening in the Labour leadership election – possible the only person whose interference will be even more counter-productive than Blair’s.

    And he has got form on this. When he lost the previous Syria vote, Miliband offered further talks but Cameron effectively said if he couldn’t get exactly his own way, he wasn’t interested.

    It’s probably not just Cameron behind this of course, these silly little games of tactics are much beloved by Osborne and the army of Spads that modern politicians employ. But in the end he is PM and has to take the responsibility.

  5. @Roger,

    Interesting. But any policy or plan can serve several masters at once, of course, and even more importantly can be interpreted by different people as serving their interests.

    The idea that if it wasn’t for the Labour leadership contest, the government would have no interest in extending military intervention to Syria, and no interest in a parliamentary vote, is probably fanciful. That wouldn’t stop the usual back-office, “good day to bury bad news” types from chin-wagging about the timing of it and the potential advantage that could be extracted of course.

  6. (Although I should probably acknowledge that some ministers, particularly Osborne, fall into that chin-wagging category..)

    @”In other words the whole purpose of a Commons vote isn’t to agree on the best strategy to tackle ISIS, it’s to embarrass a new Labour leader and presumably cause a backbench revolt against them. ”

    Well I suppose it could be-but quite how Corbyn will be embarassed by repeating his well publicised position isn’t imediately obvious.

    On the other hand it could be entirely consistent with Cameron’s previous plans.:-

    On 2 July , after Tunisia, under the banner “David Cameron believes ‘there ?i?s a case to do more’ in Syria” The Guardian featured a piece which included this :-

    “Cameron’s spokeswoman said MPs needed to think about what more could be done to protect British people in the wake of the attacks on tourists in Tunisia last week.
    She stressed that the prime minister had long thought there was a case to do more in Syria, saying the murders last week underlined the scale of the threat posed to British people by Isis.
    But she added there was a need “for more thought, more deliberation, and more time”, pointing out that parliament will go into recess in the middle of July. She said military strikes would be legal under international law due to the threat posed by Isis to the British people.
    The timetable suggests Downing Street will wait to see who is elected Labour leader on 12 September at the earliest before making any specific proposal to the Labour party.”

    In other words , with Kendall, Cooper or Burnham he might get a hearing-with Corbyn he wouldn’t.

    And now-when asked if he will proceed with the idea he outlined in July -he knows that it will probably be Corbyn, and is as aware as everyone else of Corbyn’s statements in the Sky TV debate.

  8. Couper @ CMJ

    As you might imagine, I looked at the geographical crossbreaks in the YouGov refugee polls too! :-)

    Assuming that YG still weight their Scottish sample separately, then the differences between Scots and English/Welsh opinion are significant.

    Since I have no reason to believe that Scots are any better or worse than anybody else, I suspect that the difference may be due to a variant form of self-interest (see John Pilgrim’s posts).

    1. For many years, Scottish governments of all political hues have been arguing for more immigration to counteract the aging population phenomenon, and the official Tory line here has been more moderate than some from Westminster.

    2. However people finally decided to vote in the indyref, there can be little doubt that many more people were thinking about serious political issues – it was a very big decision to take.

    The aging population, and its possible consequences for Scotland featured prominently in the campaign, and it would be surprising if the arguments from both sides hadn’t reinforced the idea that more immigration is something Scotland requires.

    Two possible reasons might be

  9. I forgot to delete the last line in previous post.

  10. I don’t see how helping Isis (by bombing the Assad regime) is supposed to make things better for Syrians. Bizarre logic from the Government.

  11. Hawthorn

    But he may be planning to help Assad by bombing ISIS – or helping Haliburton by bombing both.

  12. I thought we were going to bomb Isis to help Assad, but your conclusion stands.

  13. Colin

    You misunderstood what I wrote and what is in the Guardian. The embarrassment would have been aimed to be caused for the other three candidates. As you say it wouldn’t work for Corbyn so they are now doing this rather bizarre bit of spinning.

    And if Cameron’s people are using the attacks in Tunisia to justify attacking Syria, that’s just plain nonsense. The attacks in Tunisia are linked to Libya not Syria – maybe he should try bombing there. It worked so well to get rid of Islamic extremism last time he did it.

    The words you quote actually reinforce my point – if it was that desperate that action must be taken, why wait till September?

    Now it could be,as Neil A suggests, that this is all spinning something that was actually being done for a different reason. But in that case why not simply give that reason rather than all this “Tee hee. Aren’t we clever!” stuff.

  14. “I don’t see how helping Isis (by bombing the Assad regime) is supposed to make things better for Syrians. Bizarre logic from the Government.”

    It was always about regime change in Syria but since they called a war and no-one showed up (that parliamentary vote) they needed to find another way.

    And right on cue along came Isis – in all their Hollywood glory.

    So they used Isis to get people to agree with bombing but then get the planes to attack Assad instead which is what they wanted from the beginning.

    Hence why Russia has shown up.

  15. Roger.

    IS claimed responsibility for the Tunisian massacre.

    THe “capital” of Islamic State is Raqqa, which is in Syria.


    I expect you have read this pack of lies & smears from the Murdoch Press ?:-


  17. John Pilgrim

    “soon there will be two members of the working population for every person over 65, instead of four as it is today’”

    So the robotics tsunami on the near horizon will fix it without mass unemployment.

    Good to know.

  18. PeteB

    First, we were going to bomb Assad, but Labour stopped it.

    Then there was a suggestion that we would bomb Isis.

    Cameron appeared to argue that was the same thing, and that Labour were wrong to oppose bombing Assad. This was at a time that Cameron was suggesting bombing Assad’s enemy.

    The clarity of thought of an Oxford First. Hmm.

  19. Hawthorn
    I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that whoever we bomb will probably make the situation worse in some way.

    The problem with the middle east is that there are no ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. There are innocent victims and about 25 different factions/governments/millennials trying to kill each other and the innocents.

    Let’s hope we find a more secure source of oil soon, or a good substitute and then we can just leave them all to it.

  20. Mr Jones

    I have seen the future.

    You can have Logan’s Run (compulsory euthanasia) or Soylent Green (compulsory reprocessing for food).

  21. CMJ
    It will happen. It’s already possible to have a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order on a resident of a hospital or care home. It’s only one more step to have a Please Euthanize label put on someone for when a doctor thinks their quality of life has fallen below a certain threshold.

  22. Catmanjeff

    I think the future you saw must have been the alternate timeline without the rapidly incoming robotics tsunami.

  23. http://news.sky.com/story/1545155/robot-job-threat-focus-of-whitehall-inquiry

    “Fears are mounting that robots could replace as many as one third of jobs in the country”

  24. Survation poll on VI, EU, refugees


  25. MR J
    Brilliant! Who wants to do a job a robot can do? Bring it on. It will release people to do more interesting work, or to use their creativity. Citizen’s wage could come in too.

  26. ON
    How relevant is that to the current situation, seeing as the fieldwork was done in May?

  27. Pete B

    Agree, technology and productivity is the only way to increase prosperity.

  28. Pete B

    Look at the Twitter links on the right hand column – They relate to the fieldwork for this poll done 3-4 Sept.

    The British Futures stuff confused me too! Why prevent the pollster reducing your poll details till 4 months later?

  29. ON, no I can’t figure it out (it’s getting late). can you summarise a few salient points?

  30. Pete B

    VI (after juggling responses!) Con 37.7% : Lab 31.8% ; UKIP 13.4% : LD 6.0% : SNP 5.3%

    EU – Eng Remain 48.0% Leave 52.0% : Sco Remain 51.0% Leave 49.0% : Wales Remain 56.4% Leave 43.6%

    (but the Scots/Welsh numbers are very small, and not separately weighted like YG does)

  31. ON
    Thanks. UKIP look roughly back to where they were at the election. Remain/Leave looks too close to call. I suppose the migration crisis might polarise opinions a bit.

    I think I saw somewhere on that site that it was the fourth revision of the results. If so, that makes me a bit dubious about the results as they may have been over-refined.

  32. Pete B

    Being a Daily Mail poll (no question bias there!) it goes on to ask Remain voters if the “migrant” crisis might get them to change their vote – but asks no questions of Leave voters.

    Technically nothing wrong with that for a pollster to do, but constructing a poll to push an agenda rings some warning bells!

  33. Survation/DM poll showing once again that political Twitter (where there seems to be virtually unanimous support for Britain taking thousands more refugees) is not at all representative of the views of the public at large. Those type of figures make Cameron’s relatively cautious response easier to understand. Also inevitable the crisis would have some impact on EU referendum polling – though I would be very cautious about polls this early, when the referendum could still be well over a year away. I am currently compiling a database of referendum polling on all referendums in democracies since 1990 (excluding Switzerland and micro-states) for some academic research and, whilst the data hasn’t been properly analysed yet, it is quite clear that early opinions are very subject to change – especially when it comes to the EU. I hope we will specifically run an analysis on EU refs – worryingly for ‘Remain’ there has often been a trend towards increased scepticism as campaigns have gone on, though many of these were on treaties and so can’t be directly compared.

  34. Noted by Faisal Islame Survation poll.

    “70% of under 35s want to remain in EU, outvoted by 63% over 55s who want to leave”

  35. FWIW when I mentioned a few weeks back how I read that futurists writing on how technology would lead to the creation of a socialist society, mass mechanisation due to the development of robotics was one of the causes.

  36. Jack Sheldon

    ” I hope we will specifically run an analysis on EU refs – worryingly for ‘Remain’ there has often been a trend towards increased scepticism as campaigns have gone on, though many of these were on treaties and so can’t be directly compared.”

    But since the EC inspired change to the question was to remove a potential bias in the question, why should this be particularly “worrying” for the Remain side?

    As the indyref showed, where people decide that the issue is important enough, then their will be considerable political engagement.

    In such engagement, people are just as likely to become more sceptical of the “Leave” arguments, as of the “Remain” ones.

  37. COLIN
    Thanks for drawing my attention to Daniel Boffey’s article in the Guardian. He does seem to have form.

    See https://tompride.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/why-is-the-observer-employing-a-mail-journalist-to-smear-ed-miliband/

  38. And while we’re on attacking someone/everyone in Syria –

    “Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show”


  39. Just popping my head around the corner, and I see many of the old gang are still here. Cannot post because I am murderously busy, but still thinking of y’all.

  40. “Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers…”


    Bird and Fortune on form as ever, talking about Iraqi oil…


  41. …and on preparing for the war…



    Nice one-the reactionary lackeys of the counter-revolutionary neo-liberal press are everywhere aren’t they ?

    They will be dealt with in due time by the People’s Justice , I feel sure.

  43. @OldNat

    I agree, I think people will become sceptical of arguments on both sides. But many of the other EU referendums in our sample have also been relatively high profile – Denmark 1992, Norway 1994, Ireland 2001 and France 2005 are four examples of referendums that early polls suggested would pass relatively easily, but as the campaign proper started saw voters become more sceptical. There are a few more that can also be added to that list, and some that were just won by ‘Yes’. As I said these were slightly different – people may have reasoned that there was little to lose from a ‘No’ as they would still be in the EU (except in the Norwegian case, which was an accession referendum) and in those cases the status quo was no (there is a general average trend, across all referendums, towards the SQ). Nonetheless, I still think this historical trends in EUrefs is interesting as it suggests that people don’t start to love the EU more when it becomes topical. In pretty much all of these cases the main political parties were united in support of the EU/the EU treaty being voted on but large parts of the electorate took a contrary view.

  44. COLIN
    “Nice one-the reactionary lackeys of the counter-revolutionary neo-liberal press are everywhere aren’t they ?
    They will be dealt with in due time by the People’s Justice , I feel sure.”

    Or, I suggest, by checking our sources.

  45. Or, indeed, on parliamentary process and on honest and adult reporting in the media. If you look back it is the Guardian or its special correspondent who has asserted that Cameron will wait to see who is elected as the Labour leader before submitting or proposals for any new policy on Syria, including new or increased armed intervention. In reality – that is, in terms of parliamentary process and convention – he would need to wait for the election of a leader of the Opposition to be able to have an effective Parliamentary debate. Who is electedis immaterial to that need, and the import of one or another leader’s position can only be known on the basis of the debate and the vote and on legitimate journalism concerning background policy process, witnin the parties and in Parliament and government. Which it will be interesting and worth while to hear and read – more so if the Guardian were the Washington Post, I fear.

  46. Colin

    The Guardian article reveals something I hadn’t fully appreciated: Corbyn’s problems may not be with reassuring the centrists and Blairites and keeping them on board.

    He may have more problems with a triumphalist hard left hellbent on taking over the Party.

    What happens, I wonder, when constituency parties start to deselect their MPs? Does Corbyn support the incumbents and hold the parliamentary party together, or does he maintain the democratic/bottom-up stance he is currently espousing?

  47. OLDNAT

    ““70% of under 35s want to remain in EU, outvoted by 63% over 55s who want to leave”

    Not a big surprise, the young are “frit”, the old more understanding of the nature of our European “friends”. Sadly the referendum will be rigged so we will stay in, IMO of course.

  48. OLDNAT

    “rings some warning bells!”

    Yes, it warns yet again that the British voters do not want unfettered immigration.

  49. MILLIE

    The rumour that Corbyn’s self-selected “thousands” will silence the selected representatives who do not share their shining vision is but another example of the scurrilous muck-raking of the imperialist, zionist, capitalist , neo-liberal elite press.

    They will soon learn what good journalism must look like.


    On the “story” of Syrian air strikes /Corbyn etc , Murdoch’s rag the Sunday Times has a different take:-DC wants to start hitting IS in its Syrian heartland , and hopes that a Corbyn leadership will generate enough Labour supporters to rebel against Corbyn’s line, to offset his Conservative doubters on the proposal.

    So -take you pick :-)

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