Following the FT story about hedge funds and exit polls, it’s probably worth setting out some facts about exit polling and the referendum. I have not a clue whether the FT story is correct, but for those interested here’s what we can say about exit polls at the referendum.

There will not be an official exit poll for the referendum. At general elections the BBC, ITN and Sky normally jointly fund an exit poll. The fieldwork is normally conducted by Gfk and Ipsos MORI, and then John Curtice, Steve Fisher and the rest of their team use the data to project seat numbers. This did not happen for the Scottish referendum or the AV referendum, and it won’t be happening for the EU referendum either.

The way exit polls are done at general elections can’t be done for a referendum. I’m not privy to the BBC’s discussions, but my guess is that the reason they are not doing an exit poll is for technical reasons: the method the exit poll team use for general elections would not and cannot work for a referendum. Here’s why. At general elections the team try to revisit the same polling stations at each election (obviously some are added as electoral battlegrounds change, but the core remains the same) the projection is then done by looking at the changes in support in those polling stations since the exit poll five years before. Curtice, Fisher and colleagues will look at patterns of change (e.g, are there bigger or smaller changes in different regions, or where there are different parties in contention) and use that to project the swing across different types of seat. While the overall swing can be used to come up with national shares of the vote, that’s very much a by-product, at its heart the exit poll is all about change since the last election.

For obvious reasons this is not an option at a referendum: there was not a previous EU referendum a few years back that we can draw changes from. This means the exit poll method that has been so successful at the last three general elections cannot be used for referendums, and presumably as a result of this, the BBC, ITN and Sky have chosen not to have an exit poll at all.

Someone could still do an exit poll in theory, but who knows whether it would be accurate or not. It is possible to do exit polls in other ways. Instead of looking at swing, one could try and sample from a random selection of polling stations and work out national shares of the vote. This used to be how exit polls were done in this country before the current method was developed. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it would necessarily be as accurate as the recent BBC exit polls though: back in 1992 the exit poll was conducted this way, and was almost as inaccurate as that year’s pre-election polls.

It is illegal to publish an exit poll until the polls have closed. Exit polls are the only type of poll that has specific laws around their publication. Under the Representation of the People Act it is illegal to publish any poll based on the responses of people who have already voted until the polls close at 10pm. There is no legal restraint on carrying them out (after all, Gfk and MORI do it at every general election), the legal bar is on publishing them while people are still voting.

Any results from much before 10pm would be of questionable use anyway. Anyone with any experience of elections knows that voting is not uniform throughout the day, there are ebbs and flows and different types of people vote at different times. Exit poll data from only the morning or only the early afternoon could be wildly misleading.

So when will we know the result? In the absence of any exit polls, we will have to wait for actual counts to take place. The Electoral Commission already has estimated result times up here. The earliest results are expected to be Sunderland, Wandsworth and Foyle, all around half twelve. Swindon, Oldham, Newcastle and Hartlepool are expected at about one. Lots of results are expected about two-ish, the bulk around three or four in the morning. Obviously how soon those results actually allow us to be confident of the overall picture depends how close it is – if all the early results show a heavy lead one way or the other we will know quite early, if they are extremely close we won’t be certain till most places have counted.

On other matters YouGov had their regular EU poll for the Times this morning. Topline figures were REMAIN 41%, LEAVE 41%, Don’t know/Won’t vote 17%… exactly the same as a week ago. There is no obvious sign of any movement towards Leave there. Full tabs are here.

344 Responses to “Exit polls on the EU referendum”

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  1. So … the polls don’t have a clue.

  2. Re. the polls and some of the comments here, I think it’s tragic and a farce that some people are going to use this vote to teach Cameron a lesson, or because they don’t like the Tories.

    This vote is quite possibly the most important vote in the UK’S history, (forgive the hyperbole ).

    Please people, use your vote with careful consideration of the issues and what is at stake.

  3. Or the polls are spot on and the electorate don’t have a clue.

  4. Good evening all from a cloudy rural Hampshire.

    I’m glad there will be no exit poll because it sort of takes away the fun and anticipation of staying up to watch the results come through.

    Onto the counts…I’m confused. My count at Winchester estimated time for completing verification 2am Estimated time for completing the count 6am?? why such a large gap? If it’s down to logistics then why are Shetland completing their count way ahead of many other areas?

  5. Those early results will be very interesting.

    Wandsworth is likely to be Remain, and Foyle strongly so. But all the others could go either way, and the regional cross-breaks I’ve seen have been good for Leave in the North-East. For me, Hartlepool looks like Leave’s best bet from the first seven listed above.

    And Swindon should be interesting: its been somewhat of a bellweather town between Labour and the Tories for the past 30 years. Its demographics are probably a bit more ‘Leavey’ than the average for England, but in many ways it’s pretty average – and probably a good guide to how the whole thing might go.

  6. I have already voted by post. So have many other people I know. In every case LEAVE. Maybe 30% total votes will be in by maybe June 7. Is this the only useful opinion poll if (without actually counting them) people just get an idea as they open them and it leaks on the grapevine: big lead for either side or close. Maybe at least clue to turnout compared to GE 2015, Europoll 2014 and AV 2011.
    BTW I assume lower than GE 2015 but t least as high as Europoll 2014. Splitting the difference around 50% ? The conventional wisdom (source a mystery) is lower turnout = greater chance for Leave ?

  7. Allan,

    Since the count is by Council area, not constituency, smaller councils will require less time to count than large cities.

    Logistics impact the estimated time for verification. Having verified, it does not take long to count about twenty thousand votes compared to several hundred thousand.


  8. Early Morning here.

    The ‘text books’ say that Referendum is lost when the rulers are not popular. Cameron and Corbyn are not popular.

    In 1978 Callaghan lost the Welsh and Scottish Referendum Votes, at an unpopular time for Old Labour.

    The SNP then voted with Maggie to bring ‘Jim’ down in 1979- the Vote of No Confidence Motion was carried by one.

  9. EU Accounts – From Previous Thread

    Beware the media’s presentation of the EU’s accounts ! Brussels writes the media’s headline by claiming every year that their accounts have been signed off while admitting in the small print that a key part of them have not. For the last 20 years the proportion of EU “misspending” – Eurospeak disguising larceny and corruption as well as genuine administrative mistakes – has been well above the over-generous 2% threshold for allowable error. In 2015 the misspending reached 4.7% according to the auditors or almost €7 billion – enough to build 70 hospitals. The Commission have simply redefined the meaning of “signed off” to deceive the public because they are incapable of tackling the level of fraudulent misuse of public funds.

    I write as a 60:40 “Inner” (at present). However anyone seeking to defend the Commission’s chronic financial maladministration simply push my ratios closer…..

  10. ON, in other thread you said maybe the Tories and Labour could come up with some form of deal over the electoral battle bus fiasco……..I hope not as anyone who tries to cheat democracy needs to see the inside of a court and then possibly prison.

  11. CHRISLANE1945:

    It would be helpful, I think, to correct the narrative you laid out:

    In the 1979 (not 78) Scotland voted FOR devolution. The Labour government went against the democratic will, and the SNP duly punished Labour for its antidemocracy.

    In my opinion, Labour only had themselves to blame.

  12. Re electoral fraud
    I really hope this is pursued
    Any party or individual must be held to account
    I have no doubt there are people who push the limits in all parties-including the smaller ones
    However re the Cat Smith story there is acutually no evidence so far only an allegation which she immediately denied and she has immediately opened all her details
    The tory scandal so far is worse in that there are many more involved and it looks co ordinated
    Also they have made every attempt to block police investigations and showed no co operation
    Thus so far at least theres a big difference between the tory cases and any others-actually I can only find the Cat Smith case as an example of others
    There really is no comparison so far and I am sure the tory party machine is working flat out to try and find them-just in case!

  13. Whilst I understand the reasons for banning the publishing of exit polls before polling has closed, there appear to be some flimsy excuses (it is not clear who is making them) for not having an official exit poll at all. Various parties will be carrying out their own private exit polls anyway, but not having an overall published exit poll could hide a multitude of sins..

    “flimsy excuses… for not having an official exit poll at all”

    You are welcome to fund one yourself. I’m not sure whom you think is obliged to pay for one.

  15. ALUN009, the second paragraph of the article above gives an indication as to who funded previous exit polls. Of course nobody is obliged to do so, but the excuses not to do so this time seem more than a little fragile.

    As for the multitude of sins, I am reminded of Joseph Stalin, quoted elsewhere (UKIP Daily, as I remember): ‘The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, the people who count the votes do.’

    That’s the second dark hint you’ve left at the end of your posts. Are you implying there’s a strong risk of electoral fraud?

    Do you think exit polls are the best way to guard against that? Perhaps you ought to attend a count to check for yourself there is nothing untoward.

  17. @Jonathan Stuart Brown

    “BTW I assume lower than GE 2015 but t least as high as Europoll 2014. Splitting the difference around 50% ? The conventional wisdom (source a mystery) is lower turnout = greater chance for Leave ?”

    I’d be surprised if the turnout is much higher than 50% and it will be interesting to see what the final figure of unregistered “voters” is too. I suspect that this will be high, despite the eleventh hour efforts to target young voters currently not registered. While I can see some incentive to want to get registered and vote in a General Election, although many still decline to do so (7 million or so), I’m not sure that the prospect of voting in this EU Referendum will have anything like the same pull. Accordingly, when you add the registered who won’t vote to the unregistered, we may well have far less than 50% of the UK adult population participating in the vote and I find that, as I do with declining turnouts in General Elections, quite scary to be honest.

    In other words, if Leave wins narrowly, say 51/49, you might well have the UK exiting the EU on the basis of the wishes of about 30% of the population. Leave will say so what, I expect; if you can’t be bothered to register or vote then that’s your problem. A majority is a majority, I guess, but it will be another example of the growing democratic deficit that is now afflicting a lot of the political process in this country. From Police Commissioners to City Mayors, with local and national governments in between, voting is starting to look like a minority sport.

    I hope I’m wrong and we get a whopping big turnout on June 23rd, with millions registering over the next week or so, but I don’t sense that mood at all in the country. I’m detecting much enthusiasm amongst the already committed but their noise and antics may well be alienating the far greater number who are watching from afar. In fact, many might not be watching at all.

  18. “if Leave wins narrowly, say 51/49, you might well have the UK exiting the EU on the basis of the wishes of about 30% of the population.”

    As I die-hard Remainer, I would argue that even if it’s 50% + 1 vote to Leave, this is a mandate for Leave. We can’t go around second-guessing the views of those who do not vote. Turnout may matter for influencing the result, but it doesn’t really matter in terms of the legitimacy of that result. Come 10pm on 23rd June, turnout will only matter in terms of analysing what happened, not on what should happen afterwards.

    There should be no rerun or special pleading on the basis of how many people voted.

    I know this isn’t necessarily what you’re saying should happen, just adding my opinion to the general subject.

  19. On the previous thread I said that I did not listen to the “loud shouts” of the two camps but listened to international sources such as Obama, International finance organisations and independent think tanks. In reply I was asked

    “How can they be independent voices when clearly they are taking one side? If they were truly independent voices then presumably they would be warning against the dangers and benefits of remaining in the EU and the dangers and benefits of leaving the EU?”

    To my mind Independent sources like these are giving a view on the situation and saying who they think is right. To say they are taking sides is similar to saying a jury is taking sides in giving a verdict.

  20. Cornyn says

    the EU “has the potential to deliver positive trade” to the UK if there is “a radical reform in government to drive that agenda in Britain”.

    So remaining has the potential to have a positive effect but only if we elect a Labour government?

    The leave campaign will love this!

  21. Should be Corbyn, duh! Predictive text strikes again.

  22. BANTAMS, Corbyn has also said a Labour Government would veto TTIP, I like what I’m hearing.

  23. So I guess best advice for someone going into work on Friday 24th June is set the alarm early. There’s going to be no news at all until after midnight anyway, and making inferences about the country as a whole is going to be more difficult than at a General Election, where you can practically fill in half the seats before you start, then fill in the rest after you’ve seen a few dozen results.

    5-6am, get up, have breakfast, hopefully see a clear picture emerge and in to work by 8. Sounds a plan.

  24. @ Pete1

    ‘BANTAMS, Corbyn has also said a Labour Government would veto TTIP, I like what I’m hearing.’

    But a Labour government could only veto TTIP if there is a leave vote. Any trade deal signed by the EU stands regardless of the colour of a future UK govt. It will be supra-national legislation.

  25. Mark M:

    My preparation will start earlier. Stock up on tinned food, foreign currency, water purifiers, fuel and blankets.

    Of course, this will all look foolish if Remain wins, but best be prepared.


  26. I am going move to Scotland if leave win.

  27. CHRISLANE1945
    In 1978 Callaghan lost the Welsh and Scottish Referendum Votes, at an unpopular time for Old Labour.

    In the 1979 (not 78) Scotland voted FOR devolution. The Labour government went against the democratic will, and the SNP duly punished Labour for its antidemocracy.

    ALUN009 is correct up to a point, but it was the “votes for the dead” clause introduced by Cunningham [then MP for Islington S & Finsbury], supported by the Lab awkward squad plus the Cons who forced that upon Callaghan.

  28. PS to my last post…

    The years are confusing because the 1979 referendum was to support or reject the 1978 Scotland Act.

  29. I understand the Conservative candidate for Sheffield Hallam (and a couple of others) have lodged complaints with South Yorkshire Police after Guido’s scoop yesterday.


    @”So remaining has the potential to have a positive effect but only if we elect a Labour government?”

    Exactly-what a strange rambling speech it was, replete with anti Tory stuff which had nothing to do with the Referendum. But he can’t stop himself can he?

    Like you-I was clocking the phrases which could be wheeled out by the Leave campaign.

    His message is basically -the EU will be a brilliant Socialist Nirvana of Workers Rights, Public Sector untouchability , opposition to Global Capitalism, and unlimited immigration for the worlds’ oppressed masses if I’m the UK PM. He got a few cheers-but the speech was in London.

    His evocation of Tsipras as an anti-austerity champion , demonstrated that he hasn’t quite caught up with the latest developments :-)

  31. ALUN009, I’m not an optimist. If you go away leaving the doors of your house open, chances are that a robber will enter. If an opportunity is there for skulduggery, it may well be seized. Exit polls may not be the best or the only way to guard against it, but would certainly do no harm. Unfortunately it looks as if neither of us will be able to attend a count. The UKIP Daily article I mentioned is here: As one would expect, it is written from a particular standpoint, but makes some valid points nonetheless. If you are a diehard Remain fan you might reject all of it, but it should, at the very least, I feel, give everybody pause for thought.

  32. very good speech
    you wont persuade people in lab to vote remain by pretending the eu is wonderful
    the only way is to admit its glaring faults from a lab perspective and stay in to work for change while also pointing out how the eu has benefited ordinary people
    excellent speech
    similar to one he made last week which went unreported

  33. @alun09 @chrislane1945

    ‘re 1979, it also tends to be forgotten that the Liberlas and the Ulster Unionoists also voted against Labour in the no confidence vote.

  34. @BazinWales
    “To my mind Independent sources like these are giving a view on the situation and saying who they think is right. To say they are taking sides is similar to saying a jury is taking sides in giving a verdict.”

    The IMF and the US are more interested if the decision is good for them not us

  35. @Tully 12.25

    Totally agree. Probably the best speech I have heard so far re the referendum. He told it how it is rather than being completely biased one way or the other which is all we have had from the blues. As someone who has drifted from pro Europe to leave during the past couple of years, the speech is making me head towards sitting on the fence again. He sensibly distanced himself from Cameron (avoiding the Scottish ref position ). In making it clear that the Tories can not be trusted on Europe he also did no harm to Lab’s 2020 chances.

  36. ALUNOO9.
    Thanks for you correcton I was thinking of the 1978 Scotland Act, followed by the long campaign for Scotland and Wales.

  37. HIRETON.
    Yes; I have not forgotten that Liberals and their Ulster Unionist colleagues brought down the Last Old Labour Governments, and that Nationalist MP’s from Northern Ireland did also; one by abstaining.

  38. Regarding exit polls – I rather thought this whole June 23rd thing was an exit poll anyway?

  39. @Syzygy

    “But a Labour government could only veto TTIP if there is a leave vote. Any trade deal signed by the EU stands regardless of the colour of a future UK govt. It will be supra-national legislation.”

    I don’t think this is correct.

    The current TTIP negotiations involve services that are not entirely within Community competence. As such, powers in relation to these services need to be transferred by unanimity of the Council from Member States to the Community. Any Member State may veto these aspects of the proposed deal.
    Indeed, until such consent has been gained it isn’t even a question of veto – the Commission simply doesn’t have the legal capacity to sign the deal.

    Assuming the powers are transferred and TTIP signed, even then the deal will not come into force until every MS of the EU has ratified it. If any state fails to ratify the deal, it won’t come into force.

    So JC is quite right that at present he could veto TTIP, or otherwise that the UK could refuse to ratify it.


    Against my better judgement, I actually clicked your link and read what it said. Here are my responses to the numbered points:

    1. Leave.EU didn’t like losing the battle to be the official Leave side. So what? Part of the criteria judged was who was best able to create a cross-party campaign. I agree with them, and as a Remainer, I wish it’d gone to Leave.EU. That’s because I think Leave.EU would have been less capable of winning than Vote Leave.
    In any case, if 50% of Tories are Leavers, that’s more people than voted Ukip. Fact is that the biggest single party group in the UK against the EU is Tories.

    2. One of the things Leavers complained most about before the referendum was called was the idea that this vote could be held under different conditions to a general election. So no votes for 16 year olds, no EU citizens voting like they can in local elections. They got what they wanted. Now they have the gall to complain that the vote is being held on the same terms as the general election? Get in the sea.

    3. Interesting story. No evidence of a conpiracy or even that this is more than just a rumour. I’d like to see some evidence before I conclude anything’s amiss.

    4. (about going to count) This is entirely normal. Of course, if you want to attend the count, you have an opportunity to do so. I am still thinking about doing so. There will also be journalists and independent observers present. Everybody watches everybody else. There will be dozens of Leave campaigners at each count, I’m sure. Who better to maintain fair play than the people who are most interested in their vote being counted properly.

    Have you been to a count? I have, and I left really sure than at the counting stage it’s incredibly difficult to get away with any impropriety. I can’t comment about stages earlier than counting, so anyone with more direct experience of the processes is encouraged to chip in here, but I am optimistic in the sense that every part of the electoral process I’ve ever brushed against has left me thinking that there are safeguards all the way. Of course, no system is totally foolproof, but I do think the onus on anyone alleging widescale corruption is to state how and where it could happen. Otherwise it belongs firmly in the bracket of a conspiracy theory.

  41. @RAF – I think (only think!) that you have misread @Syzygy’s comment.

    You are correct in that, as a mixed treaty, TTIP extends beyond the competences of the Commission, and so must be ratified by the full Council. and in many cases national parliaments. Therefore Corbyn can claim to have a veto, if this doesn’t happen for the next 4 years.

    However, I read @Syzygy’s point to be that once ratified – eg once members states had agreed to add TTIP to the various treaties governing the EU – a future UK government could not then reverse the agreement and retrospectively announce a veto. Once ratified, TTIP becomes EU law and so becomes inescapable, binding all future governments unless there is a move to revoke the terms within the EU itself.

    I have to say that this is my understanding of how the EU works on matters of shared competences, but not being a legal expert I could be wrong.

  42. Are postal votes opened before the polls close?

  43. Thanks to Anthony for clarifying how the GE exit poll is done and why they can’t do the same thing for the referendum.

    My lunchtime constitutional (freezing cold, but the howling gale of the past few days has finally started to abate) produced a tally of 7 Remain posters. This is not at GE level (Westminster marginal) yet, but is close enough to suggest a decent local turnout.

  44. @BazinWales etc
    “similar to saying a jury is taking sides in giving a verdict”
    Of course the jury is taking sides in giving a verdict. That’s what they are there for.
    The question to be asked of a. a Jury; b. ‘independent’ outsiders is:
    Have they properly weighed the evidence on both sides, or have they simply applied their own prejudices?

  45. @Ciderman

    If it’s like the local elections, every vote is opened and validated vs the ‘control’ signature before the count, but not counted.

    At the count the ballot box votes are validated (ie checking the box contains the quantity of ballot papers issued). After this all the votes are mixed up and counted (I think).

  46. Correction


    If it’s like the local elections, every postal vote is opened and validated vs the ‘control’ signature before the count, but not counted.

    At the count the ballot box votes are validated (ie checking the box contains the quantity of ballot papers issued). After this all the votes are mixed up and counted (I think).

    “Are postal votes opened before the polls close?”

    Forgive me if I’m wrong about this, but here’s how I think it works:

    Postal ballots are double sealed. The outer part can be opened before election day, as part of the verifcation process (signatures, serial numbers). The ballot itself is only unsealed on polling day. I’m not sure whether it can be done before 10pm or not, but it’s my understanding that they are not looked at until 10pm at the earliest.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong about this.

    At the count I went to, the postal ballots were being counted at some point after 11pm. This was a Holyrood election, so they had been opened elsewhere and divided into constituency / regional votes, as these were counted at separate tables. With a single vote, it might be quicker to the counting tables.

  48. It’s going to be a disaster whichever way it goes, according to the propaganda from both sides.

    If Remain wins, the following will happen:

    1. 200 million people from Eastern Europe and Asia will arrive at Dover next week, demanding houses and benefits.
    2. The entire green belt will be concreted over for new housing for all the immigrants.
    3. Your children will be unable to attend school, as all schools will be non- English speaking, unless they speak Hindi, Farsi or Serbo-Croat.
    4. There will be a new tax levy of 30% to fund the European Army, taken directly from your pay packet by the EU Council.
    5. A directive will be issued compelling all EU citizens to switch on TV at 6am every morning for an address to the Federated States of Europe by Angela Merkel, and it will be compulsory to shout ‘Zeig Heil’ every 10 minutes.

    If Leave wins:

    1. House prices will fall through the floor, so that a 5-bed detached in Kensington will only be worth £10,000
    2. The minimum wage will be reduced to £1.50 an hour
    3. A loaf of bread will cost £10, and you’ll have to queue for four hours to get one.
    4. The FA Premier League will lose all its overseas players, and the numbers will have to be made up from Sunday pub teams.
    5. Gantries holding machine-gun nests will be set up at all entry ports, manned by swivel-eyed UKIPpers, ready to repel all foreigners.

  49. And either way, prolly be doing nowt about storage taxes.

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