In terms of support for Brexit we end the year in pretty much the same place as we were on June 23rd. Among some there is a desire to jump on the slightest bit of evidence to suggest that people have changed their mind one way or the other. Overall however, the polling suggests that public opinion remains largely unchanged.

There have been numerous polls since the referendum that have asked how people would vote in another referendum tomorrow (below are all the polls I can find in the last three months):

ComRes/CNN (18th Dec) – Remain 45, Leave 47 (Remain 49, Leave 51)
Gallup International (7th Dec) – Remain 54, Leave 46 (Remain 54, Leave 46)
ComRes/Mirror (27th Nov) – Remain 46, Leave 47 (Remain 49, Leave 51)
YouGov (25th Oct) – Remain 44, Leave 43 (Remain 51, Leave 49)
BMG (24th Oct) – Remain 45, Leave 43 (Remain 51, Leave 49)
Survation/ITN (12th Oct) – Remain 44, Leave 44 (Remain 50, Leave 50)

All except the Gallup International poll are within the margin of error of the referendum result (I think the contrast is because the Gallup poll has a very large proportion of university educated respondents, which correlates with support for EU membership). On average they show only a small movement towards Remain and – looking closer – even that may be illusionary. Looking at the actual tables for the polls none of them show any real net movement between Remain and Leave voters, the small move to Remain is only because people who didn’t vote last time claim they are more likely to vote Remain this time. I would treat that with some degree of scepticism – of course, it could be those people took the result for granted and would be spurred into action in a second referendum… or it could be those who couldn’t be bothered last time probably wouldn’t be bothered in a second referendum either.

In addition, YouGov have asked a regular question for the Times on whether people think leaving was the right or wrong way for Britain to vote. That too shows no obvious evidence of Bregret:

YouGov (5th Dec) – Right 44%, Wrong 42%
YouGov (29th Nov) – Right 44%, Wrong 45%
YouGov (15th Nov) – Right 46%, Wrong 43%
YouGov (12th Oct) – Right 45%, Wrong 43%

Both sides of the debate have taken other figures to try and claim that the balance of opinion has shifted in their direction. In recent days I’ve seen several people who really should know better getting excited over voodoo polls in local newspapers that claim to show a big shift towards Remain – rather than let this post get overtaken by a rant, I’ve addressed that elsewhere. On the other side of the divide, some Brexit supporters have a tendency to misinterpret this YouGov poll to claim shows 68% now support leaving the EU. This is a little disingenuous – the poll doesn’t show that support for leaving has grown from 52% to 68%, it’s a different question asking about what the government should do. The 68% includes 23% of people who say they do NOT personally support Brexit, but that the government has a duty to do it.

Neither does there appear to be much current appetite for a second referendum. ComRes for CNN found 35% thought there should a referendum on the terms of exit, but 53% thought there should not. A similar recent question by Opinium for Keiran Pedley found very similar results – people opposed a second referendum on the terms of Brexit by 52% to 33% and also opposed one if the economy worsened, again by 52% to 33%. A poll by YouGov found that only 26% of people thought it was legitimate for those opposed to Brexit to campaign for a second referendum, 59% thought it was not.

As things stand public opinion does not appear to have moved since the referendum and people do not want a referendum, but as ever they are only a snapshot, not a prediction of how attitudes to Brexit may change in the future. Is there anything we can tell from current polls about how public attitudes towards Brexit might develop? There are two obvious “known knowns” ahead that could potentially change attitudes to Brexit: the negotiations and the economic impact.

The financial angle depends on what the economic impacts are and how long they take to show themselves. I am not an economist so won’t seek to speculate. I will urge caution though about polls showing that people would turn against Brexit if it cost them x amount of money, caused a recession, unemployment or so on. Should the economy collapse, I have no doubt that it would have a major impact on attitudes to both the government and to Brexit. I am less confident about what impact more modest economic bad news will have. Polls attempting to measure this assume that people will blame any economic ups and down on Brexit, and I don’t think they will – or at least, they will interpret it through the prism of their existing support or opposition. People who opposed Brexit will blame economic bad news on it, but people who supported it will blame it on other factors, or on obstructive Europeans, or Remoaners talking Britain down or whatnot. It is the nature of human beings that we are very good at defending our beliefs against data that might challenge them.

More interesting are the negotiations. We don’t yet know what sort of Brexit the government will be aiming for (well, not in any useful terms. We know what colour Brexit they want, but this is of limited use in judging potential public reactions) but given there are different possibilities and people have different preferences, once firm targets are announced some people will likely be disappointed.

Lots of polling evidence shows that the public would like to maintain free trade with the EU, but would also like to limit EU immigration – in Boris Johnson’s words, the public’s preference is clearly to have their cake and eat it. This is unlikely to be available.

If they have to choose, the polling evidence suggests the public are very evenly divided. There have been various polls using various different wordings that amount to a forced choice between EU market access or cutting EU immigration – all show a tight divide. An ORB poll this month found people agreeing by 44% to 40% that more control over immigration was more important than keeping EU free trade; a YouGov poll in November asking a forced choice between market access for British exporters and reducing immigration broke down as 49% for market access, 51% for immigration; ComRes in November found 42% would prioritise the single market over immigration, 43% would prioritise cutting EU immigration; NatCen found 49% of people said we should accept freedom of movement as the price of staying in the single market, 51% that we should not.

Looking only at immigration vs market access is probably taking to tight a focus anyway. I suspect the public will judge it as a overall package – as a whole, does it seem like a good deal for Britain? Even there is evidence is contradictory though: Opinium asked people to pick between a “soft Brexit” scenario and a “hard Brexit” scenario and people preferred the former by 41% to 35% (though the question also made clear that soft Brexit was economically better, which the public won’t necessarily think). YouGov have asked people to rate a number of scenarios – a hard Brexit on WTO terms, a limited trade deal along the Canadian model and a Norway type deal remaining in the EEA. On those a Canadian type deal polls significantly better than a Norway type relationship – 50% think it would be good for Britain, 65% think it would respect the referendum and 51% would be happy. In comparison the figures for a Norway type outcome would be 34% good for Britain, 33% respect the referendum, 37% happy (WTO terms would also be bad – 34% good for Britain, 66% respect result, 37% happy).

That is the narrow path which Theresa May must navigate – a Brexit that doesn’t mess up Britain’s trading relationship with Europe so much it sinks the economy, yet is not perceived by Leave voters as a betrayal. If we end up with a Brexit that has tougher consequences that some Leave voters expected then there is potential for public opinion to move against it. On the other hand, if we end up with a Brexit that retains more links with the European Union than some Leave voters hoped for there is the potential for a betrayal narrative to take hold, presumably to the benefit of UKIP. Either situation may bring division within the Conservative party, which has only a wafer thin majority to begin with.

Ultimately, I suppose those are two questions that matter about public opinion on Brexit. One, will public opinion move sufficiently against Brexit to make it avoidable? Two, how will it impact on the popularity of the Conservative government and opposition parties?

To answer the first one, as yet there has been little or no net movement in opinion since the referendum, the majority of people think the government have a duty to implement the results of the referendum and and the majority of people are opposed to revisiting the question. However, given the vote was only 52-48 it wouldn’t take much to tip opinion in favour of staying once the consequences become a bit more visible. It remains to be seen if the negotiations or economic developments do change things. Getting majority support for a second referendum is a much bigger ask and would be a necessity if there is any chance of a second referendum (well, counting 1975 a third referendum) has any chance of delivering a different result to 2016. Anti-elitism was an important factor in the vote, and the perception that an uncaring and distant political elite didn’t like what the public said so wants them to vote again differently would be a very powerful narrative.

As for the political parties, Brexit is the mission that has been forced upon Theresa May’s government and the yardstick they will inevitably be judged by. Thus far the public think they have been carrying it out badly, yet this has not damaged their position in the polls (presumably because it is still early days). If Brexit doesn’t work out well for them, they will suffer – especially given the high expectations of some Brexit supporters. The government’s great challenge will be to sell the compromises that will be necessary, the difficulty will be persuading the public that such compromises are either unavoidable or in Britain’s interests… as opposed to being the result of government ineptitude, backsliding or lack of ambition. If people believe the latter – that a government led by someone who never really wanted Brexit anyway is failing to be ambitious enough in our Brexit negotiations, I imagine it will be UKIP who benefit. If they deliver Brexit that’s hardness is beyond doubt, but the economy collapses, who knows who will benefit…


475 Responses to “Where public opinion on Brexit stands”

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  1. I also forgot – BoE cut interest rates too. With consumer credit highly stretched (near pre crash levels again) and inflation commencing, conventional economics would not have required an interest rate cut, and it will be many months until we understand fully the impact of having to do this to head off a post Brexit slump.

  2. @Alec

    That’s very fair, as usual.

    I imagine you will be pleased to see Labour recovering to 26% in the polls. Looks like your predictions about the negative impact of Corbyn were premature…

    Just tugging your tail!

  3. As to the latest poll, I am not surprised to see the Tories below 40%. They have a lot of problems. Nor to see the Lib Dems at 10% – a mini-revival is under way.

    A lot depends on whether the LDs can make inroads in London, where a Remain position and a centrist economic policy will resonate with a lot of the middle classes.

    The most interesting score is UKIP’s, which confirms that the party is surviving well, despite a great deal of internal turmoil. It makes you wonder how they would be doing if Farage had stayed as Leader.

  4. Andrew111

    incorrect on the freedom of labour . Norway chooses to allow immigration in the way it does but it does not have to do so under the EEA agreement. Instead of you posting the Norway blurb perhaps you need to go to the Agreement itself . You will be surprised to find that the freedom of movement for workers only applies strictly to private sector workers and is subject to potential caveats which Norway chooses not to exercise.
    Norway also ,for some bizarre reason, chooses to be part of schengen but is not required to do so. It loves schengen or at least its elite does!
    It is also outside the Customs Union and can negotiate trade deals with whoever it wants.

  5. Jeremy Corbyn took a more nuanced position during the referendum maintaining the simplicities expressed were in reality far more complex.

  6. @MARKW “Jeremy Corbyn took a more nuanced position during the referendum maintaining the simplicities expressed were in reality far more complex.”

    This was the so called “Remainer” who was “7.5/10” for the EU. The one who has consistently stated for the last 30 odd years that he was against the EU. And the one who called for the immediate triggering of Article 50 the day of the result!

    Nuanced is not the word I would use. Your mileage may vary of course.

  7. Alec

    I do not think it is good enough to say that the countermeasures were taken which “spoilt” otherwise sound projections. Any expert worth his salt would have produced tables to show the effect of such possible measures or at least made it clear that their projections were on the basis that the Bof E would do nothing which was highly unlikely.

  8. MILLIE

    Thanks.

    Yes I think TM intends what she says, and , as you suggest, envisages mutual self interest as being a potential help in achieving it.
    I wish I was as sanguine on that point-I think the desire in the EU hierarchy to protect the Project by making leaving it visibly painful to all other Members will be paramount. Whether countervailing National Interests of Member States comes into play perhaps depends on which part of the EU team is really calling the shots.

    The conduct of the awful Referendum Campaign caused me not to vote.

    I was interested in your view that “The smear comes from the confusion between opposing ‘immigration’ and ‘net immigration’.”. I would suggest that there is an implied “smear” of deeper significance-that Leavers concerned about Net Immigration , really dislike Immigrants.

  9. @Millie

    As to the latest poll, I am not surprised to see the Tories below 40%. They have a lot of problems. Nor to see the Lib Dems at 10% – a mini-revival is under way.

    You Gov’s polls show that the Conservatives have been on about 40%, plus or minus the usual error since October. Their polling is static in my view.

    The Lib Dems have been stuck around 10% for a bit too. Outside Richmond, there is little media attention on the Lib Dems to drive their VI higher for the moment I think.

    The polls are overall fairly static for the time being all round,

  10. According to this Guardian Report of Haldane’s remarks, he think BoE got timing wrong on Brexit effect-but not fundamentals :-

    “Answering critics of the bank’s gloomy November forecast for the economy, he admitted that the bank did not anticipate the resilience of consumer spending after Britain voted to leave the EU. But he said that he thought the bank was wrong about timing not about the fundamentals, and that the Bank of England still expected Brexit to harm growth.I think, near-term, the data,, the evidence we’ve been accumulating since the referendum, has surprised to the upside. [There’s been] greater resilience, in particular among consumers and among the housing market, than we had expected. Has that led us to fundamentally change our view on the fortunes of the economy looking forward over the next several years? Not really.

    “This is more a question, I think, of timing than of a fundamental reassessment of the fortunes of the economy. So back in November we published a forecast for inflation which was the highest we’ve ever published. And the forecast for growth in the UK economy, that was the lowest we have ever published.

    “We are still expecting this rather difficult balancing act for monetary policy with a slowing, not a huge slowing, but nonetheless a material slowing, during the course of next year as the effects of higher prices in the shops begin to chew away a little at the spending power of consumers and cause them to rein back a little in their spending. That remains our central view, with huge amounts of uncertainty around it.”

  11. COLIN
    I -currently-make the assumption that the combined expertise of Westminster knows what is “most logical” in extricating us from 40 years of EU law making.

    Fair enough. Many probably take that view.

    I tend to look more at the problems the courts face in interpreting legislation, particularly when it is begun in haste as this has been.

  12. S THOMAS @ Andrew111

    We’re on the same page again.

    http://www.efta.int/legal-texts/eea has the full EEA agreement and related texts.

  13. @Colin

    I guess the problem for both Leave and Remain supporters is that they are all members of two extremely broad camps.

    So, on immigration, Leave included some virulent, often loud, almost racist anti-immigration voices, as well as many voters simply concerned about net population growth and the perceived impact of immigration on services, jobs etc.

    Similarly Remain included some intensely pro-Europeans who are anxious for Brexit to be demonstrably damaging to the UK, through to many voters who are genuinely concerned that it is the wrong course, would much rather we were not embarking on it, but have no desire to see the UK fail in order to make a point.

    It is sloppy, lazy and wrong to brand all or most Leavers as anti-immigrant, as it equally sloppy, lazy and wrong to brand all or most Remainers as obstructionist and unpatriotic. Inevitably it irritates those thus branded.

    Sadly this doesn’t stop the more ’emphatic’ on either side of the divide from doing so….

  14. Bz

    twice in one day we are on the same page. i am going for a lie down!

  15. @bz

    Sorry to pour cold water on the EEA parade but the terms of the EEA agreement on free movement of workers are for all practical purposes the same as that for EU members in the TFEU. So if the UK joined the EEA it would entail observing exactly the same rules regarding the free movement of workers as being in the EU.

  16. @Colin – I hadn’t read that, so it looks like Haldane agrees with me:).

    @S Thomas – I think it is good enough to point out that in the midst of a serious economic jolt, a series of unconventional measures were taken, which cumulatively had an immediate and medium term effect to prevent a downward confidence spiral setting in.

    None of the pre vote projections I saw attempted to factor in possible government and BoE actions, as that isn’t what these projections were designed to test. The simple proposition was to assess the impact of leaving the EU would be, not to open a discussion over what measures might or might not be taken if we did or didn’t leave the EU.

    As far as I’m concerned, the point still stands. Without a slew of pretty dramatic emergency measures, it seems likely that we would be in a worse position that we currently are, but Brexiteers seem to believe that everything has gone swimmingly, forgetting the fact that we’ve added billions to our debt pile just to stand still, amongst other things.

    As ever, time will tell, but Haldane is right – the critique at present is one of timing, not outcome.

  17. @bz

    Sorry I also meant to say that EEA membership also goes along with the Citizens Rights Directive 2004 which governs the free movement of citizens in the EEA area.

  18. “twice in one day we are on the same page. i am going for a lie down!”

    ————-

    It’s not that unusual for peeps on here of opposing views to gradually work towards some kind of consensus position. (Obviously some things take a while to filter through, like synth prices…)

  19. Oldnat
    ‘Since your view apparently happily ignores minor inconveniences like there being different states within these islands’

    Which states would they be? Some would argue that England , Wales and Scotland are separate nations – but they are certainly not separate states. That would change,of course, if the SNP secured Independence.

  20. Alec
    i think Haldane has to be read with the other critical report on the B of E document which doument went unchallenged by the economic prediction community at the time.

    I do not recall one critique of the B of E report at that time. Can you point to one? or were you all lying doggo?

  21. Graham

    Surely you’ve heard of the Republic of Ireland? It’s quite commonly in the news.

    There are also the Crown Dependencies of Mann, Jersey and Guernsey. None of them are in the UK, although they do permit Brenda’s UK Government to run Defence and Foreign Affairs for them.

  22. HIRETON
    Sorry I also meant to say that EEA membership also goes along with the Citizens Rights Directive 2004 which governs the free movement of citizens in the EEA area.

    OK, that’s already in the main EEA Agreement text I link to above. Even if the main EEA Agreement is identical to the EU free movement rules, May still has 2 choices: EEA – which would probably keep the UK together for a while longer or Full Fat Brexit which would “honour” her Con conference promise.

    With the NI poll I linked to this morning showing that a hard Brexit would put a border poll within MoE and an indyref2 being almost certain she may come to regret her Con conference speech if her “precious union” remarks meant anything at all.

  23. New Thread, btw

  24. New thread, new cake…

  25. S THOMAS

    “I do not recall one critique of the B of E report at that time. Can you point to one? or were you all lying doggo?”

    ———

    Well quite, even the Brexitteers didn’t see much to complain about it…

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