Another week, another Brexit poll for partisan twitter to get overexcited about. In this case the fuss was caused by a YouGov poll that appeared to show people backing Brexit by 48% to 39%. This survey was actually the GB answers to question asked to several EU countries – the intention of it wasn’t to measure UK support for Brexit, but to see whether or not the public elsewhere in Europe still wanted Britain to stay, or whether we’ve got to point that they’d really just like us to hurry up and go away (for the record, most of the German, Danish, Swedish and Finnish public would still like Britain to stay. The French are evenly divided). There was also a question earlier in the survey about Martin Schulz’s vision of a federal Europe which may or may not have influenced answers – however, this post isn’t about the specific question, but about all the Brexit surveys we tend to see.

As ever, when a poll comes out that appears to show public support for Brexit it is excitely retweeted and shared by lots of pro-Brexit voices. When a poll comes out that appears to show public opposition to Brexit it is excited retweeted and shared by lots of anti-Brexit voices. Both of these create a deeply misleading picture. To start with, there are three different questions about current attitudes to Brexit that people often treat as being measures of public support for Brexit which don’t always show the same answers…

1) Questions asking how people would vote in a Brexit referendum tomorrow
2) Questions asking whether people think Brexit was the right or wrong decision
3) Questions asking whether people think we should now go ahead with Brexit or not

Starting with the first type of question, BMG and Survation both ask EU referendum voting intention regularly, and ICM, Opinium and YouGov have asked it on occassion. BMG’s most recent poll showed a ten point lead for Remain and got a lot of publicity, but this was something of an outlier. Typically these polls have shown a small lead for Remain of between one and four points.

Any question asking about voting intention in a referendum or election is really two questions – it’s working out who would vote, and then how they would vote. When polls ask how the public would vote in an EU referendum tomorrow they tend to find not much net movement among remain and leave voters, the Remain leads are down to those who didn’t vote in 2016. This raises all sorts of questions about whether those past non-voters would actually vote and whether they are actually representative of 2016 non-voters, or are too politically engaged and likely to vote.

There’s also a question of how useful a referendum voting intention question is when there isn’t actually a second referendum due. The most likely route to a second referendum is a referendum on the terms of the deal…which obviously aren’t known yet. In my experience, most people who contact polling companies asking whether we’ve asked a Brexit referendum question aren’t primarily interested in how people would vote in a second referendum, but really want to see if the public have changed their mind about how they voted in the first one…

YouGov regularly ask a direct “Bregret question” to get at that question, asking whether people think voting for Brexit was the right or wrong decision. The results here are quite similar to referendum questions, but because it is a question about public attitudes as a whole rather than voting intentions concerns about likelihood to vote don’t arise. Looking at the regular YouGov tracker, there has again been a slow movement towards Regret, meaning that for the last three or four months the poll has consistently shown slightly more people thinking Brexit was the wrong decision than the right decision.

The final group of questions is “what do we do now” questions. No company asks a regular tracker along these lines, but there are several questions asked on this sort of basis. By stating with “at this point” the question in the YouGov poll this week tilts toward this sort of question, but there are other more explicit examples asking what people think should happen next – for example, YouGov have a semi-regular tracker that asks how the government should proceed with Brexit, which this month found 52% thought the government should go ahead with Brexit, 16% that they should call a second referendum, 15% that they should stop Brexit and remain in the EU. The reason for the difference in these questions is that a substantial minority of people who voted Remain in 2016 consistently say that the government should go ahead and implement Brexit (presumably because they see them as having a democratic duty to implement the referendum result).

It is true to say that more of the public now tend to think Brexit was the wrong decision than the right decision, and say they would vote against it in a referendum. It is also true to say that most of the public think that Brexit should go ahead. Neither measure is intrinsically better or worse, right or wrong… they are just asking slightly different things. If you want to understand public attitudes towards Brexit, you need to look at both, rather than cherry pick the one that tells you what you want to hear.

1,317 Responses to “On measuring support for Brexit”

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  1. RUDYARD is more reflective of Corbyn LAB than the 2017 LAB VI cohort. They should have voted for LDEM but given Clegg and Farron’s baggage were fooled into voting for a Leave party!

    Great to see you back RUDYARD! With Lansmann being coronated tomorrow I see the Youth Wing has delivered what he needed them for and is now being axed! Corbyn and his cronies can now set about purifying the party of their hard core Remain vote. It that started with the front bench some time ago but seems to have gone unnoticed by a lot of LAB VI :-)

  2. Jim Jam

    No need to apologise, but if you are going to apologise to everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who posts here by name, that might be a reasonably long list.

    In any case, I can’t see where, in this YG poll, you get the data to draw such conclusions as you have.

    Occasionally, we get polls which ask respondents to identify a party or parties that they would “never vote for”. These can be useful in identifying the “ABx” cohorts. This poll doesn’t seem be one of these.

  3. pete b

    whether real or not he does make exceedingly good cakes.

  4. Trev – “RUDYARD is more reflective of Corbyn LAB than the 2017 LAB VI cohort.”

    I assure you that in my experience Rudyard’s messianic verve is not widely shared amongst anyone I know who supports Labour.

    It is a view that is broadcast and lauded at times by those who are not supporters of Labour.

  5. S Thomas


  6. MARKW

    I’ve always assumed that rudyard was a fictitious Private Eye character – but there are no chinks in the lack of humour so maybe not.

  7. ON – was a poor joke as a way of expressing a view that neither main party is that attractive and that the dire to vote against them is big driver. How much? well we need a poll of course.

  8. Crofty, Labour is a broad church and it has long been the case that Labour opponents attempt to frame the most esoteric views as mainstream to impugn the party.

  9. So are we saying that Rudyard’s a secret Tory plant to spout the messianic message and thus put voters off?

  10. Pete B, I assume everyone here posts in good faith.

  11. Mark W


  12. @ MARKW – “I assure you that in my experience Rudyard’s messianic verve is not widely shared amongst anyone I know who supports Labour”

    Err, that was exactly the point I was making. RUDYARD’s view is however, widely shared by the Bennite faction that I was briefly taken by back in the 1980s and forms the core of his front bench today – McDonnell for sure.


    @” I think we are at x-purposes. UK has a transfer union to solve the disparity with such distributive measures as increasing the lower rate threshold for income tax to benefit poorer people in poorer regions. EU is not a transfer union ”

    I don’t think we are.

    I know EU isn’t a Transfer UNion-which is why the Commission has to try & achieve convergence & lower regional disparity via Structural Funds & Regional Policy.

    I cited the outcome of all that nonsense in response to those who were claiming that UK’s Regional economic disparities are excessive.

  14. TW
    ” widely shared by the Bennite faction that I was briefly taken by back in the 1980s and forms the core of his front bench today – McDonnell for sure.”

    But young Hilary was never taken by it; he must have been such a disappointment to dear old dad.

  15. New thread to repeat old Brexit arguments.

    Last time there was a referendum on a constitutional issue, Anthony restricted discussion of it to appropriately flagged threads.

    Perhaps time to reinstate such an approach?

  16. RUDYARD: Technicouluroctober – Your cynicism does you no good. To be against everything is easy, to work for something you believe in is much harder, but truly rewarding.
    Lift up your eyes and look around you, listen and learn. The world is only as bad as we make it.

    You are right, it is cynicism on my part. And it is cynicism about personalities, which is what you do, as you are expressing dare I say worship of a man, Corbyn, as opposed to adherence to principles.

    I too welcomed Corbyn and voted for him first time around, but given what I perceive to be a pathetic defence of those in the position of myself and my wife – who is German – dealt with here previously and at some length, I have no time for the man. And no time for the party while it is about the man and not about policies. Now I am moving to Scotland, your type of messianic Labourism is not welcome north of the border. I’ll probably be more charitable when he is gone.

  17. Sea Change,
    “That is a total projection on your part. ”

    More, reasoned deduction. Looks to me based on yesterday’s news that Farage agrees with me that tories are planning to remain.

    “Was also interesting reading about the Chinese banks locating to London”

    And you think thats good? The Chinese see Brexit as an opportunity to buy up Britain cheap.

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