One year to go

You will unavoidably have noticed that today marks one year until Brexit day, when the article 50 timetable runs out and the British government has signalled its intention to leave the European Union. I’ve written a long piece over on the YouGov website here about where public opinion stands on Brexit which I’d encourage you to read, but here is a brief take on where we are.

Firstly, there has still been no big shift in opinion since the referendum. Since last year there has been a gradual drift, but nothing substantial. However, given the original vote was so close, that still means that you tend to find marginally more people saying Brexit is a bad thing than a good thing. YouGov ask a regular question asking if Brexit was the right or wrong decision – until the middle of last year it was typically showing an even split, in recent months it’s typically showing slightly more people think it was the wrong decision than the right one.

While it’s right to say people have moved against Brexit, it’s not right to say that most people want it stopped. If you ask people what the government should do now, the majority still want Brexit to go ahead in some way. The reason for this apparent paradox is that there is a minority of Remain voters who say the government should go ahead with Brexit – presumably because it is seen as democratic duty given the result of the referendum. One should be careful when interpreting individual polling results for this reason – you’ll sometimes find pro-Brexit sources representing polls showing a majority want to go ahead with Brexit as indicating majority support for Brexit, or anti-Brexit sources representing polls showing people disapprove of Brexit as opposing it going ahead. Neither appears to be true – looking at polling evidence in the whole the position appears to be that the public want Brexit to continue, despite starting to think it’s a bad idea.

Secondly, as ever it’s worth remembering that most people are really not that fussed about the details of Brexit. I could apply this caveat to almost any political issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth repeating. One reason that the ins and outs of the Brexit negotiations don’t make an impact on views is that people aren’t paying that much attention. 55% of people say they find news about Brexit boring (36% interesting). 47% of people say they are following Brexit very or fairly closely (itself probably an exaggeration) – 48% say they aren’t following it closely or at all.

Thirdly, support for a second referendum. Different polling companies produce very different results for this question, some (including the YouGov poll today) show more support than opposition for a second referendum, others show more people now support one. It seems to depend how the question is asked – wording along the lines of “asking the public” tends to provoke more support.

If a referendum was to happen, it would most likely be because of a government defeat in the Commons on the Brexit legislation or deal. The new YouGov poll asked whether people thought it was legitimate or not for the MPs to vote against Brexit. On the deal, the balance of opinion was that it was legitimate for MPs to block it – 42% thought it legitimate, 34% thought it was not. However, if it came to actually blocking Brexit itself the position swaps over – only 33% would see it as legitimate, 45% would not (as you might expect, it is mostly Remainers who see blocking Brexit as legitimate, most Leavers do not).

Finally the poll included some questions about whether the campaigns cheated in the referendum and the impact it had. Once again, people largely viewed it through the prism of their existing support for Remain or Leave.

  • 66% of Remain voters thought that the campaigns had cheated (39% Leave only, 3% Remain only and 24% both), and 45% of Remainers thought that if the campaigns had followed the rules Remain would have won.
  • 47% of Leave voters thought that the campaigns had cheated (14% Remain only, 4% Leave only and 29% both), but only 7% of Leavers thought that if the campaigns had followed the rules Remain would have won (16% thought Leave would have won more convincing had the rules been followed).

The full article on the YouGov website is here and the full tables are here.


There are two polls on holding a second referendum in today’s papers.

YouGov in the Times found 36% of people in favour of a second referendum once Brexit negotiations are complete, 43% of people were opposed, 21% said don’t know. This is slightly up on last year – YouGov found 33% support in December and 32% in October. Full tabs are here.

The other poll was by ComRes in the Mirror. 43% of people said they would like a second referendum, 51% would not, 6% said don’t know. The don’t knows are lower, but the proportions of support and opposition to a second referendum are similar.

ComRes also asked how people would vote in a second referendum – excluding don’t knows, 55% of people said REMAIN, 45% LEAVE. The Mirror made a big fuss about this, but it requires some caution. The ComRes tables are here and suggest the data was only weighted by age, gender and region – as opposed to most polls, which are also weighted to ensure they are representative by things like past vote, 2016 referendum vote, education, class and so on. Now, there is a place for flash polls like this in getting a quick gauge of the public’s opinion on a breaking news story, but whether they are suitable for something as delicate as voting intention is a different question.

When it comes to voting intention – whether it be for an election or a referendum – the last few elections have taught us that getting the sample right and getting turnout right are crucial. For Brexit, that means ensuring the sample is right on things that like education, social class (where the ComRes poll appears to be 70% ABC1!) – and ensuring the sample has the right sort of balance of people who voted Remain and Leave last time. I would apply some caution towards any poll that did not.

I did a longer piece looking at polling on support for Brexit last month, here. Typically polls asking about how people would vote in a second referendum (which BMG and Survation ask regularly, Opinium and YouGov on occassion) have shown smaller Remain leads of between 1 and 4 points.


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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.


Let us start with the rhetoric. In January Theresa May said that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. When polls ask about that sentiment people generally agree with it. When Theresa May first made the statement, YouGov found 48% of people agreed that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, 17% thought a “bad deal was better than no deal” (34% agreed with neither or said don’t know). SkyData asked a similar question at the start of the month and found 74% of people thought no deal was better than a bad deal, 26% that any deal was better than no deal.

These two questions suggest that the Prime Minister has landed upon a message that chimes with the public, but we don’t know what respondents are thinking of as a “bad deal” or “no deal”, and whether they think a “no deal” is a good thing or just marginally less awful than a “bad deal”. More in depth questions asked around a “no deal” Brexit suggest it would not be widely welcomed.

Questions that have asked specifically about whether people see a “no deal” Brexit as good or bad have consistently shown a negative reaction. In ICM’s most recent poll they asked how people would react if “negotiations failed to reach agreement by Brexit Day, and the UK left the EU in a so-called ‘hard Brexit’?” 62% of people picked negative words, like worried (50%), confused (29%) and furious (24%), only 20% picked positive words like pleased (14%), proud (11%) or excited (11%).

YouGov asked if people thought it would be good or bad for Britain if we ended up leaving the EU without agreeing departure terms with the EU at all – 57% thought this would be bad, 10% thought it would be good for the country, 20% said neither. Survation asked a very similar question in June (but without a neither option) and found 58% thought it would be bad for Britain, 31% good for Britain.

Of course, this is somewhat missing the point. Given there is significant public support for the sort of Brexit that Theresa May has set out (of immigration controls *and* a trade deal with the EU), a “no deal” Brexit is unlikely to be seen as desirable by the public. It is more a case of whether it is seen as acceptable if negotiations for a better Brexit fall through.

Last week YouGov asked what the government should do if we get to the end of the two year negotiation period and the government have not managed to strike the sort of Brexit deal that Theresa May is seeking: 18% of people said we should stay in the EU after all, 17% that we should delay Britain’s departure in order to continue negotiations, 16% that Britain should accept some of the EU’s demands in order to reach a compromise, 32% that Britain should leave without a deal. Looking at those who voted to Leave in 2016 and those who voted Tory in 2017, a majority of both groups say Britain should leave without a deal rather than seek to delay Brexit or compromise with the EU.

Opinium’s last poll had a very similar question, but with slightly different options. They also asked what people thought should happen if we got to the end of the two year negotiation period without a deal – 15% said we should remain in the EU after all, 35% that we should have a transition deal while negotiations continued, 44% that we should leave without a deal. Again, a majority of Tory voters and Leave voters said that under those circumstances we should leave without a deal.

Summing it all up, a “no deal” Brexit is not something that the British public actually like the idea of – the majority tend to see it in negative terms or as being bad for Britain. However, placed in a position where negotiations for a better deal have failed, a sizeable minority of people (and a majority of Conservatives and Leave voters) would opt for a “no deal” Brexit. Put in that choice between a rock and a hard place, more people would opt for “no deal Brexit” than would opt for remaining in the EU, though a sizeable chunk would take the option of compromise or delay if offered.


There was a YouGov poll yesterday with some post-Florence EU questions, suggesting a pretty poor reception for Theresa May’s speech. The proportion thinking that the government are doing well at negotiating Brexit has fallen from 24% to 21% since last month, its lowest since January. 61% now think they are doing badly, including three-quarters of Remain voters and almost half of Leave voters.

The principle of a transition period is broadly accepted – 46% think it is a good idea, 26% a bad idea. The majority of the public also say it would be acceptable for such a deal to include remaining in the single market and/or freedom of movement for a transitional period. The tricker elements to sell to the public appear to be the juristiction of the European Court (by 43% to 35% people say this would be unacceptable for a transition period) and continuing to pay the EU during the transition period (38% acceptable, 42% unacceptable.) 62% of leave voters see paying a fee during a transition fee as unacceptable.

Whether they agree with it or not, 33% of people say that the Conservative party’s policy on Brexit is clear – 45% say it is unclear or confusing.

While people are not impressed by the government’s handling of Brexit, the public remain pretty evenly divided on whether or not to go. 44% still think Britain is right to leave, 45% that it’s wrong (typical of past months). Asked what they’d like the government to do on Brexit 40% think they should proceed with their current negotiating aims, 12% would prefer a softer Brexit, 18% would like another referendum to see if people still want to leave, 14% would like the government to halt Brexit.

Voting intention is CON 39%(-2), LAB 43%(+1), LDEM 7%(nc). Full tabs are here