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.


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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


Yesterday I got a few questions about a new BMG poll in the Independent that had voting intentions in a hypothetical EU referendum tomorrow at 52% remain, 48% leave. The Indy wrote this up with a pretty hyperbolic “Majority want to stay!!!”. The full results – along with a fair more reasonable and caveated write-up by BMG themselves – are here.

So, what is the bigger picture in terms of attitudes to Brexit, and is there any sign of people changing their minds?

I should start by pointing out that how people would vote in a hypothetical referendum tomorrow is not necessarily the same question as what people think should happen now (perhaps surprisingly!). If you ask people what should happen now, a clear majority say Britain should leave the EU. If you ask people how they’d vote in a referendum now, they are split down the middle between Remain and Leave. The difference appears to be because there is a chunk of people who personally favour remain, but think the government has a duty to leave following the referendum. Neither of these is necessarily a “better” measure of public opinion, opinion is best understood by looking at both: that is, the public are split equally on what they’d prefer, but some remainers think that the referendum means Brexit should go ahead anyway.

If we do look specifically at how people would vote in a referendum tomorrow, there is comparatively little change since 2016. Most Remain voters would still vote Remain, most Leave voters would still vote Leave. People who did not vote at all in 2016 tend to split in favour of Remain, meaning that the overall figure tends to be around a 50-50 split. Polls, of course, typically have a margin of error of around 2 or 3 points. This means if the actual position is a 50-50 split, then normal sample variation will inevitably spit out some results that are 52-48, or 48-52, or whatever. This is the unavoidable result of normal statistical variance, however, it does mean that now and again there will be a poll showing Remain with a small lead, which pro-Remain sorts will get wrongly overexcited about.

In terms of a trend, my impression is that there is some small degree of movement against Brexit… but it is very small. It is hard to discern a trend from questions asking the referendum question because they are infrequent, different companies use different methods and there may be different “house effects”. BMG have probably asked it more regularly than any other company, and looking at just their figures (in the link above) there is a slight trend towards Remain.

YouGov regularly ask a question about whether Britain was right or wrong to vote to Leave the EU (below), which also shows a very tight race, but a slight trend towards Remain. Last year it tended to show slightly more people thought it was the right decision than the wrong decision, now it tends to hover around neck-and-neck.

In summary, there hasn’t been any vast sea-change in attitudes towards Brexit. Most people who voted Remain would do so again, most people who voted Leave would do so again. There is some movement back and forth, but it mostly cancels itself out. If you look at the two most frequently repeated questions, the BMG question on referendum VI and the YouGov question on whether the decision was right or wrong, then there does appear to be movement towards Remain… but it is as yet pretty small and pretty slow. In short, there are some “bregrets”, but not enough to really get excited about. If there is going to be a big change, I still wouldn’t expect to see it until the leaving deal (and the consequences of it) become a bit clearer.


I’ve got an article over on the YouGov website about the difficulty on polling on the Brexit financial settlement (or “Brexit divorce bill” as the more Eurosceptic elements of the press tend to call it). Brexit is obviously a very complicated issue – the Brexit deal will almost inevitably dominate the next year of British politics, yet the complexities of it mean it’s very hard to ask about until there’s actually a deal on the table.

The financial settlement between Britain and the EU should, on the face of it, be one of the more simple issues. On the face of it you might expect it to be fairly simple to ask people what sort of financial settlement the public would think was reasonable and what sort of settlement would have the public thinking Theresa May has struck a poor deal. In fact such questions give us a very poor guide, simply because most people are not particularly good at comprehending very large numbers.

If you ask a question about what a reasonable price is for, for example, a pair of shoes, it should work very well. Everyone knows roughly what shoes cost, and know the value of £10 or £30 or £100. The same does not apply for government spending – £50 billion is an unfathomably large amount of money… but then, so is £20 billion, or £10 billion or £5 billion. Most of us don’t really have any good yardstick for judging just how big or small these huge numbers are, nor whether they are a good or bad deal for Britain.

Nevertheless, if you ask people about a financial settlement people will still express opinions. Back in August there was an ICM/Guardian poll that found 41% of people though a £10bn settlement would be acceptable, up from just 15% in April. This seemed like a startling rise, but as both ICM and the Guardian cautioned, it could just be the way the question was worded. In April ICM first asked about the lower figure of £3bn, but in August £10bn was the lowest they offered.

This seemed like a more plausible explanation to me, but just to be sure we tested it at YouGov. We used a split sample – one half of the respondents got a grid of three questions asking about settlements of £5bn, £10bn and £20bn. The other half of the sample got a grid of three questions asking about settlements of £25bn, £50bn and £75bn.

On the first bank of questions 38% thought £5bn would be acceptable, 18% thought £10bn would be acceptable, 11% thought that £20bn would be acceptable. Looking at the other half of the sample, 29% thought that £25bn was acceptable, 9% thought that £50bn was acceptable, 6% thought that £75bn would be acceptable (full tabs are here.)

Taken as a whole we get the the rather perverse finding that while support generally falls as the size of the settlement increases, £25 billion is far more acceptable to the public than £20 billion. This is nonsense of course, and the reason is simple enough – people take their cues from the question itself. In the first half of the sample, £5bn was the lowest amount asked about, £20bn the largest amount, and many respondents presumably took this as an implication that £5bn was a low settlement, £20bn a high one. For the second half of the sample £25bn was the lowest figure asked about, so many respondents presumably took the implication that this was a low settlement. Whether people said a sum was acceptable or not was less about the actual number, more about whether the question implied that it was a low or high figure.

The point is that questions about what level of “divorce bill” will be acceptable to the public don’t really tell us much. People don’t have any good way of telling what is a good or bad deal and are really just expressing their unsurprising preference for a smaller settlement. When (or if) Britain and the EU do finally agree on a sum, it won’t be so much the particular figure that determines whether the public see it as a victory or a sell-out, but whether the media and political class present it to them as a good or bad deal.

Meanwhile, lastest GB voting intention figures this week are below – both show the parties pretty much neck-and-neck, neither show any obvious movement:
YouGov/Times (12th-13th Sept) – CON 41%(nc), LAB 42%(nc), LDEM 7%(+1), UKIP 3%(-1) (tabs)
ICM/Guardian (8th-10th Sept) – CON 42%(nc), LAB 42%(nc), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 4%(+1) (tabs)