Opinium’s latest voting intention poll has topline figures of CON 38%, LAB 31%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%. The seven point Conservative lead is much tighter than we’ve seen in other recent polls, which have almost all had double-figure Tory leads. While the lead has dropped in this poll, I suspect the difference is methodological somehow – most of Opinium’s recent polls have had Tory leads that are smaller than those from other companies. One of the results of the 2015 polling error and polling companies’ efforts to correct them is that we can’t really tell for sure which are right. Is it that some companies haven’t done enough to correct the errors of the past, or others who have done too much?
Given I’ve flagged up the increase in Lib Dem support in the last three polls I should also point out the absence of one here, they are down one point. We’ve had four polls since the Richmond by-election, two showing a small increase, one a small drop, one a substantial increase. Taking an average across the four polls, a very modest impact on national levels of Lib Dem support. Full tabs are here.
The same poll had a couple of questions for Keiran Pedley – the first asked people if they preferred a Brexit where Britain left completely, but got a harsh deal meaning the economy suffers, unemployment increases and there’s less money for public services… or a Brexit where Britain remains in some EU institutions, has freedom of movement, is subject to the EU courts and so on. Faced with that stark choice, people went with the “soft Brexit” option by 41% to 35%. However, it does, of course, assume that people can be convinced that a “hard Brexit” option would result in the economy suffering, unemployment increasing and so on. We’ve just had a salutary lesson that lots of experts telling people that leaving the EU would have negative economic effects is not necessarily effective. I think the most we can say is that it suggests if people can be convinced that a hard Brexit would damage the economy, jobs and public services and that a soft Brexit would not, then they would prefer a soft Brexit… but that “if” is doing a lot of work.
Keiran also asked two questions about a second referendums, both finding a majority of people do not want one. The first asked if people would like a second referendum after terms are agreed, the second asked if there should be a second referendum if it becomes clear that Brexit is damaging the economy. In both cases 33% said yes, 52% said no – suggesting that a declining economy wouldn’t necessarily make people want to reconsider the issue.
That second question is key in a lot of current discussion about public attitudes to Brexit. It is clear from current polling that that has not been any significant shift in public opinion since the referendum, most people think the govt is obliged to deliver on the referendum result and that most people do not currently want a second referendum. The hopes of some of those who would like to stay in the European Union are pinned upon the idea that as the negotiation period progresses the impact on the British economy will begin to be felt and at that point the public will change their mind, want to stay after all, and therefore be open to the idea of a second referendum.
Whether there is a chance of this happening is very tricky to measure in a poll. It’s asking people to predict how their opinions might change as a result of future economic developments, when respondents themselves don’t know the answer. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the economy in coming years, and we certainly don’t know what the public will attribute it too. It would be naive to think that an economic downturn will necessarily be blamed on Brexit by those people who supported Brexit. People view new events and information through the prism of their existing views, and many Brexit supporters will blame it on other economic factors, or on the rest of the EU trying to punish us, or pro-Europeans wanting Brexit to fail…. or take it as short-term pain that will be outweighed by later gain (in the same way, many pro-EU people will be liable to blame things on Brexit that have nothing to do with it. This is not a comment about supporters of one side or the other, but on human nature in general).