Yesterday we had two polls conducted partially after the referendum announcement, from YouGov and TNS, neither of which showed any boost for the Conservatives. Today’s YouGov is the first conducted entirely after the referendum announcement and has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 43%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 9% – so no obvious impact at all.

Personally speaking this is a slight surprise, while Europe is not an issue that particularly excites voters (even UKIP voters are actually driven more by things like immigration and the economy),  I thought a temporary boost from Cameron looking on top of things and the exceptionally good press coverage of the last few days was likely. In the event Cameron’s own ratings have indeed improved – YouGov repeated their leader attributes question yesterday and Cameron got his best ratings since last April,  with particular increases in strength and being good in a crisis. However these don’t appear to have translated into voting intention. Normal caveats apply, it is just one poll and others may paint a different picture, but so far the big gamechanging speech doesn’t appear to have changed public opinion much.

YouGov’s poll also asked voting intention in a referendum – the figures remain extremely close, 40% would vote to leave, 38% would vote to stay, confirming again the drastic narrowing in the lead of those wanting to leave since last year. Populus also had a poll out this morning in today’s Times which found almost identical figures – 40% saying leave, 37% saying stay.

We won’t get any actual polling numbers until tonight or tomorrow, and certainly won’t get a clear handle on any impact upon voting intention until at least tomorrow, but here’s a few initial thoughts on the European referendum.

Referendums are popular, but most people don’t care much about Europe. Polls consistently show that people support the idea of a referendum on Europe, but they also show people would like a referendum on almost any subject you care to ask about. This is because a poll question asking “Should there be a referendum on X” is the equivalent of asking “should you be allowed a say on this, or should politicans decide it for you.” Hence polls showing people approve of the referendum don’t necessarily show that people think it is an important issue and are crying out for a referendum on the subject. Asked about what the most issues facing the country are, Europe comes low down the list. Asked what the important issues facing people themselves and their families, it is even lower down.

More important will be the impact on perceptions of Cameron. That isn’t to say the announcement won’t have some impact on the polls. If we go back to Cameron’s European “veto” in December 2011 it produced a significant boost in Conservative fortunes. However looking at the underlying figures, this mainly seemed to be on the back of improved perceptions of Cameron: people thought he was more decisive, a stronger leader and so on. Keep an eye his personal ratings this time – will it make people see Cameron as a strong and effective leader, will it make it look as if he has more purpose and drive, is more in control of events?

…and on the Conservative Party. The same applies to the Conservative party, which at time in past months has seemed riven by internal dissent and splits. If the announcement can make the party more united and loyal to its leadership it will probably improve perceptions of the government’s competence and capability, one of the key problems that has been facing it since last year. On the other hand, they need to be careful not to bang on about Europe too much…remember it is not a particularly salient issue, the general public care more about the economy, pensions, crime, health and so on, so if the Conservatives now proceed to obsess about the issue it will only make them look out of touch.

It may bring back some UKIP support. As we’ve discussed before, despite its genesis as a anti-EU party, support for UKIP is not actually driven by opposition to the EU. Counterintuitive it may be, but most people who vote UKIP do not think that Europe is an important issue facing the country. Their vote is driven more by concerns over immigration, disillusionment with the government and general unhappiness with modernity. Nevertheless, some are driven by Europe, and the referendum may well chime with the worldview of some others.


This morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 33%, LAB 42%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 10% – another single figure lead for Labour. In the past few week YouGov’s daily polls have shown increasingly frequent 11, 12 even 13 point leads, and had looked as though the Labour lead may have been inching upwards, but now we are back down in the 10 point sort of area.

The poll also asked voting intention in an EU referendum – the result is not as striking as the Sunday Times poll that had people saying they would vote to stay in (that one came after some other questions on referendums and Europe, so there could have been an order effect), but it confirms the turnaround in public opinion. 40% said they would vote to leave, 37% said they would vote to stay – a three point lead for leaving. Compare this to the twenty-one point lead for leaving YouGov found in October and November last year.

Meanwhile the full tables for yesterday’s ICM poll are now up on their website here. As usual the re-allocation of don’t knows reduced Labour’s lead, in this case from eight points to five points – so despite the apparent contradiction, ICM and YouGov are actually recording a very similar Labour lead, eight points and nine points. The difference in their topline reported figure is because the two companies make different assumptions about what don’t knows will do (YouGov ignore them, ICM assume a proportion will go back to their previous parties).

The Guardian have published their monthly poll from ICM. Topline figures with changes from December’s poll are CON 33%(+1), LAB 38%(-2), LDEM 15(+2), UKIP 6%(-1). None of the changes are outside the normal margin of error, so are nothing to get particularly excited about, although for the record it is ICM’s lowest Labour lead since last August (ICM do, anyway, tend to show some of the lower Labour leads because of their reallocation of don’t knows, which tends to help the Liberal Democrats and hinder Labour).

The other question in the survey is yet another contrasting result on capping the increases in benefits – this time showing only 36% of people thinking that “squeezing benefits” is fair and 58% thinking it is unfair. As we have seen earlier, polling on this policy has produced some sharply contrasting results with no easy explanation for the variations. The suggestion in the Guardian that the contrast is a result of opinions changing after the autumn statement doesn’t hold up as YouGov was showing continuing support for a cap this month. It seems to be one of those issues that really does depend entirely on how it is framed, and with no obviously superior or more neutral wording to go far, I don’t think we can conclude much more than that how the public react to the policy probably will depend on how the political parties manage to frame it in the media.

David Cameron hasn’t actually given his long-delayed Europe speech, but today’s YouGov/Sunday Times poll shows the widespread media coverage and the debate around the speech is already having an effect upon public opinion.

At the start of the month YouGov was showing people would vote to leave the EU in a referendum by 46% to 31% who would vote to stay in – figures that were pretty typical of YouGov’s polling on EU referendums for the last year. Last week those figures had shifted to 42% get out to 36% stay in. This week they have moved even further and now 40% of people say they would vote to stay in compared to 34% who say they would vote to leave.

What appears to have happened is that normally people use an EU referendum question to express general disatisfaction with the EU, with the European Court of Human Rights (I know its different from the EU – most people don’t!), Eastern European immigration, bureaucracy, bans on straight bananas & bent cumcumbers and all the general media perception of the EU. In the last fortnight some will obviously have thought a little more about it as a referendum becomes a more likely possibility, as people like Richard Branson, the US Embassy, Ed Miliband, Vince Cable and David Cameron have all spoken of the importance of Britain being in Europe… and it has changed views.

That is not to say that Euroscepticism per se has faded away, it’s just support for leaving completely that has fallen. The poll still shows 58% of people support having a referendum on EU membership (though, usual caveat, they say that about everything), 59% of people say Cameron is right to try and bring some powers back from Europe and 58% of people say that this is the right time to raise the issue of Britain’s relationship with the EU.

The shift in views is also reflected in voting intentions. Topline Westminster voting intention today is CON 33%, LAB 42%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 7% – the seven point figure for UKIP is the lowest YouGov have shown for several months. More striking is voting intention in European elections, a week ago YouGov had UKIP support in a European election at 17%, figures now are CON 30%, LAB 38%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 12%. I would still expect UKIP to do much better than that in an actual European election (looking back at the 2009 polling they put on a lot of support in the run to the election itself), but it suggests the expected Cameron referendum promise is winning back some UKIP support.

It is also improving perceptions of Cameron himself. 40% think he is doing well as Prime Minister, 54% badly. These are his most positive (or least negative!) approval ratings since last March. Asked who they trust more on the issue of Europe Labour lead the Conservatives by 23% to 20%, with UKIP on 15%. People largely answered the question along party lines, but it does underline the fact that Europe is not necessarily an issue where the Conservatives have a natural lead, like say, immigration or crime. In contrast David Cameron has a solid lead on the party leader people would trust the most to negotiate in Europe – Cameron 26%, Miliband 18%, Farage 11%, Clegg 5%.