Massive summer polls are sending clear Brexit message

by Peter Kellner | 14.08.2018

To use a term favoured by sports commentators, we are now reaching the business end of the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the rest of the EU. As we do, public opinion is on the move. This is clear from two huge-scale surveys that have been published in the past few days. Both were conducted by YouGov; both questioned exceptionally large samples; together they help us to understand what is happening. One important finding is that if the Brexit talks break down, a two-to-one majority of voters think the people, not Parliament, should decide whether or not Brexit goes ahead.

The first survey, commissioned jointly by Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate among 15,000 electors, indicates that more than 100 parliamentary constituencies that voted Leave two years ago would now vote Remain. These include exceptionally large swings from Leave to Remain in Labour strongholds, such as Liverpool Walton, Knowsley, Swansea East, Oldham West & Royton – and Hayes & Harlington, whose MP is John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.

If the analysis is correct, the political significance is enormous. Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are currently reluctant to speak up for a People’s Vote and the chance to stop Brexit. This is partly because they fear the response in Leave-voting Labour heartlands. If these are now moving sharply away from wanting Brexit, then the danger of a backlash is clearly reduced.

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But is the analysis correct? Large as it is, a poll of 15,000 means that YouGov gathered data from an average of just 24 people per constituency. However, YouGov faced similar criticisms when it predicted last year that Conservative strongholds such as Canterbury and Kensington might fall to Labour. They duly did. The reason why YouGov was right was not that it polled hundreds of people in both places – it didn’t – but because it built up a detailed picture of party support among different demographic groups, and then applied this data to the specific characteristics of each constituency.

In the latest exercise, YouGov’s data has been analysed by consumer analytics firm Focaldata, using broadly the same approach. While there is plainly a margin of error in the figures for individual constituencies, I believe the overall picture is about right. For one thing, YouGov surveys this year have invariably found that far more Labour Leave voters are now having second thoughts than Conservative Leave voters. We should, therefore, not be surprised that Labour-Leave constituencies are moving more towards Remain than Conservative-Leave constituencies.

Both recent big YouGov polls report that a referendum held now would produce a 53-47% victory for Remain. This is a 5% swing from the 2016 result of 52-48% for Leave. It follows that the swing in many Labour-Leave constituencies will be significantly greater than 5% – which is precisely what Focaldata are saying.

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The second YouGov poll was conducted this month for the People’s Vote campaign among a sample of more than 10,000. It tells us eight key things about why the public is on the move

  • As many as 73% of voters, including 60% of Leave voters, now agree that “it is likely that many of the promises made by politicians in favour of leaving the EU will be broken”. Just 13% disagree.
  • By almost two-to-one (43-22%), voters fear that Brexit would harm rather than boost Britain’s economy.
  • Few voters expect Brexit would enable the UK to “take back control”. Just 21% believe the UK would in practice gain the freedom to decide its own rules and regulations; 51% think we “will have to obey many EU rules and regulations if British businesses are to continue to trade freely with other European countries”.
  • Free and frictionless trade is seen as vital. If forced to choose, 50% would opt for free trade rather than the right to impose immigration controls; just 29% give immigration controls a higher priority.
  • If Brexit goes ahead, fully 70% want EU citizens to continue to have either an absolute right to settle in the UK (16%) or freedom for workers and students to come to the UK (54%). Thus freedom of movement of labour is popular, even if untrammelled freedom of movement for people is not. As other EU countries in practice qualify freedom of movement by drawing precisely that distinction, EU immigration need not be a stumbling block to a new deal that enables the UK to remain a member of the EU.
  • Given these findings, it makes sense that, by 45-34%, voters now favour “a public vote on the outcome of the negotiations”.
  • Furthermore, YouGov went on to ask a completely new question: what should happen if talks break down and there is no deal between London and Brussels: “should the final decision be made by MPs voting in Parliament or the public voting in a new referendum?” 50% want a public vote, while just 25% opt for MPs voting in Parliament.
  • Even people who voted Leave tend to prefer a new referendum, by 39-34%.

There is clearly the potential for a broadly-based campaign this autumn for a People’s Vote, should the Brussels talks go badly. Across the spectrum, the message from voters is clear: if the government and Parliament can’t sort out Brexit, the people should.

This article was originally published with the incorrect summary on the InFacts home page and in the InFacts daily newsletter. This has now been rectified.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

14 Responses to “Massive summer polls are sending clear Brexit message”

  • So, given that a favourite defence of Brexit is “the will of the people”, how long can a government continue to ignore current polling? It is not enough to hide behind “The people have voted and they voted leave”. Of course May and friends want to hold their party together, and, presumably, she seeks a deal which will primarily be aimed at just that. But at some point, the country, if not its “will”, has to have priority. So do we wait for her to finally admit that things have moved on …if ever…or is there some more positive parliamentary action which should be taken. I hate the feeling of being on the train lines and watching a train hurtling towards me.

  • Voting could be substantially altered by any campaign beforehand – the leave side with their dirty tricks and dark money would be unscrupulous, so powerful figures would have to speak for the remain side. Who would lead it? I vote Hugo Dixon.

  • A lot of people who voted Leave in Labour heartlands did so to stick two fingers up at Cameron. Every time Cameron opened his mouth urging people to vote Remain, I was screaming at the TV, shut up, you posh twerp, you’re gonna lose the vote for us.

    The idea that working-class areas such as Sunderland that heavily voted Leave would not return a Labour MP is preposterous. They would elect a hatstand if you put a red rosette on it.

  • So Peter Kellner a Remainer still hovering around the Leave/Remain closet door, to protect his ‘impartiality’, analyses polls paid for by Best for Britain ( Remain Campaigner), Hope Not Hate( Barmy Remain campaigner) and of course The People’s Vote (Remain campaign for anti democrat poor losers).

    Excuse me for being underwhelmed, a set of polls paid for by organisations wanting a specific answer, and surprise, surprise getting it.


  • Hopefully the leave side will be closely monitored as we now know their tricks. I’m afraid I haven’t heard of Hugo Dixon but I hope that Remain will be led by someone who likes and understands the EU unlike Cameron.

  • I am amazed that any Academic puts any weight whatsoever behind these polls, Statistically speaking the sample is far too small to show any form of accuracy, the most recent one was a mish mash of two polls that could in fact have been using duplicate data. If this is the standard of lecturers in this country I despair.

  • we haven’t made a mess with Brexit , the Government have made all the mess, 17.4 m people know what they want and the PM is ignoring us because she’s a remainer and she just keeps stalling so we will change our mind’s, well Mrs May that is never going to happen we want out and I’m sure there are a lot more than the original 17.4 m people that would vote to leave now and against the Tory Party with her as leader.

  • Both those polls have already been disputed by respectable pollsters. As mentioned above, the polls were by Remainers for Remainers and there was only ever going to be one outcome. I’m sure if any of the Leave groups started a poll, there would only be one outcome and that would be Leave, so I don’t know why Remoaners don’t realise they lost the battle and the war will be over on 29th March 2019. No matter how bad Mrs May’s plan turns out to be, eventually we will be fully leaving the EU, because come the next General Election, all the Leave voters will only vote for a party that promises to complete the job and will win by big margin. Unlike the Remoaners, the majority of the people of the UK do like having a proper democracy and if they think the great and the good have treated them like idiots, they will rebel against them. Someone mentions about getting a powerful figure to speak for Remain – how much more powerful can you get than the President of the United States of America? The Remain Campaign used every trick in the book, extending the registering of voters for a few days, because there was a problem for one hour on the site. Project Fear with all the might of the Bank of England, the Treasury the majority of Westminster MPs. A booklet costing us the taxpayers £9M going to every home in the country telling us why we should vote Remain, using Jo Cox’s death, how dirty can you get? No, Leave won’t win another referendum because they played dirty, they will win because all that needs to be said is ‘We didn’t believe you meant to vote that way, because you were too stupid to understand what it would mean to leave’. That will give Leave a 75% to 25% win, because people don’t like being called stupid!!!

  • You can say all you like about ‘this was commissioned by remained, so it favours remain’, but the analysis on the leave side was paid for by leave. Which has been more dubious of the two?

    Well, therewas a promise of £350 million per week for the health service; a trad4 deal with USA (US has imposed a huge tariff on UK steel and Aluminium, and has ripped up any trade deal that doesn’t favour USA so the trade deal with US will not be favourable); Control of borders ((the government is stockpiling food, because we have no customs arrangements, customs staff will be utterly overwhelmed, and aren’t prepared for the chaos that will inevitably happen). We’d leave without a divorce settlement. Oops. So much for the leave side.

    Remain said we won’t have trade deals in place upon leaving. Tick. That sterling would be devalued. Tick. That banks would start to ship out. Tick. European funding in, say, Wales wouldn’t be replaced, (despite the promises made in the last week of campaigning before the referendum). Tick.

    So, whose predictions are bearing up, and whose are disintegrating?

    Grown up talk, now. Forget the flag waving , red white and blue rhetoric. You have to work the numbers, and the numbers are stacking up on the side of remain.

    We shafted our manufacturing base 40 years ago. And our natural resources. We import huge quantities of physical stuff, and the shrunken pound means it’s more expensive.

    Put simply, this isn’t going to work.

  • Corrinne Allen seems to think that because Vote Leave were proven cheats and fraudsters, everyone else must be tarred with the same brush. Everyone knows that Brexit was a practical joke thought up by the multi billionaire newspaper barons. They had a private bet amongst themselves as to what was the daftest thing the British public could be persuaded to believe in, if enough money was thrown at it. They are now having a good laugh at the gullible idiots who believed in their tosh, and are all set to destroy their own country, whilst the perpetrators are making a smart getaway to Ireland and France or elsewhere, like arsonists running away from the fire they have set.

  • A number of Brexiteers are popping up now saying they would vote Leave once again despite the evidence from the latest polls. I believe them. But they are a proportion of the Leave vote. The ideological dogmatic Brexiteers, such as Gove, Fox, IDS, Redwood, would, even if confronted with undisputable evidence that the pound was going into free fall, and that wholesale closure of health, social services, education facilities would follow, would still vote Leave. For them facts are irrelevant.
    However, a large number of voters were genuinely undecided in the run up to the Referendum. When the time came, they were swayed to vote Leave on the basis of false promises and outright lies made by politicians, aided and abetted by some very suspect campaign teams. One of these has been the subject of parliamentary scrutiny, with regard to how its funds were raised, and the other, a data processing company, has now gone out of business.
    These are just additional reasons why a Peoples Vote is justified. The main treason is that people are entitled to know what the terms of the deal with the EU will be, if there is one, and if it does not meet their expectations, they are entitled to reject it.

  • Corinne Allen,

    It’s a small point, but why do leavers always regard the extension of the registration period as a dirty trick by remain? By what means could they ensure that all the people registering during those extra days were remainers?

    There was a rush to register in the last couple of hours. Why? The only reason I can think of was that there was a televised debate that evening that may have energised people to vote. It was between David Cameron and Nigel Farage. I’m a remainer but even I found Farage a far better speaker than Cameron on that occasion.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the extra voters weren’t mainly leavers. There may even have been enough of them to clinch it for leave.