Expert View

Polling shows growing support for staying in EU

by Peter Kellner | 18.12.2018

Peter Kellner is former president of YouGov.

With deadlock in Westminster over how to move forward with Brexit, what are the polls saying about people’s changing attitudes towards leaving the EU? The latest YouGov survey for the People’s Vote campaign contains three important messages.

1. Staying in the EU now holds a commanding lead over the government’s deal

Views of voters match those of MPs, in rejecting Theresa May’s deal by almost two-to-one. And Conservative voters, like Conservative MPs, are divided, with half of them backing her deal and one in three opposed.

For most of this year, polls have shown “Remain” ahead of “Leave” typically by four to six points.

But in a referendum between staying in the EU and leaving on the terms that the government has negotiated, staying enjoys an 18-point lead: 59-41%.

Of the 17 million who voted Leave in 2016, just 10 million people say they would vote for the government’s deal – two million would vote to stay, while three million are not sure or would not vote.

In contrast, of the 16 million who voted Remain in 2016, 13.5 million would still vote to stay in the EU. Only 1.4 million would vote for May’s deal and one million are not sure or would not vote.

And pro-Europeans are significantly more enthusiastic than Brexiters. Counting only those who say they are certain to vote in a “no Brexit” versus “May’s deal” referendum, staying in the EU currently leads by 63-37%. An 18-point lead among all voters therefore widens eight points to 26% among those certain to vote.

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2. Millions of 2016’s Leave voters have lost faith in Brexit’s ability to make life better

Few erstwhile Leave voters now think Brexit will make life better. Three months ago, 43% of Leave voters thought Brexit would make it stronger. Just 12% feared it would make the economy weaker.

Today, only 24% of Leave voters say “stronger”, while slightly more, 26%, say “weaker”. That’s a huge 33-point drop for “stronger” in the net difference between the two views since the beginning of September.

There have also been marked falls in Leave voters’ optimism about people’s standard of living and the NHS.

In all three cases, pro-Europeans’ views have changed little. They are just as pessimistic now as they were three months ago.

3. Labour could suffer badly if it ends up facilitating Brexit

Labour is seeking an early general election. YouGov asked people how they would vote if Labour, along with the Conservatives, supported going ahead with Brexit. Labour slumps to third place, with 22%, behind the Liberal Democrats, who would jump to 26%.

Those who voted Labour last year and Remain the year before say they are more likely to switch to the Liberal Democrats (49%) than stay with Labour (41%).

The survey suggests no compensating boost among those who voted Leave in the referendum. In fact, it would be the Conservatives who would benefit if both main parties backed Brexit. Their support among Leave voters would rise from 62% to 69%. Labour support among Leave voters would slip from 21% to 19%.

Moreover, most Labour Leave voters who take sides back a People’s Vote, by 56-44%. Again, the evidence suggests little downside to Labour backing a People’s Vote. Indeed, among Labour supporters generally, such a vote is massively popular, with 77% in favour and just 23% against.

A further challenge for Jeremy Corbyn is to persuade voters that he could get a better Brexit deal if he were prime minister. This claim is rejected by 68-11% by voters generally, by 47-30% by Labour voters, and – perhaps most ominously – by 52-23% by Labour Leave voters.

A parallel question provides one fragment of relief for the prime minister, though a blow for the Brexit project generally. Just 18% of voters (and 20% of Conservatives) think a different leader could get a better Brexit deal – 60% of all voters (and 70% of Conservatives) disagree.

All the signs are pointing to the public losing faith in Brexit fast. It’s clear we need a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

30 Responses to “Polling shows growing support for staying in EU”

  • If a vote is forced upon us and the choice is between TMs deal or staying in then I and I suspect millions of others would boycott the poll or better still have a national movement for spoiling the voting papers.

  • Peter,
    The only truly undemocratic choice in this fiasco would be to argue that the 2016 Referendum result, sanctioned the ‘No Deal’ scenario. If it had been offered then as an option with everything we know about the consequences it would have been rejected then and even more certainly now. If you think otherwise you should be supporting the a 2nd Referendum to prove you are right.

  • You need to highlight to new voters, the 18 to 20 cohort. This group totals about 2.5m and with about 1.5m having died since 23rd June 2016 the change to the electorate composition is significant democratically, some 4m. By the time a deal is done, we don’t have one yet, hopefully by Dec 2020 these numbers will have increased to 15% of the total electorate. Politicians need to very careful about denying such a large slice of the voting public a vote, these people have not had any chance to vote once let alone those asking for a 2nd vote.

  • I do find it quite sickening that so many of you diehard remainers actually relish the deaths of so many wise and experienced older people in our society. Surely it is a high proportion of them that have experienced war, poverty, personal loss and political change that have developed a keen understanding of if being a member of the EU going forward is a good idea.
    Hopefully so many of the age group you are so keen on to change the result are actually now using their knowledge and experience to realise that the EU is on its way to being a federalist, undemocratic super state. So many on this site seem to believe that it is the older generation that are the selfish ones instead of realising that they voted out purely because of their fears for the next generations. Oh and by the way, the only sensible outcome I now see is a no deal departure.

  • Nigel and Peter: The first referendum was a farce because no one had any knowledge of what it would mean to be outside the EU. It was a travesty of democracy because there were financial irregularities, lies and interference from outside parties. A vote now is the only way out of the deadlock, other than May revoking A50.

  • The first was a farce but the second will be bliss? No knowledge? I think you will find that there were endless debates and the remain campaign held all the aces in terms of support from big business, universities, international organisations, civil service etc etc. Sorry William but should a vote be forced upon us it will be a disaster. No, let’s just get on with leaving (then we will all know what it is like to be outside the EU) and then the ideological devotees to the project can start to campaign for re-entering, if they so wish.

  • Peter,
    I don’t know who is actually relishing the death of the old. I am approaching that age group myself. The question you need to face is that the ‘No Deal’ you prefer would not carry a majority under any circumstances, as Jacob Rees Mogg found out recently. It’s impossible to argue that it the 2016 result supports the idea, as the question was sufficiently vague to draw support from both people who favoured a Soft Brexit and the version that you are advocating. Your view is the view of the minority by any consideration so to keep advocating as the only choice to be pursued says that you don’t really believe in Democracy at all. There is a petition to Parliament at the moment calling people to demand the No deal option, which is running at the most as 0.5% of the population in some constituencies. To say that that accurately represents the views of 17.4 Million people is pure fantasy.

  • That is a crazy scenario, Peter. There was no proper informed debate in 2016. Some politicians and others used the EU as a scapegoat for the deprivation in some areas when the problems had been caused by Tory austerity. There was no debate at all, it was a good example of how democracy can be manipulated. It also released a wave of nasty nationalism. The country needs to be in a group which cooperates together and leading. Isolationism and nationalism leads to war, Peter. I

  • OMG – there is so much delusion on this site. This country does not want to be isolationist in fact we want to be more internationalist. if nationalism is being proud of your country then I’m guilty as that is patriotism, and we are NOT suffering from nasty nationalism – are you telling me that the French and the Germans are not patriots? We want to and will continue to cooperate and trade and with regards to war – the efforts of the EU at the moment are fuelling extreme political nationalism across the continent. That will be the greater threat in terms of conflict.
    And for the comment that there was no informed debate in 2016………..do me a favour!!!!

  • Let’s not forget Theresa May had a second vote in 2017 because the numbers didn’t stack up with the 2015 election votes. She would be more than happy to change her mind on a second Referendum vote if she thought she was going to win. Government’s hold votes in quick succession for one reason. Because otherwise they can’t implement their programme.

  • Dear Peter,

    I am a member of the grumpy old git brigade – kindly described by your good self as ‘wise and experienced older people’. I was born in London during the war. My parents and their generation had to endure uncertainty, pain and hardship to win peace in Europe. My generation grew up amongst bomb sites. We queued endlessly for food, with limited supplies rationed throughout the ’40s. Membership of the EEC, when we could start campaigning to join, offered the promise of longer-term peace and growing prosperity.

    My children have grown up as Europeans. They happen to have been born in England. Taking us out of the EU removes their sense of identity, their being part of the wider community to which we naturally belong. Now their children, in turn, are threatened by a little islander mentality – which would undermine their future freedom to move, work, live, find love and a family life, anywhere on the continent.

    The EU is not federalist and is certainly not undemocratic. As a UK citizen, I vote for members of the European Parliament using a system of proportional representation that is much fairer than ‘first past the post’ Westminster elections. For instance, I have voted in every single general election since the ’60s, but only once for a candidate that won. Many of our MPs have more votes cast against them than for them; thus many of us feel our political viewpoint totally ignored. When I vote for MEPs, however, my kind of politics does find a voice.

    I am also represented in the European Council by my own government – whatever I think about their democratic legitimacy. It is the Council, together with the European Parliament, that decides EU policy. So: no undemocratic decision-making. Rather a dual approach, where we all have two chances to influence events: a system that is more democratic than ours nationally – and more accountable, if you choose to watch it closely (i.e., the proceedings and decisions of the Parliament or Council) rather than relying on news reports that are inevitably biased one way or another.

    I am near the end of my life. I don’t believe you need to be sickened by this, Peter. Death is part of life. But I wish a full and fulfilled life for future generations. This will come about if we remain open to one another, respect one another, support and care for one another. Quitting the EU does the precise opposite. Instead of bringing us together, it casts us asunder. It leaves us adrift in a globalised world. It is absolutely wrong and should be stopped before more damage is done to the country’s reputation and to our own individual well-being.

    Bestest vibes. Andrew

  • Was trying to reply to Peter who suggested a national movement to spoil ballot papers in a first referendum on Govt’s deal vs remain – what would that achieve?

  • I must say Peter, you are in danger of reminding me of a character from Dickens. First let’s look at your points.

    1. You wish to try to undermine the legitimacy of a first referendum on the Govt’s draft deal vs remain by having a national movement to spoil ballot papers. This seems to confirm you are not really interested in democracy – at least, not when it might deliver something other than what you want – and you therefore objectively lack a commitment to the founding principles of a democratic society. If so, you’re not in a position to criticise others who do.

    2. When someone states some clear and basic facts in support of the argument for holding such a referendum or a similar one, ie the considerable changes in the electorate owing to the number of deaths and those becoming eligible to vote since 2016, you respond with a profound insult. Just because someone has a different opinion to yours does not mean that they relish the deaths of those who voted a different way in 2016. It’s just a reference to time having rolled on, with inevitable consequences which have electoral implications. I certainly do not relish others’ deaths, whoever they may be, and I very much think that a general apology is due from you.

    3. It seems to me from your subsequent points about the old and the young, that you have little idea that peoples’ voting decisions (on both sides) are often more complex and nuanced than you present them to be. I am a strong remainer, as you will have guessed, but by no means one who is uncritical of the EU. One of my many reasons for remaining is the necessity of considerable EU reform. We’ll have no say in that if we leave, but will still be greatly affected, even if there is no deal, by how the EU develops in the future.

    You also seem to have no concept of the fact that there were many older people who were and are in favour of EU membership precisely because they had lived through war, poverty, personal loss etc.. Remember the difference between Mrs Thatcher’s jingoistic triumphalism after the Falklands War and Robert Runcie’s humble thanksgiving for sacrifice and peace, based as it was on the sadness and realism of one who had fought through Normandy and beyond, and knew all too well what war involved. Check out the life and writings of Harry Leslie Smith and discover that true patriotism is founded on humanity and love for others, not on notions of how much better we are than others. It’s important to know why one is proud of one’s country. It’s not just because it’s there. Seventy three years of peace in Europe have helped to be delivered by the EU. As a result, the post war generations have had lives their parents could only dream of.

    4. A sensible no deal is an oxymoron. How can making no provision for such a profound change be regarded as sensible, when people’s lives, livelihoods, families, standards of living and safety and security will be at such risk as a result? Would you make fundamental changes in your life without first considering them and planning to make them the best you could? I shan’t go on, but if we exit with no deal, you’ll have the chance to see how sensible or not it will be, both immediately and over time. How will the old and those in poverty fare then? Good luck explaining your idea of “sensible” to them, given that their experience and wisdom will be telling them something quite different.

    5. Yes the 2016 referendum was a farce, for all the reasons previously given. That it was so should mean that all parties will have an interest in ensuring that
    there is as fully informed a debate as possible next time. You also assume that because there were many debates prior to the 2016 referendum, that this implied there was sufficient knowledge about the implications of Brexit then. The past two and a half years appear to have taught you nothing. They have taught me an enormous amount. So much has come to light about the way the vote was manipulated, and the means used, about the complex organisation and integration of our economy within the EU, and that any form of Brexit will damage the economy. Even ministers of the Crown have recently admitted that they hadn’t realised basic things like the importance of Dover to our exports (Raab), or have fundamentally rowed back on the fantasies they peddled about what I call Tommy Cooper trade deals (“just like that”) in 2016 and prior to it (Fox and others).

    Watch or listen to Ivan Rogers’s recent lecture at Liverpool University in full. He was our ambassador to the EU and has unparalleled knowledge to share. Here is the link: https://news.liverpool.ac.uk/2018/12/13/full-speech-sir-ivan-rogers-on-brexit/

    No-one has said a further referendum will be bliss. Again, you put words into others’ mouths, because I think you realise the need to bolster the weakness of your own views, which appear to be based on emotion rather than an appraisal of the information available.

    6. We are not suffering from nasty nationalism? A defenceless MP was murdered by someone shouting “Britain first” during the referendum, in case you had forgotten. Utter lies were told by Nigel Farage and the rest of the official and unofficial leave campaigns about immigration, eg from Turkey, using posters similar to those used by the Nazis. The numbers of race hate crimes have risen considerably in the past two years. There are very clear links between the nationalist and far right movements here and those abroad. Is that the kind of internationalism acceptable to you?

    Back to Dickens: in “A Christmas Carol”, the ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge two children named Ignorance (a boy) and Want (a girl). He warns Scrooge to be very careful of them both, but to be especially careful of the boy.
    Don’t just consider the evidence, be prepared to learn, and especially learn that the world and Brexit, are rather more complex than you thought them to be.

    With genuine good wishes.

  • Jeremy,
    Extremely well reasoned points..
    I don’t worry about Leave being on a second Referendum ballot paper, as long as it is not Unicorn plan version 2. I would like to see a code of contact applied to such Referendums which was applied rigorously to disallow, false or misleading claims to be made with apparent impunity. Had that been applied in the first Referendum, Leave would not have won. Not my comment but Dominic Cummings of the Leave Campaign who admitted that the notorious £350 Million could be Given to the NHS was sufficient to tip the balance. Note that a swing of 650,000 from Leave to Remain changes the result with the FTTP approach taken on an Advisory Referendum. It would be amusing if it wasn’t the reality.

  • If there is no option to Remain in a people’s vote I and millions of others will abstain or spoil the paper.
    This is a mess and those responsible will be judged by history, meanwhile we and our children and grandchildren will pay the price of the Tory incompetence and stupidity and the weakness of Corbyn and his useless ‘Opposition’.

  • Where’s the Taxpayer’s Alliance complaining about a waste of £4bn?
    Corbyn will have to go if he doesn’t get real very soon. John McD should stage a coup. We are the laughing stock of the world.

  • Hi Peter

    Sorry for the delay in responding. Leave would have to be on the ballot paper, but as time has gone on, as things stand, this would have to be represented by the form of Brexit which the Govt has managed to get to. In theory, this might be replaced by some other option eg Norway plus, but time constraints mean that this really isn’t on the cards. If there was a separate no deal option, that would simply split the leave vote and be unfair as regards leavers. In any event, there is very little support for no deal, as has been said above.

    I doubt any of us would, as in the old joke, have wanted to start from here. Aside from our different views on Brexit, the whole process has been mismanaged from the start, ie right from David Cameron’s decision to seek better terms which then led on to the 2016 referendum, up until now, where the PM stands firm in a hole which she has dug for herself, and which pleases few. Just as many remainers have legitimate complaints about the approach to and subversion of the 2016 referendum, I can also see that some leavers legitimately feel that what they thought they were expressing in their votes to leave hasn’t been encompassed within the leave package the Govt has brought back. No-one took proper stock of how to ensure that the process took account of the complexities inherent in our position as an EU member state, let alone acquaint the public with the practical implications of both leaving and remaining. We all can rightfully expect our politicians to have thought all this through, but unfortunately they didn’t by and large. All sorts of reasons for that, I suspect, but not the place to air those now.

    Best wishes, Jeremy

  • Oh, and Peter, I forgot to say that I’m almost as brassed off with the leader of my Party (Mr Corbyn) as with the PM. They seem from my point of view to be engaged in a grotesque dance of death. I’d be happy to leave them to it, if only the rest of us could somehow sort out this mess. Jeremy

  • In response to Mr MacKay, I would still vote for the least worst option in a ref which excluded remain, if it came to it. Wouldn’t be at all happy and would campaign against it, but I would still use my vote as best I could. Don’t agree with Mr MacKay on this as I didn’t agree with the same point made by Peter but from the opposite point of view re no deal option.

    I agree however with Helene over that far right, dark money funded crypto-lobbying organisation which inaccurately calls itself the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Non-taxpayers’ alliance more like. They’re unlikely to complain about the odd £4bn being spent on what I suspect they desire most of all, ie a no deal Brexit.

  • I was delighted to read Andrew Hayes comment above as I am also of his generation (although a bit younger having just missed the war but growing up in the Industrial North East from the mid 1940s). I totally endorse everything Andrew says. Sadly I have concluded that the notion that age automatically imparts wisdom needs to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. In fact, I am deeply saddened to find so many of my own, very lucky generation, casting aside the aspirations and ‘will’ of today’s young people, often preferring instead to hark back to the nostalgia of a UK aloof, proud and superior amongst the wreckage of postwar Europe. I find that on average, the young are much better suited to adapt to the current world, compared to we ‘old gits’. By all means let’s cherish our past and particularly the achievement of our parent’s generation but lets also have the humility to let the predominant view of the young prevail today. After all, they are the ones who are going to have to live with the consequences. When I was a late teenager in 1964 there was a very popular folk song by Bob Dylan called ‘The Times They Are a Changin’. It became a bit of an anthem for our generation but so many of us seem now to have lost the fire and progressive determination that rang out in his lyrics. I fear that if we are not careful we will be remembered not as we remember previous generations, i.e. those who gave us freedom and opportunity, but as those who squandered our gains and mortgaged the future of our successors via regressive projects such as Brexit.

  • It’s a pity the survey doesn’t consider how people would vote if offered ‘Leave without a deal’ as an option.

    The government’s deal has very little support; it’s almost inevitable that leaving without a deal will be on any future ballot. In that scenario a People’s Vote becomes a re-run of the original referendum, about which this polling tells us little and the original referendum tells us a lot.

    In effect the terms of this opinion poll have been set by the government, who have pursued a ‘deal’ that is acceptable to no-one in order to achieve a no-deal Brexit by default. Given the differences of opinion within the Conservative party, this has always been the best route to keeping the party together and in power.

    For those who favour a People’s Vote, if they want to avoid being outmanoeuvred in setting the terms of the vote, I would urge them to be more realistic in their polling to find out what the public really might support.

  • As demonstrated by so many of the recent posts on this site a 2nd referendum would be a total mess. No one really knows what the questions should be and for many, many people the questions could create a widespread boycott.
    I have even read posts proposing that a no deal Brexit should be made illegal!!! That is the equivalent of saying we would have no choice but to stay in the EU, I think you all know that would create national rage among leavers and who knows what would happen after. I certainly believe that the current make up of parliament would be quickly swept away with more extreme left and right politicians coming to the fore.

  • Nice little Parody if you want to use it
    I believed in Brexit Bullshit
    (acknowledgements to Greg Lake/ I Believe in Father Xmas)

    They said things would be good with BreShit
    They said things would be all right
    But instead it is apparent
    We were fed a load of shite.

    They sold me a dream of Brexit
    They told of a dividend
    It was just a fairy story
    Who knows how it’s going to end.

    Many wanted to believe in BreShit
    Many listened and took in all their lies
    Now reality is out there on the table
    No dividend, just sacrifice.

    They said things would be good with BreShit
    They said it would be just fine
    Now the Truth is out, we all must shout
    Let’s stop it while we have time.

    Peoples Vote – When do we want it? Now!

  • “Of the 17 million who voted Leave in 2016, just 10 million people say they would vote for the government’s deal – two million would vote to stay, while three million are not sure or would not vote. ”

    Also, you fail to mention, that of the 17 million who voted for Brexit about 800,000 have died.

    I also calculate that there are around 1.7m new eligible voters. If half of these actually vote, and 75% of them vote remain, then there would be around 650,000 new Remain voters (and about 215,000 new Leave voters).

  • Of course a no deal Brexit should be forestalled by legal means. This would prevent incalculable damage to the UK. There would be another Brexit option on the ballot paper – possibly the PM’s deal – or whatever else is dreamed up. How many people could be said to have voted for a no deal Brexit in 2016 with full information as to what that meant? There was only a general question asked, which was limited to the whether of leaving the EU with no detail on the how.

    A no deal Brexit would be the surest way of fulfilling Putin’s wishes to the utmost. I don’t want to give him anything at all, not even indirectly, so will be campaigning hard for a People’s Vote in 2019 and the extension and/or revocation of Article 15.

    These are the best things I can do for my country and all its people, including those with different opinions to mine, and to help resist authoritarian influences from abroad and at home.

  • Democracy is outdated in an age when social media can influence voting decisions. Much better to allow the meritocracy with their greater wisdom to make decisions on behalf of everyone. Referendums and general elections can end up with the wrong result which upsets people when it is ignored. We need smart people like those represented by infacts.org and Tony Blair to speak for everyone.