On the referendum #16: New ICM poll shows differential turnout could be important, only a third support the failing EU project

I asked ICM to add two questions to their weekly referendum tracker (which has changed to reflect the new referendum question). These results are the first time ICM has used the new question (PDF).

2,000 people were polled online between 11 – 13 September.

The results suggest some SW1 conventional wisdom and some eurosceptic conventional wisdom are wrong.

Results are cross-referenced according to three questions.

A. The referendum question itself.

B. A question on ‘enthusiasm’. There is evidence from America that tests of enthusiasm are more accurate predictors of turnout than standard poll questions that ask specifically about turnout.

C. A question that seeks to quantify the core vote of each side and the swing vote.

Summary of findings

1. ‘Leave’ voters are much more enthusiastic about the prospect of the referendum than the ‘remain’ voters: net enthusiasts split 56-23 for ‘leave’. 33% of ‘leaves’ but just 11% of ‘remains’ rated themselves as 10/10 on the ‘enthusiasm’ scale.

2. Both ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ have a strong core support of a third each. There is a crucial fifth of voters who would like to leave but are frightened of the effect on their jobs and living standards.

3. If the ‘leave’ campaign successfully assures these swing voters that their living standards will not be significantly affected, then there seems to be a better than 50:50 chance that ‘leave’ will win the referendum.

4. The change in the question may have helped the ‘leave’ side slightly: the gap seems to have narrowed to 52:48. NB. This may be pure chance. Also it may have no long-term significance. It is important not to over-interpret such things and also important to remember this is just one poll.

The numbers

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

Remain a member of the European Union 43%
Leave the European Union 40%
Don’t know 17%

Once ‘don’t knows’ are excluded:

Remain a member of the European Union 52%
Leave the European Union 48%

‘How enthusiastic are you about the referendum on EU membership?’ Scale 1-10.

Total Remain Leave
NET: Enthusiastic 34% 23% 56%
NET: Neutral 41% 51% 28%
NET: Unenthusiastic 18% 22% 13%
Don’t know 7% 4% 3%

Net ‘enthusiasts’ would vote 56-23 to leave (the numbers are roughly reversed among the ‘neutrals’). 33% of those who want to leave stated that they were ‘10 – Very enthusiastic’. Just 11% of those who said that they want to remain recorded the same degree of enthusiasm. The most enthusiastic are also older. According to Gallup, questions regarding enthusiasm were much better indicators of the eventual election outcome in midterm and presidential election years in the United States.

Fundamental attitudes to the EU

Total Remain Leave
I think the European Union project is bad for Britain and Europe, Britain should pursue free trade and friendly cooperation outside the EU and I am almost sure to vote to LEAVE the EU 33% 1% 81%
I strongly support the European Union project, Britain’s future role should be to play as full a part in it as possible in it, and I am almost sure to vote to STAY in the EU 31% 71% 1%
I would like to leave the European Union but I am worried about the effects on jobs and living standards, so I may vote to STAY in the EU 18% 19% 14%
Don’t know 17% 10% 4%

Roughly one third of the British public is very hostile to the EU, one third is pro-EU, a fifth wants to leave but is worried about jobs and living standards, and a fifth doesn’t know (perhaps doesn’t care). In the 1970s, the EEC was seen as a modernising project and connected to Britain’s recovery from basket case status. Echoes of this were still there during the euro battle 1999-2002. This feeling seems to have died. Focus groups strongly support the data above and suggest that the financial crisis, the Greek euro crisis, and the migrant crisis all played an important part in changing sentiment.

If one looks at this crucial ‘swing’ fifth, they now break 59:41 for ‘remain’. This suggests that if the ‘leave’ campaign persuades these people that a ‘leave’ vote will be followed by a free trade deal and friendly cooperation, then the ‘leave’ campaign will win. The ‘remain’ campaign has many advantages, such as its grip on conventional wisdom in institutions such as the BBC and CBI (which were deeply wrong on the euro). Its fundamental position, however, clearly has significant weaknesses.

Can we build a ‘leave’ campaign that can persuade people of this crucial argument on jobs and living standards? It will need an unprecedented organisation and a coalition that extends far beyond the current eurosceptic world.

We need to explain why this 1950s bureaucracy is failing and how a ‘leave’ vote by Britain will help spark a much better political organisation for Europe. Ultimately, we need a European institutional architecture that a) can accommodate the Eurozone’s attempt to prop up the euro and build a political union, b) can allow the Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries to trade freely and cooperate in a friendly way, and c) helps much greater global cooperation on issues such as technological breakthroughs, a billion new people joining the global economy, and migration. The EU has neither the physical assets or legal structure it needs to cope with the forces changing the world. A ‘leave’ vote is a necessary but not sufficient condition for doing much better.

Ps. Those working for George Osborne, Boris Johnson, and other leadership candidates will ponder the Conservative voter figures. It is extremely likely that Conservative activist figures would be even more striking…


Added later.

This paper, A Behavioral Measure of the Enthusiasm Gap in American Elections (Hill, 2014), discusses the ‘enthusiasm’ issue and why US campaigns look at this question re differential turnout.

3 thoughts on “On the referendum #16: New ICM poll shows differential turnout could be important, only a third support the failing EU project

  1. Pingback: EU referendum too close to call, according to new poll - Spectator Blogs

  2. Just on a small qualifier, in terms of specific polls which aspire to be taken as authoritative – should the question asked of respondents not now highlight that the future EU on which they are being asked to comment is changing fundamentally in the short years to come?

    Many respondents would notionally be under the impression they would be being asked to vote on the continuity of today’s EU. That would reasonably invalidate the results gained?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s