On the referendum #13: new ICM poll shows growing support for Yes/In; couple of other thoughts on education and judgement

ICM is doing an omnibus question regularly now on the precise referendum question.

HERE is a PDF of their latest poll of 2,000 people conducted over 14-16 August.

Headline figures: Yes 48 (+2), No 34 (-2), Don’t know 19.

In this poll, Scotland has much more divergent figures than the previous one: 56-26. I assume this is a combination of a small sample (170) and normal statistical variance…?

The strong lead for YES among ABs is even stronger: 60(+2) – 25(-5).

Two other brief thoughts on the issue of why more educated people often make huge errors of judgement, perhaps the best example of which being the way in which the best educated were the most suckered by Soviet propaganda and most resistant to the truth about Stalin’s terror, the Ukrainian famine etc (see Orwell’s famous essays).

1. Thucydides and simplicity.

One of the best bits in Thucydides is his account of the civil wars that wracked Greece. In that account is this passage:

‘Thus revolution gave birth to every form of wickedness in Greece. The simplicity which is so large an element in a noble nature was laughed to scorn and disappeared… In general, the dishonest more easily gain credit for cleverness than the simple do for goodness; men take pride in one, but are ashamed of the other… At such a time, the life of the city was all in disorder, and human nature, which is always ready to transgress the laws, having now trampled them under foot, delighted to show that her passions were ungovernable, that she was stronger than justice, and the enemy of everything above her… When men are retaliating upon others, they are reckless of the future and do not hesitate to annul those common laws of humanity to which every individual trusts for his own hope of deliverance should he ever be overtaken by calamity; they forget that in their own hour of need they will look for them in vain… The cause of all these evils was the love of power, originating in avarice and ambition, and the party-spirit which is engendered by them when men are fairly embarked in a contest… For party associations are not based upon any established law nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest…’  Book III, Jowett translation.

‘The simplicity which is so large an element in a noble nature…’ Intelligence is not just necessary for some things – in some areas such as maths and physics it is directly related to achievements. Politics is very different.

Thucydides reminds us that morality is not positively correlated with intelligence. Some modern evidence even suggests that more intelligent people are less compassionate (see my Essay).

2. Timescales and priorities.

A physicist emailed re my last blog to point out that richer and better educated people are less susceptible to physical disruption and economic disaster. Poorer people have to be more cautious.

Many people I know are very happy with the immigration policy of the last 15 years. They have gained a lot and see no risks to them. Their visits to doctors are unaffected. They hire cheap foreign nannies. They can afford to take positions based on moral signalling because they are cushioned against harsh reality – hence their vocal support for the euro at dinner parties while less educated people said things like ‘they’ll use it to put up prices like with decimalisation’. They have little or no idea what it’s like to struggle on £18,000 a year in a part of Birmingham that has been radically changed by immigration in a short period knowing one has no reserves to call on. The BBC and other influential institutions are dominated by such people so it is almost inevitable that they see issues like the EU in ways that seem distorted to others.

Another feature of richer people in my experience is that they tend to think that their greater wealth is a consequence of their virtues – they don’t seem to reflect much on the genetic roll of the dice. This is another subject…


On the referendum #12: new ICM poll shows 46-36 for staying in the EU; education, BBC, propaganda, Willie Munzenberg

ICM are going to be asking the referendum question regularly from now on.

HERE is their latest poll of 2,000 over 31 July – 3 August.

The headline figure is 46-36 for YES.

One of the interesting categories is Scotland which has 47-35 for YES. This is contrary to other polls that have shown much wider YES margins in Scotland. I wonder what the truth is about Scottish opinion.

Also note how ABs, better educated than other social groups, are 58:30 for YES.

Another interesting recent poll was done by Survation coinciding with the Farage speech / Arron Banks ‘in the know’ advertising push. The analysis is HERE. The numbers confirm the conclusions I sketched on public opinion last summer based on focus groups.

All the polls show that support for leaving the EU has fallen towards a core vote of about a third of the public. There is no doubt that the NO campaign is in a very difficult position. Some of those who want to leave have made some big errors and the establishment is largely united behind IN. Worse, OUT has become associated with an unattractive moral feeling. Better educated people tend to get their political views from feelings, mood, Zeitgeist and fashion, hence the success of the most brilliant propagandists – the Communists of the early part of the 20th century who dazzled large sections of the intelligentsia: see the career of Karl Radek’s frighteningly effective agent Willie Munzenberg (connected to all sorts of people from Hemingway to Philby et al) and characters such as Otto Katz, the NKVD agent who said ‘Columbus discovered America, I discovered Hollywood.’

It is a mistake to think that the better educated are ‘more rational’ in their political analysis; often they are less rational and more affected by fashion than the un-educated. They also run influential cultural institutions. Much of the techniques of Soviet propaganda (which became the basis for most of modern PR such as the celebrity letterhead) rely on one principle – how to overwhelm reason and humans’ capacity for objective analysis by creating a moral picture such that people send little moral signals to each other by their actions (like those well-educated people who signal each other by attacking the Mail on Twitter).

These phenomena are relevant to the referendum. As one famous BBC correspondent said to us during the euro battle, ‘The thing is we [the BBC] like cappuccinos and hate racists.’ Such feelings tend to overwhelm reason and leave people blind to things that ought to be obvious – e.g. that Delors et al created the euro in order to spark a great leap forward for ‘political union’ and its institutional structure was sub-optimal and risky when they created it (an argument that was perceived as near-loony by many at the BBC for years).

It has been conventional wisdom among the better-educated who control powerful cultural institutions that support for the EU is synonymous with being ‘modern’, ‘not racist’ and so on. This is despite the EU system looking in many ways extremely dated, palpably failing, transferring money from the poor to the rich and multinationals etc. My point is not at all that I am right about the faults of the EU; perhaps my arguments are poor. My point is that there is a morally and intellectually respectable argument that the EU is an outdated bureaucratic mess, built on very dodgy intellectual foundations by Jean Monnet, and supported now by trite soundbites about ‘3 million jobs’ that do not hold up to serious scrutiny – but that the history, ideas, arguments etc count for very little against feelings, and they often count least among the well-educated.

Changing this moral picture such that people think about the issues, rather than adopt positions based on moral signals and emotion, will be extremely hard for the NO campaign in the time available though I do think that the silent artillery of time will change it within a decade.

Ps. I should add that there are two strong emotions on the NO side, regarding immigration and contempt for political elites, which also can lead to faulty reasoning.

Pps. (Added later). Patrick Wintour, the Guardian’s political editor, comments on Twitter that the above ‘may underplay possible Labour volte face.’ He is right. My impression is that the sight of the Bundesbank telling the Greeks to transfer assets to an offshore trust to be privatised by Germany has opened the eyes of some on the democratic Left to the deep institutional problems of the euro and the consequences of the push for economic and political union. However, this is a very recent development. Many on the Left have not thought seriously about the EU since Delors’ extremely clever speech to the TUC in 1988 which explained to the Left how the EU could be used to achieve permanent victory over their political opponents at a time when Thatcherism seemed dominant. Most political speeches are a waste of time. This is one of the few that really changed politics. Many on the Left decided to prioritise unravelling Thatcherism over democratic accountability as a consequence of this speech.

I hope that Labour does, as PW suggests, re-examine its uncritical support for the EU project particularly given it is now heading for yet another Treaty (between our referendum and 2025) based explicitly on the Delors model that will centralise much more power in Brussels in an attempt to prop the euro up and continue the Monnet/Delors vision (see HERE). There are some great Labour MPs, such as Gisela Stuart, who have challenged the conventional wisdom in Labour for years. Other figures in Labour, such as Blair’s speechwriter Phil Collins, really seem to believe the Foreign Office spin that ‘the EU is changing, the Monnet/Delors model is dead’ etc. The Foreign Office knows this is rubbish – the Five Presidents Report makes it untenable – but it is amazing how many intelligent British people choose to believe this time after time. I remember Mandelson saying exactly the same about the ‘Madrid Agenda 2000’ around the same time he was predicting the euro would be great for Ireland and Greece. Actually, this connects directly to the main point above about the delusions of the educated.

On the referendum #11: new ICM poll on a second referendum idea, Boris etc

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on the issue of exit plans and a possible second referendum. According to various media reports, Boris liked the idea and has told people so.

I thought it would be interesting to see some numbers so asked ICM to consider it.

Attached HERE are the results.

Unsurprisingly, they show that 1) the public supports a second referendum, and 2) the prospect of one makes the idea of voting NO in the first vote less scary and therefore may increase the chances of NO winning the first vote.

It is also worth considering that the public has not focused on the first vote yet so the idea of a second vote is necessarily an abstract and hazy thing. As the campaign develops, I suspect these numbers will strengthen.

I have a few thoughts about this though no time to sketch them now, but I thought it would be useful for people to look at some numbers.

NB. It is not for me to decide what the NO campaign position should be on a second referendum and I have not decided what I think about it, but the 5 Presidents Report, the Hollande interview today on the need for another Delors-esque great leap forward etc show how important it is for these things to be thought through quickly…

Please leave thoughts below.