Is Euroscepticism collapsing, or is it just bad polling?

Posted in Bad polling, Europe on January 20th, 2013 by Leo – 7 Comments

Today’s YouGov poll shows a startling change in attitudes to the EU. The results suggest more people would now vote to stay in the EU than to leave it: 40% staying in against 34% wanting to leave.

That’s a big swing from two months ago, when 49% said they would vote to leave: 17pts ahead of those wanting to stay:

Shifts like these don’t just happen by themselves. But is it real, or is something going on with the polling?

Option 1: a change in opinion

There are grounds for thinking a real shift has happened. The last time ‘vote to stay in’ was this high was December 2011: just after Cameron’s walkout of the EU summit.

At that time, the suggestion that the UK would leave the EU moved from remote to seeming more possible. Perhaps people started responding to the polling question differently: saying “I’d vote to leave the EU” became less of an empty threat.

Maybe that’s what happened this time as well. Over the last couple of weeks, discussions about the UK’s future in the EU have dominated the news again. People have started thinking about their own view, and they’ve responded to YouGov with a more considered opinion, which has taken some people away from the ‘out’ camp.

So we have a plausible explanation – but it’s not the only possible answer.

Option 2: bad polling

Some polling is designed to find out what people would do if they’re exposed to certain information or arguments. If Tesco promised to make its beefburgers with only British ingredients, would you be more likely to shop there? If you’re told that 60% of people affected by the benefit cap are in work, would you be more likely to oppose it?

But other polling is supposed to be a pure measure of what people currently think. Questions like voting intent and the EU referendum should be in this category.

So for the EU referendum question to show accurately what people think, respondents shouldn’t be shown anything that might influence their response. In an ideal world, they’d only be asked about the EU, and then the poll would finish. But that would be expensive, so we have to accept that the EU question will go in a poll with other questions.

In that case, the other questions respondents see need to be consistent between polls. So if respondents are being influenced by the other questions, at least it’s happening in a comparable way.

But that’s not how YouGov have done it.

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What happened in 2012?

Posted in Europe, Politics on January 8th, 2013 by Leo – 1 Comment

Through 2012, I kept track of five questions on the issues shaping UK politics. For a final time, I’m revisiting them to see how they’ve changed and where we are now:

1) More attention to growth

Until the omnishambles Budget, the country was pretty evenly split on whether the government should slow deficit reduction to concentrate on growth.

After the Budget, ‘concentrate on growth’ opened a lead that stayed above 6pts, and reached 17pts after dire economic figures in the summer.  But in the poll conducted immediately after the Autumn Statement, views were back to being evenly split.

Not only is this important for debates about the future of the economy, but it also says something interesting about the public’s relationship with political news. I’m often quite an exponent of the view “the politerati are talking to themselves, the rest of the country couldn’t give a stuff”. But the shifts in attitudes after the Budget and the Autumn Statement are a reminder that some political news does get widespread attention and change attitudes.

 More on this question here

2) Speed of cuts 

After holding steady for most of the year, the proportion saying the cuts are being made too quickly has now fallen a bit further, to 44%.

Clearly this isn’t good for the credibility of Labour’s line “too far, too fast”. This will be an interesting one to keep watching when more cuts start to bite. For example will personal experience of cuts to child benefits and the 1% cap start affecting views of cuts in general?


3) Blame for the cuts 

This is another one that hasn’t moved far in Labour’s direction. Over 2012, the proportion blaming Labour for the cuts fell from 39% to 36%: hardly a radical shift.

At the same time though, the coalition have started picking up a bit more of the blame: up from 22% in January to 27% at the end of the year.

But this still means that two and half years into the government, more people blame Labour for the cuts than the current government.

More on this question here

4) Old and tired 

But underneath the economic questions, there’s a host of measures about how the parties are viewed. One of the important ones is about whether they’re seen as old and tired.

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The five trends that will shape British politics

Posted in Europe, Politics on July 15th, 2012 by Leo – Comments Off on The five trends that will shape British politics

On New Year’s Day, I wrote about five trends, where public opinion last year shifted on issues that could change the political landscape.

It’s time now to revisit those questions to see where we are, half-way through the year.

1) More attention to growth

The international debate of the last few years has been about whether governments should prioritise deficit reduction or growth.

In the first few months of 2012, the deficit hawks were winning in the UK. But after the Budget, that lead was reversed, and since late April there was been a 6-11pt lead for those who say the government should prioritise growth.

See more on this question here


2) Speed of the cuts

Labour’s central criticism of the government’s economic programme is that the cuts are not only going too far, but also are too fast. Over 2011, the proportion who agreed that the government was cutting too quickly fell from 58% to 48%, suggesting trouble for Labour.

But this year, that trend has stopped. The proportion saying the cuts are too fast is about the same now as it was in autumn 2011.


3) Blame for the cuts

Views on who is to blame for the cuts showed little movement in 2011, with about 15pts more blaming Labour than the coalition.

This changed after the budget, when the gap fell to single figures. Since then, it has been between 5-10pts.

It’s interesting that the government appears now to be returning to the argument that they’re clearing up Labour’s mess, presumably in anticipation of making this central to their next election campaign. If so, this question will be increasingly important.

See more on this question here


4) An old and tired party

Last year, the question of which party was most seen as ‘old and tired’ moved (in Labour’s favour), when voting intention didn’t change.

Now, Labour have established a lead on being seen as less ‘old and tired’ for the first time since the election. Unlike voting intent, this view has strengthened in Labour’s favour over the last two months, with Labour now having a nine-point lead.

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Would Labour be mad to promise an EU referendum?

Posted in Europe, Politics on May 28th, 2012 by Leo – 1 Comment

Number five on my list of trends to watch this year was Britain’s attitudes to the EU. In 2011, opinion had swung towards Britain’s staying a member and I guessed the trend would continue as an EU vote became increasingly plausible.

What I didn’t realise was that I was writing at the moment when Britain’s love for Europe was at its peak. Since then, the proportion who say they’d vote to stay in the EU has dropped by a third:


This shift raises questions about Labour’s recent hints that it’s considering pledging an EU referendum.

The general view seems to be that Labour is bluffing to create problems for the Tories. The logic is that talk of an EU referendum hurts the Tories much more than it does Labour.

Keeping the issue in the news gives credibility to UKIP, unless the Tories make the same pledge. And if they did promise a referendum, the Tory leadership would have to say which way it would campaign – presumably for staying in the EU, which would put them on the other side from most of their base:

But though the issue may hurt the Tories more than Labour, the assumption remains that Labour’s suggestion can’t really be serious. A referendum campaign would be a huge distraction for a Labour government. Only a small proportion of the public consider Europe to be one of the top issues facing the country (6% at last count), so not to have a referendum wouldn’t cost a Labour government much.

Further, a no vote in a referendum would define how the government would be remembered by history. Assuming that the leadership wouldn’t actually want to withdraw, why take such a risk, with relatively little to gain?

But let’s consider why Labour might commit to a referendum.

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What would happen in an EU referendum?

Posted in Europe, Politics on October 23rd, 2011 by Leo – 1 Comment

The front page of today’s Sunday Express claims that 75% want Britain to quit the EU now. This is pure nonsense.

As described on Tabloid Watch, to get to their 75% figure, the Express have added together the proportion who say they’d leave (28%), with the much larger proportion who say they’d vote to renegotiate membership (47%).

But putting this dodgy reporting aside, we’re left with the timely question of what the UK does think of EU membership, and how any referendum would fall out.

Fortunately, we’ve had plenty of polls that can answer this, and which lately have had a good level of consistency.

Starting with a straight up ‘should I stay or should I go’ question, polls over the last few months give us about 3 in 10 wanting to stay, and about half wanting to leave. An August YouGov poll was typical:

But break this down further, and the desire to leave becomes less clear.

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