Want to stop Brexit? This is the question to watch.

Was Brexit the right decision? (image: getty)

On Polling Matters last week I mentioned something about Brexit polling that’s been on my mind for a while, but which I haven’t written anywhere. It’s this:

Polling questions on a second referendum get quite a bit of attention. They find there’s not much desire for one – typically 30-35% support the idea. The same applies for blunter questions on stopping Brexit, which find even less support.

This is often used as evidence that Brexit is unstoppable. I think that’s the wrong conclusion.

Relatively few prominent commentators currently say Brexit can be stopped. This is surely a major reason roughly 50% of 2016 Remainers have given up on the idea.

But opinion on this kind of thing can change quickly. Not long before Theresa May called the snap election 55% of Tory voters said there shouldn’t be an early vote. Just after she announced it, 64% of them said it was the right decision. This is a subject where politicians and commentators lead public opinion.

That’s not to say majority support for a second referendum is just a few taps of the keyboard away. It does need to tap into a genuine shift in the public mood – but the question we should be looking at is whether Brexit is seen as the right or wrong decision.

Opinion on that has apparently shifted towards “wrong decision”, but only very slightly. The most recent YouGov poll gives it a 4-point lead – 52% vs 48% when you exclude don’t knows – which isn’t enough to say the public mood has shifted decisively.

If that “right/wrong decision” question shifts further – perhaps to 60% saying it was the wrong decision – there will be much more justification for commentators to argue the public want another say. At that point I’d expect opinion on a second referendum to shift quickly.

That’s why, if you’re interested in knowing whether the public could ever support overturning Brexit, I suggest focusing much more on the “right/wrong decision” question and much less on the ones that actually ask about stopping it.

I talked about this, and the state of the polls since the election, with Keiran and Matt Singh, on Polling Matters:

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  1. Sue Sutherland says:

    I think it’s important to give Brexiters a way out to save face. It’s very difficult to admit you were wrong. I think telling people they were lied to by a combination of the very wealthy and the Tories, explaining why they dislike the EU, workers rights, new taxation rules etc might help with this.

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