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24 September 2015

YouGov: EU referendum – the state of public opinion

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In-depth YouGov polling conducted over the summer reveals the challenges and opportunities for those campaigning to stay in or leave the European Union.

With the Labour leadership election out of the way, the next year or two of Westminster politics is likely to be dominated by the issue of Europe, or more specifically, David Cameron’s promised renegotiation and referendum on EU membership. 

Asked which way they are most likely to vote and whether they may change their mind 50% are currently leaning towards voting to stay, 40% are leaning towards voting to leave, 10% have no idea at all. The core pro-EU support, those who say will definitely vote to stay, is 31% with a further 19% saying they would currently vote to remain but could be persuaded to vote to leave. Core support for leaving is 23%, with 17% currently voting to leave but open to persuasion.


There is a strong correlation between attitudes to Britain’s membership of the EU and age. Under 25s lean towards staying by 64% to 23%, over 60s lean towards leaving by 52% to 43%. Older voters, of course, are historically far more likely to actually vote.

Looking at social class a majority of pro-EU voters are middle class (57% are in social classes ABC1, compared to 47% of anti-EU voters). Here the traditional turnout advantage would work the other way, middle class voters tend to be more likely to turnout at elections, and are more likely to support Britain remaining in the EU.

Pro-European voters have a higher household income, are more likely to be in work, but less likely to own their house outright. 37% of pro-EU voters have a university degree, only 15% of anti-EU voters do. All these differences are to some degree factors of age (older people grew up when fewer people went to university and house prices were lower) but in summary, younger, middle class, graduates tend to be pro-EU, older, working class, less well educated people tend to be anti-EU.

Committed leave supporters, while smaller in number than committed remain supporters, are also more vocal. 17% of those who are certain to vote to leave say they discuss the issue of Britain’s membership of the EU very often with friends and family, compared to just 6% of those who are certain to vote to stay. [...]


We tested positive and negative arguments for both sides of the campaign (negative arguments about the EU, and positive ones about the opportunities outside the EU; positive arguments about the EU and negative ones about the risks of the leaving the EU).

For those in favour of staying, the arguments that were seen as most convincing were that EU market access brings jobs and prosperity, that outside of the EU we would end up having to follow the same rules to trade with Europe, we just wouldn’t have any say, and that EU membership offers advantages like being able to live and work elsewhere in the EU. These were also the arguments that soft LEAVE voters found most convincing.

For those in favour of leaving, the arguments seen as most convincing were those around immigration and money currently spent on EU membership being better spent on services in Britain. These were also the arguments seen as most convincing by soft REMAIN voters. The most convincing anti-arguments were seen as convincing by over 60% of soft REMAIN voters, in comparison the strongest pro-arguments were only seen as convincing by just over 40% of soft LEAVE voters. [...]


Our polling so far shows potential for both sides. Those in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU currently have the lead and have a larger base of support. They also have the benefits of being the status quo option, meaning they have a head start in portraying themselves as the safe option and their opponents a leap in the dark.

However, the obvious arguments in favour of EU membership poll badly when compared to some of the arguments against. Arguments about leaving the EU costing jobs and prosperity are not seen as being as convincing as more straightforward arguments about being able to cut immigration and spend EU contributions on services. The campaign to remain in the European Union need to find some arguments that are as effective as those of their opponents.

Taking arguments in isolation can be misleading though. Anti-immigration arguments look like a winner on paper, but people will judge the campaigns and arguments as a whole. Our polling also found potential for the LEAVE campaign to be seen as ignorant and bigoted. Playing the anti-immigration card may play to those negatives. The actual leave campaign will need to paint a positive image of Britain outside Europe to counter people’s fear of the unknown, not be seen as narrow-minded and fearful.

Full YouGov analysis

© YouGov plc

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