By David Kitching, Director of Social & Political Research
With mixed results coming through from the 2016 elections, there is potential for increased uncertainty when it comes to upcoming EU referendum. AudienceNet launched another short questionnaire over the past few days to monitor the evolution in public opinion the impending “Brexit” referendum. The survey focused on party support, influential personalities and assumptions about the effect of a hypothetical Brexit on business concerns and workers’ rights.
Looking through the data, it is apparent that Conservative voters comprise the the highest proportion of undecided voters on this referendum. No doubt this reflects the internal divisions within the party itself. Among Tories, the Leave camp is five points ahead at present but with 15% undecided, there is much work for David Cameron and other leading figures who support remaining in the European Union.
For their part, Labour voters overwhelmingly support a Remain position although 33% are still leaning towards supporting Brexit. Among the other parties there are no real surprises, although UKIP will possibly be disappointed with only 90% of their voters supporting Brexit.
The survey sought to determine the extent to which prominent personalities have the capacity to swing voters in one direction or another. Respondents were asked who would influence their opinion on matters of politics or the future of the UK. The options included politicians from the UK and abroad, business people, TV personalities, sportspeople and others. Overall, Boris Johnson, Richard Branson, Barack Obama and Jeremy Corbyn came out in front. The Boris factor may have solidified to some extent the divisions within the Conservative Party and it is noteworthy that the outgoing Mayor of London is also furthest ahead among undecided voters. Evidently, his cynical ploy to attain his party’s leadership has had an impact on the landscape around this election.
David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn also emerge as prominent frontrunners among undecided voters, indicating that concerted but separate efforts among their respective voting bases could help regain some traction for the Remain position. This is particularly crucial in Cameron’s case as undecided voters are more likely to look to him than either confirmed Remain or Leave voters. The weakness of his voice in order to navigate the disunity within his party risks jeopardising the UK’s future as an active member of the EU.
Richard Branson’s support is relatively evenly spread. As someone who has voiced support for the Remain position, he could perhaps step up his involvement to help bring people with him. For the remainder of personalities, voters tended to indicate their support for those who confirmed their own positions. Thus, Nigel Farage would be a found of advice for Brexiteers while Eddie Izzard, Emma Thompson and Angela Merkel would receive calls from Europhile voters.
This type of confirmation bias was replicated in terms of voters’ assumptions of the consequences of Brexit. As such, those in favour of Brexit assumed that leaving the EU would make it easier for British small and medium sized enterprises to do business and at the same time, that it would improve workers’ rights. Remain supporters thought the opposite; that conducting business would be more difficult and workers’ protections and rights would be damaged.
Interestingly, there was a higher proportion of undecided voters with regard to the effect on workers’ rights. Various elements of the business community have been extremely vocal on either side of this debate. While the trade union movement has, broadly speaking, supported a Remain position, there may be some virtue in launching further information campaigns on the impact the European Union has had on employment protections.