A 50/50 nationby Peter Kellner / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
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Voter stereotypes are often wrong. Forget “Mondeo Man” and “Worcester Women”: there was—and still is—nothing special about them. On most issues, different groups vary less than might be imagined. On taxation, say, or the health service, or welfare reform, there is a large overlap in the views of Daily Mail and Guardian readers, young and old voters, university graduates and those with few qualifications—even Ukip supporters and Liberal Democrats.
Europe is different. A special analysis for Prospect of recent YouGov surveys uncovers unusually deep divisions in public attitudes. For once, the differences do match the stereotypes. There is a huge contrast between the kinds of people wanting Britain to stay in the European Union and those wanting Brexit.
A separate survey, conducted for Prospect, explores the roots of this division. It finds that voters on both sides of the debate agree that Britain’s economic problems are still severe. What divides them is what has caused these problems. But it is a measure of the downbeat mood of the nation as the referendum approaches that, given a choice of 14 EU countries in which to live, including the UK, most of us would pick one of the other 13.
Let’s start with the basic in-out numbers. YouGov questioned more than 16,000 people during the two weeks following the agreement between David Cameron and the rest of the EU heads of government on changes to Britain’s terms of membership. A sample this size allows us to look at sub-groups with some confidence. Overall, our sample splits 50-50 among those who take sides. We detected a modest shift from a slight majority for Brexit at the start of the fortnight to a slight lead in the second week for remaining in the EU. But, overall, neither side has a decisive advantage.
The graphic below shows what we found. At one end of the spectrum, 91 per cent of Guardian readers want Britain to remain in the EU, while 97 per cent of Ukip supporters want Brexit. Apart from Ukip, the supporters of all the other significant opposition parties are strongly pro-EU, with 75 to 80 per cent saying they will vote for staying in. Conservative voters divide 56-44 per cent in favour of Brexit; however, there are signs that the Prime Minister is beginning to win some of them round to the “remain” camp.