It cannot be taken for granted that voters will keep Britain in the EUby Peter Kellner / November 12, 2015 / Leave a comment
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Read Anatole Kaletsky on why Brexit would be a diplomatic disaster
Leaving aside California and Switzerland, which delegate large numbers of political decisions to their voters, most referendums around the world concern constitutional change. And the results of most of these turn on essentially the same question: which is the safer option—to change our arrangements or to keep things as they are?
Our coming referendum on the EU looks like fitting this pattern exactly. If it does, then the latest YouGov survey for Prospect suggests that the fundamentals favour a vote to stay in the EU, but that the incidentals—the possible eruption of events and campaign dramas—have a real chance of changing the outcome. And one that should give the pro-EU camp real concern is the stance that Boris Johnson finally decides to take. For the first half of this year, YouGov found a modest but consistent lead of six to 12 points for remaining in the EU. Then came Greece’s latest financial woes, followed swiftly by the refugee crisis. Since August, the two sides have been neck-and-neck.
However, when we ask a series of questions about the prospects of Britain outside the EU, a rather different picture emerges. We tend to think that Britain would be worse off, that we would have less influence in the world and that Britain’s exit from the EU would be bad for jobs and employment. Overall, 56 per cent of us think that Britain would be taking a risk with its future prosperity if we left the EU. Just 33 per cent think we would be taking “not much” or “no” risk. How do we explain the gulf between the widespread sense of risk with the neck-and-neck figures for our basic in-out question? My belief is that we are seeing something that so often happens in referendums round the world.
Months before the vote, many people express their dislike of the current state of affairs and like the general idea of change. But as decision day draws close, more and more voters think about the alternative, and shy away. Some voters respond to a poll some months out like a one-night stand in a rocky marriage. The referendum itself poses a much tougher…