Like the Scottish referendum 18 months ago, the campaigns for and against British membership of the European Union will be a contest between economy and identity.
The top concern for those who want Britain to remain in the EU is what is better “for jobs, investment, and the economy generally.” For those who favour Brexit, what matters most is the “balance between Britain’s right to act independently, and the appropriate level of co-operation with other countries.”
On both sides, immigration is a secondary concern. Overall, just one voter in six says it matters most in deciding their vote—and most of them are firmly committed to leaving the EU. Despite all the agonising over free movement, child benefit and Britain’s welfare rules, this is unlikely to be the issue that sways the nine million people who have yet finally to make up their mind, and whose verdict will decide the outcome.
Overall the contest is finely balanced. YouGov’s latest survey for The Times, conducted this week, finds that we divide 51-49 per cent for Brexit (after excluding don’t knows). This compares with a 56-44 per cent preference for Brexit in early February. Much of the five point swing back to remaining in the EU is explained by the views of those who voted Conservative last year. In early February they divided 68-32 per cent for Brexit. Now they divide 60-40. Past YouGov polls indicated that the Prime Minister could sway a fair number of Tory voters with a strong appeal for retaining our links with Europe. It has started to happen.