As the Prime Minister’s negotiations for a European settlement begin this week, BMG has polled the British public on whether they’ll vote to leave, or remain when the referendum on EU membership finally arrives. Campaigns on both sides of the debate are now in full swing and with more than 20% of the public declaring that they are still undecided; there remains plenty of scope for either side to make ground.
The Remain campaign, led by Britain Stronger in Europe, launched earlier this month on a platform of economic and legislative vulnerability should we exit the union, and though many commentators will be pleased that they have got straight to the economic argument, the ‘inners’ will not be sleeping easy this week given their slender 4% lead over the opposition. However, whilst Vote Leave and Leave.Eu (the two groups competing to lead the Leave campaign) will see David Cameron’s opening play as a clear attempt to undermine the argument that leaving will allow the UK to “thrive like Norway”, they will be buoyed by the fact that the ‘in’ campaign is yet to describe, in any serious detail, what Britain in a reformed EU would look like to voters.
However, once you scratch a little beneath the surface of the data, our polling suggests that Mr Cameron will need to consider the ‘Elephant in the room’ when understanding the relatively strong support for the Leave campaign.
When BMG asked respondents what they thought the most important issue facing society today was; there is a clear divergence between supporters for each side. For those opting to leave, immigration is by far the top issue with more than half indicating so. Compare this to just 20% of those who wish to remain, where Immigration & Asylum comes second to Healthcare/NHS (21%).
This finding is supported further. When people were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement; “Immigration strengthens our country because of the good work ethic and skills of immigrants”, almost seven in ten (69%) leavers disagreed, compared to just 23% of those supporting stay.
Clearly the debate is only warming up, but our polling suggests that there may be more to winning this contest than economic arguments alone.
The full tables for these results, and others, can be found here.
If you’d like to find out more about this poll, or any other of our polls, please contact:
Michael Turner – Research Director