As the referendum on EU membership gradually approaches, it will be up to the various leave/remain groups to establish their respective battlegrounds. In doing so, understanding the attitudes and priorities of their respective audiences will be key to building an effective platform to build their campaign. In particular, the generational divide between those opting to leave or remain.

The Remain campaign, led by Britain Stronger in Europe, launched their campaign on arguments of economic vulnerability, suggesting that the economic prosperity of the country may be at risk should the UK exit the EU. Though many commentators will be pleased that they have got straight to the economic argument, for many years seen as the key issue amongst voters, ‘inners’ will not be sleeping easy this week given their slender 4% lead over the opposition.

What’s more, Britain Stronger in Europe as well as Vote Leave and Leave.Eu (the two groups competing to lead the Leave campaign) should probably take heed of the apparent generational divide in attitudes towards the EU and any seemingly related issues.


The chart above clearly illustrates the different voting intentions of the generations, but to understand some of the key drivers behind the divergence of views, we need to dig a little deeper. Beginning with trust, the results, in this instance net trust scores broken down by age group, are quite striking. The chart below shows that, amongst 18-24s the European Union is more trusted than the UK government, religious leaders and the royal family. The same cannot be said for those aged 65 and above, with the EU being the least trusted institution, beating usual suspects in the race to the bottom, such as journalists, bankers and even politicians.

This difference may, in part, be explained by the strong attitudinal difference between the generations towards the role of government. When asked which of the following statements was closest to their view “Government should do more to solve problems instead of businesses and individuals OR Government does too much and should let businesses and individuals do more” there is again a clear divide between younger and older respondents. Younger people who feel government should do more outnumber those who feel government should do less, by more than three to one. Whereas, those aged 65 and over respond in broadly equal numbers.

Perhaps even more striking is the difference in priorities. When BMG asked respondents what they thought the single most important issue facing society today was; there is a clear divergence between young and old. For 18-24s healthcare/NHS ranks number 1 (20%), with the cost of living closely behind (18%). Immigration & Asylum is in third (13%), whilst the national economy and the environment occupy fourth and fifth spots (10% & 9% respectively). However, for those aged 65 and over, immigration is by far the top issue (43%), with Healthcare/NHS a distant second (24%), the national economy third (12%). These results support the emerging generational trend, that there may be underlying attitudinal differences behind support for leaving or remaining part of the EU. It is clear that young people are not as concerned about immigration as others. 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”. Less than one in four 18-24 year olds (23%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the view, compared to 56% of those aged 65 or over.

These results are a clear indication that an ‘immigration narrative’ will be preaching to only a portion of the choir, underlining the importance of a targeted and multilayered campaigning strategy for both sides of the debate.

There will, undoubtedly, be a long way to go before the vote on EU membership, which is due before the end of 2017, and clearly the debate is in its infancy. But our polling suggests a strong generational undercurrent to the EU debate that the campaigns should take note of when making their case.

Data tables 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



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