The government’s Brexit impact assessment – leaked to BuzzFeed at the end of last month – was met with a familiar response from those on both sides of the Brexit debate. Remain advocates chimed that the forecast, which suggested that economic growth would be slower post-Brexit under all scenarios tested, was further validation that the UK economy would take a hit as a result of our decision to leave the EU.
Meanwhile, key figures on the Leave side insisted that we have heard all this before, arguing that economic modelling and various forecasts made during the referendum campaign had proved unreliable and should be treated with a heavy dose of scepticism.
While the leaked paper has caused a stir in Westminster, we thought we would revisit recent BMG polling, conducted on behalf of Left-Foot-Forward, that suggests such forecasts are likely to have little impact on public support for, or against our EU exit.
Conducted between 9th and 12th January, 689 current Leave supporters were presented with various scenarios and were asked which of those scenarios, if any, would make them consider switching their support from Leave to Remain.
The poll reveals an extremely low propensity to switch, even if faced with a national recession, increased prices, or a hit to their personal finances.
Around one in ten (12%) said that the national economy going into a recession would lead to them switch their support, and just 9% said that their personal finances getting worse would lead them to change their minds.
Asked whether “prices going up significantly” would make people switch from Leave to Remain, just 8% of Leave voters said it would change their view. Meanwhile, 14% said that the NHS being damaged/worse off would make them consider switching their vote.
It is also worth noting that of those who said they would switch, a majority said that they would either “on balance” or “with reservations”, rather than without any equivocation. Between 10 and 15 percent in each scenario said they were unsure.
Moreover, those Leave supporters who actually voted in 2016 were much less likely to change their minds than Leave supporters who did not vote in 2016. For example, just 7% of Leave voters who voted in 2016 indicated they would switch support if prices increased significantly, compared to 14% of Leave supporters who say they did not vote last time. They didn’t vote last time, so we might ask ourselves, would they vote this time?
The importance of making the emotional case
In many ways these results are unsurprising. Much of the research conducted since the referendum has suggested that the outcome can be explained by a divide on questions relating people’s values, emotions and identity, rather than simply an assessment as to what is best for their own, and the nation’s finances. If anything, the results show that campaigners seeking to change minds must do more to make an emotional case for their side of the debate, rather than relying on economic projections and individual statistics. After all, foreign exchange markets are driven by more than just politics, and what goes up can come down. Take recent movements in the value of stock exchanges for example, and the pound versus dollar exchange rates.
So, what someone may use as ‘water-tight evidence’ showing that people’s lives are becoming worse-off, may end up counting against them, should markets turn the other way.
However, it should also be noted that – as with all questions that rely on respondents being able to forecast their own futures – readers should treat the results to this question with a healthy dose of caution.
Many respondents may say that their support will be unchanged, but the reality of a recession, or other personal circumstances that arise a consequence of unforeseen events, may have a bigger impact on their perceptions in the future than they might think today. People respond to these questions in the moment, not through a mental calculus, but through gut instinct.
That said, such questions also tend imply a degree of confidence about the linkage of a political event, to an economic and personal financial outcome that may not be warranted, or at least well-evidenced. This is important because the nature of arguments about economic impacts allow political opponents to occupy spaces of the debate that tend to justify their views, and not the other way around. How Leave voters apportion ‘the blame’ of an economic downturn, or an upturn for that matter, in such scenarios will be different from Remain voters, and people tend to pick their evidence based on what fits with their emotional response to the subject.
Good economic news is ‘despite Brexit’ for Remainers, and ‘because of Brexit’ for Leavers. Poor economic news is ‘because of Brexit’ for Remainers and because of government incompetence or the global economy for Leavers.
Due to the complicated and interconnected way that the performance of our economy is driven, the sitting government, the banking system, public spending levels and consumer confidence can all be seen by the public as culprits or heroes of our economic outlook. So why are we surprised when Brexit is now seen as the main culprit or hero, depending on your political view?
Given this, it is hardly surprising that the “NHS being damaged/worse off” was more effective at changing Leave voters’ minds than increased prices or people’s personal finances. As a valued public institution, the existence of which is supported by an overwhelming majority of Brits, the NHS is able to invoke an emotional reaction with voters, something which economic projections and statistics are simply not capable of doing.
Entrenched views on both sides
The results also highlight the extent to which people’s views about Brexit – even after an intensely fought campaign, and 18 months of detailed coverage of the negotiations – are well and truly entrenched.
It’s no longer a “fresh” issue that the public is just beginning to properly consider. Most people’s minds are made on the issue. There are no new debates to be had.
Indeed, BMG’s analysis of EU Referendum voting intentions has already revealed that very few Brexiters are experiencing “buyer’s remorse”. Our polling on this question in December showed that around 9 in 10 Leave and Remain voters are unchanged in their view on whether the UK should be inside or outside the EU, with any shifts in public opinion largely explained by the views of those who did not vote in 2016, and don’t have a very good track record of voting in general.
An article based on these polling results, released by Left Foot Forward, can be found here.
Methodology, fieldwork dates, and a full breakdown of these results can be found here.
For a more detailed breakdown of results from this poll, or any other results from our polling series, please get in touch by email or phone.
0121 333 6006
Robert Struthers – Senior Research Executive
Michael Turner – Research Director