Did the ‘English Dinner’ Make Any Difference? First Evidence from Survation

Posted on 21 February 2016 by John Curtice

David Cameron eventually secured (what he regarded as) a successful conclusion to his attempt to renegotiate aspects of Britain’s relationship with the EU over dinner in Brussels on Friday evening. Yesterday he gained approval for this deal from a majority of his cabinet and announced that the referendum will take place, as anticipated, on 23 June.

The renegotiation has, of course, been central to the Prime Minister’s strategy for persuading voters who are sceptical about Britain’s membership of the EU that they should vote to Remain. Today, in a poll conducted for the Mail on Sunday, Survation provide us with the first, very instant attempt to ascertain what impact, if any, the conclusion of the renegotiation has had on voters.

The poll does though need to be read carefully. Regular readers will be aware that polls conducted over the phone have suggested that Remain are well ahead, whereas those conducted over the internet have reckoned that Remain and Leave are neck and neck. If we take into account all of the polls conducted between the New Year and the eve of last week’s European Council meeting in Brussels, those conducted by phone have (once Don’t Knows are left aside) put Remain on average on 59% and Leave on 41%, while those undertaken over the internet have put both sides on 50%.

Hitherto, Survation have been one of the companies that have conducted their referendum polling over the internet. Today’s poll, however, has been done by phone. Its results thus cannot be sensibly compared with the company’s previous polls. What we can note, however, is that (once Don’t Knows are left aside) Remain are credited with 59% and Leave with 41% – exactly in line with the average for all previous phone polls. In short, this first bite at estimating what difference the conclusion of the renegotiation might have had on the state of the referendum race probably indicates that it has made little if any difference at all.

In one sense this will come as a disappointment to the Prime Minister. After all, the main purpose of the renegotiation was to reach an agreement that would persuade people Britain should remain in the EU. However, given the seemingly adverse public reaction to the draft version of the renegotiation published earlier this month, at least this poll suggests that, on balance, the public may now think that the Prime Minister has not got such a bad deal after all.

According to today’s poll, 35% think Mr Cameron has done well in the renegotiation, rather more than the 29% who reckon he has done badly. Even 23% of Leave supporters think he has done well (though 49% think he has done badly). This is a much more favourable judgement than, for example, the 22% who told YouGov that the Prime Minister’s draft deal was good one and the 46% who reckoned it was bad one. It also represents a striking contrast to Ipsos MORI’s finding that only 34% were confident that he would get a good deal while 62% anticipated that he would get a bad one. Low expectations may have been to the Prime Minister’s advantage, or perhaps the fact that Mr Cameron eventually got a deal may have impressed some voters, but either way it looks as though the deal is, at present at least, not regarded as unfavourably as previous polling evidence suggests it might have been.

Indeed, on balance, the public apparently think some of the measures the Prime Minister has secured might actually make some difference. Just over a quarter (26%) reckon the provisions to reduce EU migrants access to in-work benefits will help reduce immigration, while nearly a third (32%) say the same about the reduction in child benefits. Only 13% and 12% respectively say they will not help reduce migration. On in-work benefits, at least, Leave supporters are as likely as everybody else to think the measure will help reduce immigration. There may, however, be a problem here with the wording of these questions. The third possible response offered to respondents in both cases – that the provision would make ‘no difference’ to reducing migration – would appear to have much the same meaning as the second response that the provision would not reduce it.

Meanwhile, one other feature of today’s poll should be noted. The group to whom, above all, Mr Cameron was hoping to appeal through his renegotiation were supporters of his own party. Yet for the moment at least they remain seriously divided – 51% say they will vote to Remain, 49% to Leave. The fissure in Conservative ranks on Europe evidently extends all the way from the Cabinet down to the rank and file supporter.

And now we await what the most charismatic Conservative politician of all, Boris Johnson, has to say……..

John Curtice

By John Curtice

John Curtice is Senior Research Fellow at NatCen, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, and Chief Commentator on the What UK Thinks: EU website.

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