Diverse Reactions: Initial Polling on Mr Johnson’s Brexit Deal

Posted on 22 October 2019 by John Curtice

So far, Mr Johnson has had some difficulty getting the Commons to back the revised deal he brought back from Brussels last Thursday – though his proposal clearly has much more support in Parliament than the deal that Mrs May first unveiled eleven months ago ever managed to secure. The Prime Minister is now hoping that over the next three days this support will prove sufficient for him to secure MPs’ approval of the legislation needed to put the deal into UK law. But how well has the deal gone down with voters? And how does its reception compare with the one that Mrs May’s deal received?

Four companies have so far conducted polls of voters’ attitudes towards the deal. Many of them were conducted within hours of the announcement that an agreement had been reached, though in one case, YouGov, the company then revisited the subject over the weekend.

Three of the companies, ComRes, Panelbase and Survation, straightforwardly asked voters whether they supported or opposed the deal.

We should note first of all that many voters said they did not know. One in three told Survation they had not heard anything about the deal (or at least were not sure they had) and in this poll these voters were not asked their views about the deal itself. Meanwhile, ComRes reported that nearly three in ten (29%) voters said they did not know whether they supported or opposed the deal, while in Panelbase’s case the figure was as much as 40%. The reactions obtained by the polls therefore probably disproportionately reflect the views of those who are more likely to pay some attention to what is going on in politics.

Still, the pattern of the responses of those who do have a view is clear. First, on balance, voters are supportive of rather than opposed to the deal. Second, in this respect Mr Johnson’s deal has received a warmer reception than Mrs May’s deal ever received.  However, third, Leave and Remain voters have reacted very differently, with the consequence that opinion on the new deal is more polarised than it was on Mrs May’s deal.

Among voters as a whole, Panelbase report that 32% support the deal, while 28% are opposed. ComRes suggest that the balance is more clearly in the deal’s favour, with 40% in favour and 31% against. Meanwhile, among the two-thirds of voters who say they have heard something about the deal, Survation find that 47% support the deal while 38% are opposed.

Still, we might note that none of these polls find that as many as 50% of voters positively support the deal. The mood among voters might perhaps better be characterised as one of cautious endorsement rather than wild enthusiasm.

A similar picture is painted by two polls – from YouGov and Survation – that asked voters (either instead of or in addition to asking whether they support or oppose the deal) whether they thought MPs should accept or reject Mr Johnson’s deal. On average across two polls YouGov found that 42% think the deal should be accepted and only 27% that it should be rejected, while Survation reported (among just those who had heard something about the agreement) that 50% want Parliament to accept the deal, while 38% would like MPs to reject it.

However, despite their apparent approval for the deal, it is far from clear that voters are necessarily convinced that Mr Johnson’s deal will be good for Britain. In their two polls conducted since the agreement YouGov have found that on average just 18% think it is a good deal for Britain, while 27% believe it is bad – though two in five voters say they do not know enough about the deal to make a judgement. Similarly, Survation found that among those who have heard about the agreement, just 34% believe it is a good deal for the UK as a whole, while 42% believe it is a bad deal. Perhaps for some voters their support for Mr Johnson’s deal represents a judgement that it is the best that could be done in the circumstances rather than necessarily representing an ideal solution.

Both Survation and YouGov asked questions about Mr Johnson’s deal that they also asked when Mrs May’s deal was first unveiled last November. At that time (again among those who heard something about her deal), just 27% said they supported Mrs May’s deal, while 48% were opposed. Those figures subsequently improved somewhat but never moved clearly in Mrs May’s favour. They contrast sharply with the figures of 47% in favour and 38% against that we have seen Survation have obtained for Mr Johnson’s deal.

Meanwhile, when YouGov first asked voters whether they thought parliament should accept or reject Mrs May’s deal, just 27% said they should accept it, while 42% indicated they should reject it. It was a first impression from which the former Prime Minister’s agreement never recovered. Now, in contrast, more voters say Mr Johnson’s agreement should be accepted than indicate it should be rejected.

Indeed, voters themselves are inclined to acknowledge that they think that Mr Johnson’s deal is better than Mrs May’s. When YouGov asked them which they would prefer, just 17% picked Mrs May’s deal while 37% opted for Mr Johnson’s deal – though approaching half (46%) said that they did not know.

Not least of the reasons why Mrs May’s deal proved unpopular is that it lacked support among Leave voters as well as, less surprisingly, their Remain counterparts. Mr Johnson’s deal, in contrast, is regarded very differently by the two groups.

Panelbase report that 48% of Leave voters support Mr Johnson’s deal, while just 15% are opposed. ComRes suggest the deal’s reception among Leave voters may be even warmer, with as many as 66% in favour and 8% opposed. Not dissimilarly, Survation find that among those who have heard about the deal, 73% of Leave voters support the deal and just 15% are opposed.

In contrast, the balance of opinion among Remain voters is clearly in the opposite direction. According to Panelbase just 20% of them support the deal while 44% are opposed. ComRes too also suggest that only around one in five (19%) support the deal, though they find that as many as 55% are opposed. Meanwhile Survation report that only 22% of Remainers who have heard about the deal are in favour while 64% are opposed.

Indeed, it looks as though those who voted Remain may be even less keen on Mr Johnson’s deal than they were on Mrs May’s. In Survation’s first poll last November of those who had heard something about Mrs May’s deal, just over half (53%) said they were opposed, compared with the near two-thirds who express that view about Mr Johnson’s deal. Meanwhile, as many as 36% of Remain voters told YouGov that they think Mr Johnson’s deal is worse than Mrs May’s, while just 13% express the contrary view.

In short, in coming up with a deal that is more acceptable to Leave voters, the Prime Minister may have emerged with one that has largely replicated the fault line of the 2016 referendum.

That said, in one sense at least, the Prime Minister’s agreement may have served to reduce the level of polarisation about Brexit. There appears to be a marked reduction in the proportion of Leave voters whose first preference is to leave without a deal.

This is clearest in a poll conducted by Kantar after Mr Johnson’s initial proposals for a deal were released but just before an agreement was reached. Hitherto, when in recent months the company had asked voters to choose between no deal, Mrs May’s deal, leaving but staying in the single market/customs union, and reversing Brexit, on average just over half (51%) of Leave voters backed no deal, making it by far the single most popular option among this group. But in their latest poll, in which the options included Mr Johnson’s proposals rather than Mrs May’s agreement, 43% of Leave voters picked the Prime Minister’s deal, while just 28% opted for no deal.

Mr Johnson’s principal aim, of course, has been to strike a Brexit deal that would implement the instruction that Leave voters gave in the referendum three years ago. In emerging with a deal that many Leave voters regard relatively favourably, the Prime Minister could be said to have had some success in meeting their expectations. However, the relatively adverse reaction of Remain supporters means that it does not obviously provide a foundation for healing the divisions about Brexit in the way that the Prime Minister appears to hope it will.


John Curtice

By John Curtice

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

3 thoughts on “Diverse Reactions: Initial Polling on Mr Johnson’s Brexit Deal

  1. So the Campaign for a People’s Vote is now engaged in hostilities with the Vote for a People’s Campaign.

    Not like we ever saw that before, eh?Report

  2. The essence of any deals, political or business, is that they present a final settlement that the vast majority of people can live with, even if the deal does not pander to the extremes that one or either side might hanker for.

    For me, the best aspect of the Johnson deal is that it preserves the parts of the May deal that ensure cooperation with the EU after Brexit – without direct rule by the EU – while avoiding shackling UK trade as a whole to the EU Customs Union, simply to take account of the one half of one percent of UK trade that crosses the Irish border.

    I do not regard the deal as ideal, but if I had any radically better ideas, I would be posting them. And on that topic, if the Opposition had any better ideas, they would be talking about them instead of merely being obstructive for the sake of it. It’s a bit bizarre to watch interviews in which Labour MPs are asked why they oppose the deal and reply more or less “Because we can” and it’s even weirder to watch interviews with LibDems in which they say they oppose the deal because – and then they describe the effects of no-deal in lurid detail, yet again.

    One thing Johnson and the Conservatives have not done yet is to get out and sell the deal. They are still acting as of it’s only the Commons they have to convince, not the country. I expect that with an up-coming GE they will start to sell the deal to the voters, and if they do a decent job they can look forward to a 20-40 majority and Corbyn’s teary retirement party.Report

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