First Post-Tusk Poll: Fine But Not Enough?

Posted on 5 February 2016 by John Curtice

Fine as far as it goes – but it does not go far enough. That seems to be the message from voters on the draft deal that Mr Cameron has negotiated with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council – at least if a poll from YouGov for today’s Times, the first to be conducted since the agreement was published, is to be believed.

Voters approve of much of what the Prime Minister has secured. For example, no less than 72% back the commitment to reduce EU ‘red tape’ while 69% approve of the provisions designed to protect Britain and other non-Eurozone countries from decisions made by those in the Eurozone. Perhaps most importantly, 66% approve of the reduction in child benefit for the children of EU migrants living abroad, while 62% support the emergency brake that would limit the access of EU migrants to in-work benefits for four years.

Moreover, those who say they will vote to Leave the EU are especially likely to approve of these changes. As many as 77% of them, for example, like the reduction in child benefit, while the same proportion concur with the provisions to protect the interests of Britain and other non-Eurozone countries.

But none of this has apparently helped win over the electorate. Far from showing voters sweeping behind remaining in the EU in the wake of Mr Cameron’s deal, YouGov’s poll actually reports a 3.5% swing to Leave compared with a poll the company conducted just a week ago. Once those saying they do not know how they will vote are left to one side, just 44% say they will vote to Remain, while 56% state they wish to Leave. That represents the highest vote for Leave to have been reported by any poll since the wording of the question that will appear on the ballot paper was settled at the beginning of September.

In particular, Conservative voters – the one key constituency on whom it has been anticipated Mr Cameron would have an influence –  appear to have been unmoved. No less than 48% now say they will vote to Leave (up a point on last week), while 30% indicate they would vote to Remain (down five points).

Why do voters like what is in the agreement, but are still inclined to vote to Leave anyway? Simply because, appreciated though the changes may be, they are not regarded as enough.

No less than 56% believe that the changes do not go far enough. 54% reckon they will not make much difference to the level of immigration, a half reckon that overall the package will not bring about much change in Britain’s relationship with the EU, while 46% reckon that overall the deal is a bad one.

As one might anticipate, these views are particularly common amongst Leave voters. However, they are not uncommon amongst Remain supporters too. Only 39% of them actually think Mr Cameron has won a good deal, 46% accept that it will not make much difference to Britain’s relationship with the EU, while almost as many think the deal does not go far enough (28%) as reckon the Prime Minister has got the balance right (33%).

In short, it seems that, so far at least, Mr Cameron’s deal has failed to persuade Leave voters to change their minds while leaving Remain voters unmoved by the outcome of a process for which many of them had relatively little enthusiasm in the first place. At the same time, despite being delivered by their own party leader, Conservative voters are decidedly unimpressed. No less than 64% believe the changes do not go far enough, while rather more reckon it is a bad deal (41%) than believe it is a good one (34%).

Rather than sealing Britain’s place in Europe as the Prime Minister intended, it now looks as though there is a risk that the renegotiation could end up leaving him politically high and dry.

That said, of course, the health warnings need to be borne in mind. Internet polls in general, and YouGov’s in particular, have tended to report relatively high shares for Leave. The picture painted by the telephone polls has consistently been a different one. Even if YouGov are right in identifying that there has been a move towards Leave (and we will need more polls before we can be sure that this is the case), that could still mean that some 56-57% are still in favour of remaining if the telephone polls are in fact the more accurate guide to the balance of public opinion. Even so, that would still point to a notably narrower and less certain referendum race than had hitherto appeared to be the case.

Meanwhile, perhaps the Prime Minister will not be entirely unhappy about the appearance of this poll. It could strengthen his arm in his attempts to persuade fellow EU leaders that they need to accept the agreement if they want Britain to stay in the EU. At the same time, however, maybe some of those Tory MPs who are still wavering about what to do might conclude that the Leave cause is not necessarily a lost one after all – and decide to throw in their lot with Lord Lawson and his eurosceptic colleagues after all. The next fortnight looks as though it is going to be a crucial one.


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.

13 thoughts on “First Post-Tusk Poll: Fine But Not Enough?

  1. Country at did moment is a big mess .if we even thought of staying mr David Cameron should look at it in a different way, if we will build to stay the country back and is already in a mess ?Staying is not really a good ideaReport

  2. regardless of substance David cameron so called negotiation is exactly whats wrong with EU, when an elected body is no longer accountable to the electorate when passing a law but had negotiate and seek approval from 27 other nations, very odd arrangement for a democracy Report

  3. If they have any sense the Scots will vote to leave as that way, if the UK votes to leave, they can get their independence and stay in the EU without having to re-apply which was the problem last time.Report

  4. I believe the ‘Leave’ group have an ulterior motive, freedom from potential EU regulation for the City. They are not daft enough to take such a risk without the chance of huge reward. Report

  5. The reason a majority of people approve of the PM’s “renegotiated”deal is blindingly obvious . The results are the same as a vote for “Motherhood , apple pie and World Peace ” . It’s how you achieve them that is the question , and apparently a large number of voters don’t think Mr Cameron’s deal is worth the paper it’s ( not yet ) written on !Report

    1. Bardon,

      I will try to avoid any unnecessary use of capital letters, as this clearly exercises you. I do, however, take issue with you on other matters.

      Firstly, the UK has been been a member of NATO since its formation in 1949 (well before any UK membership of the Common Market/EU) and a good and effective one at that. Those of us who have served in the armed forces know that NATO’s effectiveness relies on the resolve of its most committed members such as the USA, Canada, Denmark, Norway and the UK. I would remind you that the EU has countries such as the Republic of Ireland, Austria, Finland and Sweden who are neutral states, so any notion that EU is any part of a combined EU & NATO strategy is clearly twaddle.

      Secondly, we must then turn to France who will not accept US leadership of NATO; but, as they are committed EU members, presumably they will accept the direction (even if only in part) that of neutral states and neo-neutral states such as Belgium. This perversion cannot stand.

      To conclude, I would put it to you that the EU and its supporters, such as youreself, want the EU to bask in NATO’s success but in reality do not have any case to make. Report

  6. Of course Russia wants us to leave. Eu is political wing of Nato. If we leave would other Eu or Nato countries help us economically or politically.. militarily? Maybe not.Report

    1. Nato the political winf of the EU? NATO obligations & membership are NOTHING to do with E!. Or are Canada & US and other non EU members actually in EU? UK is one of the key members of NATO & unless the electorate vote in a government that promise to change that it will not change. There is no way that Britain would be kicked out or marginalised in NATO due to Britain leaving the EU.

      As for Russia… I think they genuinely can’t understand why the UK would be tied up in the EU and have its voice muffled and its sovereignty compromised . Geo-politically, the EU is great for Russia and its ambitions because it is so inward looking and inherently divided by it’s level of integration that it gives them more of a free hand than if Co-operating willing nation states in Europe were coming together to oppose them. EU states hide behind the EU (and its lack of consensus) to do nothing. Report

      1. Writing things in capital letters doesn’t actually add any weight to a point. Claiming that the EU has nothing to do with NATO is a pedantic argument that doesn’t have any substance to it beyond pointing at the legal frameworks and ignoring how politics actually works. The EU and NATO are different organisations that were part of a single strategy. EU membership was promoted by the United States in eastern Europe on that basis and has been resisted by Russia for the same reasons in countries like Ukraine. The idea “the EU is great for Russia” is frankly bizarre, particularly at a time when the entirety of the EU has a sanctions programme in place against Russia.

        Will the UK leaving the EU affect its standing in NATO? It certainly won’t help.Report

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