Has Either Side Made Progress with their Arguments in the EU Campaign?

Posted on 15 April 2016 by John Curtice

Four internet polls this week have suggested the referendum race – which today enters its fully regulated phase so far as campaign spending is concerned – continues to be very tight.  Both YouGov (in one poll) and TNS put the two sides on 50% each (once Don’t Knows are left to one side) while with a 48% figure for Remain, ICM put support for staying in the EU below 50% for the first time. Meanwhile YouGov published a second poll that gave Remain no more than the narrowest of possible leads.

ICM’s data were weighted by reported probability of voting, which reduced the Remain share by one point. TNS did not include the responses given by those who initially said ‘Don’t Know’ but then said ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ in response to a follow-up question; if they had been included Remain would have been credited with 52%. But none of this dispels the impression that the contest is anything but close.

But what if we look underneath the bonnet? Is there any evidence that either side is making progress in persuading voters of the merits of their side of the argument, progress that might perhaps eventually bear fruit in the form a swing in vote intentions? Here it is the first of the YouGov polls (conducted for The Times) that is most illuminating. For it asked its respondents a series of questions about what they thought the consequences of remaining or leaving the EU would be, questions that the company previously asked in February (immediately after David Cameron had concluded his renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership). We can thus see how much difference, if any, the last couple of months of campaigning has made to voters’ views on the issues.

In truth, neither side seems to have made much of an impression. For example, 31% now think we would be economically worse off if we left the EU while 24% reckon we would be better off. The figures are virtually identical to those last February when they were 31% and 23% respectively. Equally, at 32% the proportion who think it would be good for the NHS if we left the EU is little different now from the 30% that were of that view two months ago. Meanwhile there is an equally small increase, from 11% to 14%, in the proportion who think leaving would be bad for the NHS.

But there are a few instances where one side or the other has made progress. Immigration is now seemingly even more of a strong card for the Leave campaign. The proportion who think immigration would fall if we left now stands at 55%, up five points on February. Meanwhile, more surprisingly perhaps, there has been an increase, from 16% to 25%, in the proportion who feel that ‘we would be less at risk from terrorism’ if we left the EU (while the proportion who take the converse view remains at 10%). True, this is an issue on which most people (48%) are still to be convinced that remaining or leaving would make a difference either way. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister’s argument that the UK would be more ‘secure’ if it remained in the EU is not proving to be as persuasive as many Remain strategists seemingly assumed it would be.

However, one argument on which the Remain side has made marked progress is its claim that prices will go up if we leave the EU, a claim that features quite prominently in the government’s controversial information leaflet that is being distributed to all voters. Now 36% believe that prices would increase, up from 23% in February. Only 6% think that prices would fall as a result of leaving the EU, little different from the 8% who were previously of that view.

What these trends suggest is that while the two sides have made some progress on those issues on which they were already relatively strong in the eyes of voters, neither has had any success in counteracting its negatives. As a result, the arguments have become yet more evenly balanced in the eyes of voters. On the one hand they consider voting to remain in the EU to be the ‘safer’ bet economically. On the other hand, they regard leaving as the better way of ensuring that Britain’s borders and its health service are ‘protected’. Little wonder voters appear to be divided so evenly down the middle on which way to vote.

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.

44 thoughts on “Has Either Side Made Progress with their Arguments in the EU Campaign?

  1. I am voting to remain. Someone commented that on blogs nearly all the support was for the leave camp. The profile for leave voters is less educated/older. They may have more time on their hands due to being unemployed/retired and are possibly generally more disgruntled with life. It is possible that they won’t live much longer/feel they have little to lose. Immigration an important concern, sadly would probably increase after brexit. The French currently cooperate in preventing illegals in their country from entering UK. After brexit they will be giving them rubber dingys at Calais. Most of our immigrants come from outside europe and this would increase after brexit as we become more dominated by countries in the middle & far east.Report

    1. Dear D Perry,
      I am pleased you have made a decision at least and wish a lot more of the potentially undecided would do so either way. I would have to raise a few issues with your reasoning however.

      If the leave camp fall into the less educated/older group as you say the implication is that you obviously fall into the younger/more educated profile. Higher levels of academic attainment is not the prerequisite of the young, people have been getting degrees and higher education for centuries so many of the older generation may well be more highly educated than the young or yourself and they also have an experience of life that the young generation have not yet achieved. Your words are insulting to them and while you may have a higher education it has done nothing to instil a bit of courtesy for others.

      The presumption that the leave camp are also the unemployed/retired with time on their hands with the rider that they may dies soon so don’t feel they may have much to lose by voting leave. A very silly point, the older generation have children and grandchildren. The older generation may be retired and have more time to think which is good, the younger generation are too busy with following their own goals and building their lives and in many cases don’t give this kind of issue the analysis it deserves.

      Should the leave camp have unemployed amongst their ranks this would be natural. If they have any disgruntlement they also may have the time to think through issues. Being unemployed is neither a sin nor should it carry any of the social stigma that you would appear to be ascribing to the state of being out of work. We regularly hear of the amount of graduates who can’t get jobs so they will be amongst that number as well….or do their academic abilities fade the instant the find themselves jobless.

      I am a retired professional. I do not suffer from senility yet. I am not disgruntled. I have made my choice based on my own formed opinion. I respect your view and those of others that will vote to remain but I find no need to make disparaging remarks about those who wish to remain as so many of those who wish to remain make about the Brexiters.

      I suspect that from your viewpoint you may be one of the younger generation who has never known anything other than being part of the EU. I respect your fear of the unknown and would like to say it is groundless and we the older generation you appear to despise will protect you through the transition period of a Brexit if it happens.

      In conclusion I draw your attention to two quotes from a very famous Lady. Harriet Tubman, born a slave in America and a renowned abolitionist.

      1. I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.
      2.I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.


  2. I find the comment on this issue to be most depressing. As a nation we seem to have moved from an outlook, post second world war, that sought to learn the lessons of European history by adopting expansive and optimistic and policies. This meant the UK sought engagement with other nations and people in the creation of institutions that are the foundation of the peace and prosperity we have experienced within Europe since then. This national attitude has been replaced by those in favour of BREXIT with one of narrow national self interest. This ‘small island’ mentality not only fails to recognise what has been achieved for all citizens within the EU (including the UK) in the post war years, but also minimises the reality that our prosperity and safety is determined by the way we connect to the rest of the world and that this will inevitably result in some compromise of sovereignty, whether this is ceded to the EU or through other international agreements. Is this another example of how, once again, we fail to learn the lessons of history?Report

    1. While fully respecting your viewpoint I would have to engage with you on one of the comments made. That being “This national attitude has been replaced by those in favour of BREXIT with one of narrow national self interest……. This ‘small island’ mentality…..”
      While admittedly we are an island we are not the only ones who are concerned about the erosion of our ability to control our own regions. Croatia, Serbia, Hungary etc are the ones who have put up the razor wire fences. POland is refusing to take refugees. All of these countries, which are amongst the poorest, are also the ones who receive enormous help from the EU from money that is taken from the richer countries….including us. In effect we are an open border to these countries which is one of the problems of immigration and at the same time some of our money is being sent to these countries as well to bolster up their projects.We are already one of the major players in overseas aid as it is quite apart from the Eu contributions we make. (I have no objection to that whatsoever but being stung twice under different guises does annoy me and many others). In effect a win/win situation for the poorer countries while the richer countries are in a lose/lose situation. Also the small island mentality is not isolated to this small island. The upsurge of the right wing parties in Spain, Germany and France are more fervid about what they want. Austria has just let a right wing fascist win the primary presidential election. Even Juncker said last week that the EU is too interfering in private citizens lives. Germany and France have a much greater landmass that we do on our small island with a proportionately less head of population per acre. They may have room but we are running short. Report

  3. The remaineers I have to admit seem to be making some headway (which is unfortunate) by bringing in the might of the government machine and getting the world to say we should stay in. Cameron keeps going on about a special relationship with EU……so we have Hollande. Le Garde et all saying there will be penalties if we leave…..we have a special relationship with America….and Obama says if we leave we will be at the back of the queue. That all sounds more like a threat than any kind of real ‘special’ relationship. Both Hollande and Obama say they have to consider their own countries interests first. Fine…then let us consider our own country. Staying in might be better for everyone else but I don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb on the alter having my country and the quality of my life laid on the line for these people who don’t basically give a damn about us. It might make things difficult if we leave but surely it is best to scuttle my own ship rathen than be torpedoed by these others. Obama won’t even be in office in a few months so how can he say how the USA will deal with the situation. Old boys network in full gear again. Disgusting!Report

    1. Yes, the remainers have no arguments but they have the ‘guns’ to fire, all paid-for by vested interests.

      Some years ago I was actually (through my job) lobbying MEPs, visiting Brussels a number of times to do this. I cannot articulate just what a bad taste the place left in my mouth. And yes, money buys influence for big companies. I did it.

      Brussels influences in myriad directions by handing out our money to fund anyone who will advance the EU cause. Charities, academics, BBC. This includes paying obscene salaries to MEPs and bureaucrats who would be mad to put themselves out of a job – there are some honourable (UK) exceptions like UKIP people and Daniel Hannan.

      I spend too much time thinking about all this. My vote alone cannot do the job, unfortunately.Report

  4. The referendum on 23rd June is very simple:
    Governed by a Democracy = LEAVE
    Governed by a Bureaucracy = REMAIN
    Every other argument is pure speculation.

    Instead, perhaps, we should learn by history. The French and Russian revolutions, English Civil war and, most appropriately, the American war of Independence. All came about through a lack of accountability by their then rulers. Report

    1. Bang on the button, all voters should vote with this simplicity….democracy or bureaucracy ….it really is that simple ! Report

  5. I was looking forward to the referendum and was definitely going to vote to exit the eu. But looking at the clowns that want us to leave has changed my mind,Boris being the main one. You’ve only got to look at how he is ruining London by bringing it to a standstill and allowing the developers to destroy the character of the city by allowing a massive increase in high rises. Maybe not a logical conclusion, but if brexit wins then we will have a dangerous group of people in control of the country. As for sovereignty…what exactly is this? Is it just about power for the ruling class? As a proud working class patriotic English man I can see we still have our government, our Royal family our national sports teams…what exactly has changed? I have kids who can’t afford a house,especially in London..
    would this be any different if we were out? The truth is no one really knows what the difference would be and as far as I am concerned I’m doing OK, so why change! The eu vote is an emotional one and at the end of the day will it change my life…in or out?….Probably not.
    It is fun though,watching the toffs bash each other up.Report

    1. Your choice and I will obviously respect it, as you say it is an emotional issue. I also agree that that no one can say with any 100% certainty what it will be like if we leave. But we can in fact say that if we remain there will only be more and more integration forced on us. As to bringing a national debate down to the personalities of the people speaking out on either side, the issue is a lot bigger than that. Yo comment that if Brexit wins we will have a lot of dangerous people in charge of the country.The combination of Cameron and Osbourne is lethal for this country as it is an there are no guarantees they won’t be followed by others. Not a year ago Cameron and Osbourne were both saying that of course Britain could prosper if we left. Now they seem to thing Armageddon is on the doorstep if we lose. The beauty of being outside of the EU though is that every five years we can get rid of our government, we cannot get rid of Brussels and its ridiculous beurocracy.Report

    2. If we leave, we have more chance to be masters of our own destiny, Forget Boris – he merely articulates what many without media access cannot And he will soon be gone as London Mayor

      This vote is for EVER. We choose where to go.

      Bear in mind that the EU has been storing nasties for the last year to avoid influencing the vote the ‘wrong’ way. Whatever the vote, LOOK OUT……. another shower of control freakery is coming. It is all part of the project and there is no end.

      Let’s get out of this.Report

  6. All,
    Although I am yet undecided, this thread possibly demonstrates one thing. The “out” people like to publish and share their views, the passion on view for all to see but the “in” people remain largely silent. Just like the Scottish referendum, will the silent will again become the silent majority.Report

    1. I sincerely hope that the silent ones will not become the silent majority. My main concern is those who will vote to stay in to maintain the status quo without even thinking about the two actual alternatives. There is no such thing as a status quo because everything changes. If we stay in (when even Juncker is now saying that the EU is too interfering in people’s lives) I feel the outcome will be even worse than if we do decide to leave regarding retribution. If we vote out the Eurocrats will not be happy and will definitely try to make life difficult for a while. They will be limited to what they can do because if we are out we can retaliate without any fear of them. They impose tariffs, we impose tariffs. They don’t want to sell without cost, we buy elsewhere but if we stay in and they want to make life difficult which they will do because we have dared to threaten the ”status quo’ and because we have voted in we will not be able to do a damned thing about it.Report

  7. I came across these posts & I agree, this is the most important vote in a lifetime. I will be voting to leave as well as my parents, who recently moved abroad. I hope the desire & passion to leave the corrupt, expensive & unelected EU, will mean more voters for the leave campaign turn out to vote & the apathy of in voters, shown very clearly by a lack of pro EU comments here in the posts, will help steer Britain free of the sinking ship named the EU.
    We’ve been given an escape route, a chance for the people to, at last, have their say, to finally leave an abusive & strained relationship.
    We stood on our own two feet for a thousand years before joining this collection of anti-UK, anti-reform committees. How dare our PM suggest Britain would do anything BUT survive & thrive on our own two feet again. Instead of highlighting (unknown) concerns of what ifs & maybes, why doesn’t the remain team sell the benefits of remaining….. is that because there are so few, if any?
    There is a reason we are called GREAT BRITAIN, see you on the 23rd for OUR independence day 🙂Report

  8. Should we vote to remain one thing will be clear it will deal a mortal blow to the traditional parties in england. A quick look at a couple of well known betting sites shows that england is odds on to vote out whilst scotland, northern ireland and wales wish to remain. As the conservatives, labour and the lib dems all rely upon english votes i can see ukip cleaning up at the next general election in the event that englands voters are once again ignored.

    This vote isnt the end of the story just the beginning of political change in the uk the english will rise against this eventually.

    Paying for scottish mps, welsh mps, northern irish mps, euro mps, and westminster mps simply isnt sustainable. This makes quangos look efficientReport

  9. We are not stronger in the EU – we are constantly outvoted. The Courts of Human Rights do not believe in Habeas Corpus, that a man is innocent until proved guilty. Our fishing fleets have gone, as the EU plunders our seas. Our Steel Industry is on the rocks while the cost of our electricity is twice that of the EU. We have been stitched up by the EU and how Cameron cannot see that I don’t know. We will be £10 billion better off by leaving the EU. Will we lose trade by no belonging to the club? No need to belong as Mexico, South Africa, Algeria, China, Japan and the mighty USA all trade with the EU. Do we need to be at the top table? Of the WTO yes, of the EU No.Report

  10. British media are strangely silent regarding the EU dictacts. I have seen nothing about the Dutch referendum anywhere except on this website. It seems the politicians prefer for us not to know what is going on. I hope the out campaign will make it clear how much we are kept in the dark.Report

  11. The unelected EU Burocrats are too secretive with talks to do with TTIP negotiations, all talks are done in secret with all phones removed. If it is such a good thing for the people why are they doing this. The Commissioners dictate to the Dutch parliament that they are not to discuse their referendum that decided against the EU, which the EU then said they would ignore, before our referendum for fear of causing Britain to Brexit. They are getting more & more dictatoral with each day. The are holding back the changes regards the vast increases in our costs that we pay the EU. and the fact that we will be made to accept imigrants by quota set by the EU burocrats without us having any say. I can not think of any reason to stay will an undemocratic deceitful EU that will with all probibility collapse, as the Euro is set to fail and bring down most of the countries in the EU with it.Report

  12. How accurate are the polls? Of the above comments, I’ve counted 14 for leave (mine makes 15) excluding a duplicate and 1 for remain – that doesn’t sound like a 50/50 split to me.Report

  13. It would be insane to vote anything but LEAVE. We were 20 years late to the party and the rules of the club were already cast in stone. We are being given a second chance to be the nation we were meant to be, for God’s sake don’t blow itReport

  14. Turkey wants to join the EU. Ukraine wants to join. Germany runs the show and was one of the main reaons why Greece was in debt in the first place (selling arms to Greece). If we stay, the EU will (in my view) impose greater immigration on us. Once we stay, there will be no way back from further integration. We will be at Merkel’s mercy re immigration. Report

  15. The key issue is sovereignty. I hope the many young people who might be tempted to vote Remain because of roaming charges and ease of backpack travel take that into account.Report

    1. Spot – on

      It is ALL about sovereignty, forget the rest

      Recessions come and go. Currencies go up and down
      Governments rise and fall

      But once we have allowed the 1000 – year inhereitance of Common Law to be abandoned to continental Roman law, with it’s Regulate, Regulate, Regulate…….

      That’s it


      Vote LeaveReport

      1. Exactly so. If we leave, we can make our own mistakes and then undo them. If we remain, we become partt of an economic mono-culture where all the policies are set by other people. And where errors never seem to be undone, no matter what economic damage they have done.Report

  16. The People should realise that a vote to stay in the EU will mean they are forced into an even more worrying TTIP of which will be even more economically and democratically threatening and divisive than the EU itself.

    No sane person would ever want to be part of the TTIP because it is an assault on the EU by transnational corporations and will remove political argument and reasoning from the political table.Report

  17. The remain camp are very strong on saying we would be better off in a reformed EU. The problem is that despite all the growth of dissatisfaction with the way things are and have been for many years (hence the growth of the anti EU faction throughout Europe and not just here) there hasn’t been any real reformation and their policy is clearly for closer political and fiscal union. We will be on the outside anyway so why be on the outside and still paying massive amounts to them when we could be on the outside and not paying it and rebuilding relationships with the Commonwealth countries that we basically had to do the dirty on to join the EEC in the first place which was shameful.

    I’m sick of the inners saying the outers are bigoted racists. It isn’t simply about immigration. For hundreds of years we have taken in immigrants and absorbed them with no problems. We have been tolerant of all religions, Indian sikhs, hindu’s, Pakistani Muslims, Jews, Buddhists etc but we have never had the problems we have had with sheer numbers that we have had in recent years since this free movement of Europeans began.

    The remain camp use the words, “could, may, possibly, might, perhaps” an awful lot but none will actually come and say “This will happen or this won’t happen”. The out camp cant say much either but part of that is because the govt. has the money and the ability to suppress a lot of information that it doesn’t want in the public domain. No one knows exactly what it will mean but this constant referral to a ‘leap into the dark’ works both ways….we could end up in a very pleasant place whereas the EU is going down the pan regardless of if we are in it or not. I’d prefer to think of it as a leap of faith….faith in our abilities to rise to the occasion of rebuilding our own nation again.

    For George Osbourne et al to claim that LeGarde and Bank of England etc. are independent and non political is treating us like idiots. I voted to join a common market, not to become a part of a political union. I’m happy to take my chances….MY chances in MY country by MY choiceReport

  18. It seems to me that the real reason our politicians and captains of industry want us to “Remain” is that they know our exit will cause the EU as currently structured to disintegrated. The trouble is that it will disintegrate in any event and the burden on the UK during that process will, if we Remain, be horrendous.
    Since they cannot admit to their true motivation they fall back on arguments which will in the event prove inadequate in their attempt to convince us to Remain.Report

  19. We are a great maritime nation and the whole wide world is our hinterland and our heritage. The EU is not a big enough adventure.Report

  20. There is a saying in business that your next product can be as good as you like until you have to deliver it. The Remainers have been claiming for years that all the arguments are on their side, but here we are, weeks from the referendum and it is still 50/50. Didn’t they honestly expect better?

    Here we are, with the three main parties, business, the BoE and next week the Treasury all throwing the kitchen sink at it, and they still can’t muster a clear majority to remain. If the EU is really so spiffy, that’s quite shocking.

    And the harder they try, the weirder it gets. Corbyn’s “socialist” case for staying in, when we know that TTIP is coming and no other EU member state has anything exactly like the NHS to protect, is just lame. He can go on as long as he likes about “reform” and creating a “social Europe” but we all know that it’s just words, and talk is cheap.

    Anything less than a 55/45 win for Remain is just the prologue to another referendum. And if they deny another referendum, we will know that everything they say about the EU and its hostility to real democracy is true.

    I cannot predict the result, but if we reman in the EU, and then TTIP comes and we find that our own Government is powerless to stop it, then the pressure to leave the Eu will increase, not diminish.Report

  21. All the above are fair and relevant comments. This decision is complicated, difficult and serious. The factor that weighs most with me is that we have more that we have more in common with Europe than differences. It is a difficult world out there eg ambitious,and expanding,foreign and economic policies from China and Russia, international terrorism, global environment poverty and health issues and challenges. All this encourages me to advocate seeing Europe as our partners and allies. We must look at the big picture . I will vote to Remain.Report

  22. Mr. Allen us dead right. I don’t see any prospect in the EU being reformed. I doubt that 28 countries could agree about anything. If we stay in we will loose even more ability to make decisions favourable to our country. We need to leave now. There won’t be a second chance.Report

  23. The only reason the EU doesn’t want us to leave is that they’ll have to find our £50 million per day contribution from their own coffers. As for Obama, I can’t see what it’s got to do with America. I guess things will be different when Trump has his job.Report

      1. As a British Turk (2nd gen immigrant), I understand Turkey better than most in this debate. Turkey will not have the opportunity to join the EU – current EU members will simply not allow it ever. If through some bizarre twist, it was considered many states would veto it.

        But let’s say it happens in 25 years’ time. Turkey has a large economy that is growing at a rate, usually in recent times more than 5% a year. It is regional superpower. It has a young and hard-working population, and the parts of it that are not already very modern are modernising rapidly. Turkey does not have an overweening welfare state like many of the states in Europe.

        I reject the assertion that if Turkey joined the EU in 25 years that there would be a “feeding frenzy” or any such nonsense. By then the ageing economies of Northern Europe may need Turkish money to sustain their way of life. Please stop and look at the evidence before making these uninformed, scaremongering assertions.Report

    1. All American Presidents would take the same view as Obama. They express American self interest, as leaders of all countries do. The UK believes it has a ‘special relationship’ with the US, which it does, but not in the way we believe. Being in the EU we are a conduit for the US to try to influence a grouping of wealthy and significant states, The UK outside that block would require the US to work on finding a replacement, The UK on the outside would lose much of US interest as it would have no voice within continental Europe, and US interest limited to military escapadesReport

  24. I am in my late seventies and I have lived through all the trials of the “Euro” scene as it has unfolded through the years. The various UK Governments took us into the , what the majority of people believed, was the “Common Market “, and it was sold to us on that basis. To our shame as a country, we abandoned our existing trading partners, Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark, to name but a few. Camerons’ negotiations with Donald Tusk have been shown to be feeble and not worth the paper they are written on. The British people now have the once in a lifetime opportunity to correct the mistakes of our well-meaning politicians for the last 40 years on 23 June 2016. Boris Johnson is right when he says we need to take back control and make Britain “Great” again. I am certain he is the one to provide the ” Vision of the Future” outside the EU. Good Luck to him and all the other “Vote Leave” campaigners. I know which way I will vote- – what an undemocratic shambles the EU has been shown to be!Report

    1. here here!!I voted conservative at the last election and thought Cameron o.k.(but you can go off people)He and his
      goverment have been a dissapointment.He does not talk to us but talks at us not listening to publics concerns.
      He will not address important issues ie;- immigration breaks promises and hopes nobody will remember.The no ifs
      or buts speech on immigration springs to mind.Hes been very unfair in this campaign so far underestimates the british people are decent and will recognise this.So stop insulting our intelligence. The EU is in a mess anyway so
      do we stay on a sinking ship,or bail before it hits the rocks.Unlike you I cant remember 40 years ago as I am twenty
      nine years of age however you are older and wiser but I agree with you.I have no confidence in a weak goverment that
      makes U Turns and is unkind to the disabled.RReport

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