Introduction to our ‘EURef2 Poll of Polls’

Posted on 28 September 2018 by John Curtice

One of the most widely cited features of this site before the EU referendum was a ‘poll of polls’. This was simply an average of the level of support for Remain and Leave as recorded in the six most recently conducted polls of referendum vote intentions. Its purpose was to smooth out some of the ups and downs in support for one side or the other that can arise simply as a result of the chance variation to which all polls are subject. (Polls are, after all, attempting to estimate the distribution of attitudes across the population as a whole on the basis of the views expressed by maybe no more than a thousand people or so.) That chance variation means that the level of support for one side or the other recorded by an individual poll may well go up or down by two or three points, even though amongst the population as a whole the balance of opinion has not shifted at all. However, if we average the results of a number of polls the effects of this chance variation may well be reduced, and thus we might secure a more robust measure of the balance of opinion.

However, once the referendum in June 2016 was over there was no obvious use for a poll of polls on the site. No further referendum was in prospect. Few polls asked people how they would vote if presented once again with the choice between Remain and Leave. The focus instead was on the much more nuanced question of what kind of Brexit voters wanted and how well they thought the process was being handled, a focus that this site has shared during the last two years.

But now the position has changed somewhat. Polls of how people would vote in another referendum have become rather more frequent. Speculation about whether voters might be asked to revisit the issue has become more common, not least as a result of the high-profile campaigning in favour of a second referendum by the anti-Brexit People’s Vote campaign and Labour’s decision to leave open the possibility that it might support some kind of ballot , though the idea is strongly opposed by pro-Brexit organisations such as Change Britain. But even if a second referendum does not take place, it might be thought important to ask whether or not, as the Brexit process comes to a conclusion, there is still a majority in favour of leaving the EU. After all, the answer to that question might be thought central to any evaluation of the success or otherwise of the EU referendum as a way of deciding what Britain’s relationship with the EU should be.

As a result of these developments, we have now instigated a new poll of polls. This summarises the results of the most recent polls that have asked people how they would vote in another referendum in which the choice was between remaining in the EU and leaving. Some of these polls have asked people how they would vote in response to exactly the same question as appeared on the ballot paper in the 2016 EU referendum. Others have used a slightly different approach, while still asking respondents whether they would vote to remain or to leave. Our poll of polls is based on both types of question (including recent readings of YouGov’s long-running Eurotrack series). However in both cases we have excluded from our calculation those who say they do not know how they would vote or indeed declare that they would not do so. Thus, our total of Remain and Leave support will always add up to 100%.

As well as showing the current position in the poll of polls, we have also calculated what our poll of polls would have been saying if we had been publishing it on a regular basis since the beginning of this year (before which polls of EURef2 vote intentions were largely very infrequent). This gives us a picture of whether support for Brexit has been going up or down during recent months.

Of course, our poll of polls figures should not be taken uncritically. Even when we average across as many as six polls, our estimate will still be subject to some random fluctuation. So not too much should be made of a one-point shift up or down in our estimate, or at least not until that new estimate is confirmed after several more polls have been released.

At the same time, polls are not necessarily conducted perfectly. A poll of polls cannot insulate us against the risk of collective failure by the polling industry, as has happened at more than one recent general election. Meanwhile, less dramatically but no less importantly, the polling companies may systematically disagree with each other about the level of support enjoyed by Leave and Remain. In that event, changes in which companies’ polls contribute to the poll of polls may induce a degree of artificial instability. We thus give details of which companies conducted the polls that contribute to our latest poll of polls, while, where necessary, we will warn in our Commentary section if there is a risk that a change in whose polls are included may have induced a change in the estimates.

Finally, bear in mind that while any set of six polls may have all been conducted at much the same time, equally it is possible that quite a few weeks may have elapsed between when the first and the last were conducted. Even though polls of EURef2 vote intentions have become more frequent, at present it is still the case that it can take a month for half a dozen new readings to appear. You will thus see that we also always provide details of the dates between which the interviewing (fieldwork) for the polls included in the latest poll of polls took place.

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.

32 thoughts on “Introduction to our ‘EURef2 Poll of Polls’

  1. All this talk of democracy from people who live in the most undemocratic country in the EU. If the UK had a democratic voting system Parliament would not be dominated by 2 Minority parties. There would be a totally different discussion in Parliament and there would probably not have been referendum in 2016. Report

  2. Surely if, as seems reasonably clear., the majority of voters in the referendum of 2016 feel they were not fully informed or told lies a second referendum would be democratic?Report

  3. The Westminster ‘elite’ (I suspect as they themselves like to be called) actually pass laws for which a majority in parliament can be only one vote. Do they then fight to overturn the law..?..no – they have to live with it. That is democracy. Why is it that our elected representatives cannot live by (and help introduce) the will of the people in the largest democratic vote that our nation has ever undertaken?

    Normally speaking, most political success stories have involved the contribution (vote) of as many people as possible. That surely is the best kind of democracy as we understand it. Now when there is the high turnout encouraged by both sides (as in the original referendum 2016) the result is suddenly judged differently. Why?
    My wife (who is a Bi-Lingual French Passport holder) and I (a British citizen who voted ‘out’) have lived in France for 14 years – we have many French friends and consider ourselves good Europeans. But we are not in favour of the less democratic, horrendously expensive EU gravy train. Britain is right to leave and will survive the consequences bravely and fairly – no matter how long it takes. Report

  4. Could you please extend the poll-of-polls timeseries so it starts earlier? Currently it begins at 1 Jan 2018, but the underlying 3 questions started much earlier than this.

    Many thanks for a well-presented, interesting website.Report

  5. Democracy in name only. Those who allowed the referendum (the political elites who know everything) never expected that vote-leave will win. When it happened, it took them by surprise. The Prime Minister who oversaw the process and promised to be office to see the UK leave made a U-turn and resigned (like all politicians do; say one thing to get the vote, do another after the vote is cast). Then they started hatching a plan to thwart the vote but it was increasingly difficult as they tried. They just cannot believe that the people should tell the elites what to do; that is implementing populism! So they started scare stories about how the UK will be finished without a deal whatever that means. Till date most of the scare stories has come to naught but they are not giving up. They shout food and medicine shortages and the like; so they are telling us that only nations that belong to the EU feed well and have their chemists fully stocked with medicine! Balderdash. Then no deal will destroy our prosperity; wait a minute, so the most prosperous countries are in the EU!
    My agony is that we are simply capitulating to France and Germany, pure and simple and it is a shame. I quite understand that the EU realise we have a problem about Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. That is where some imaginative thinking needs to be done instead of running scare stories about how Britain will be finished without the EU. The bottom line is that the political elite do not think the opinion of the people should matter; that is populism. That is why they say one thing during the campaign and do another after the election. Brexit is following the same pattern; it is populism, there has to be another vote to kill it. I start to wonder what they will do if vote-leave wins another referendum if it is called for.Report

  6. Much depends on whether the differential voting activities that separate elderly voters from the under 30s. We know that younger voters are usually strongly in favour of continuing to be in the EU and that elderly voters are both much more sceptical about the EU and almost all of them vote. So turnout of different age groups is crucial.
    So far no polling has measured a realistic metric of voters likelihood of actually voting, especially were a referendum timed for the summer. That was what ‘upset’ the referendum predictions and is likely to do so again – if there were to be another referendum. Report

  7. Purely anecdotal I know but I am picking up quite a strong move towards Remain amongst acquaintances, I have two Leave voting friends who are now strong advocates of another referendum whilst a third voted Leave purely on the basis that David Cameron was toast if it went that way.

    I find this poll of polls idea quite persuasive in defining subtle switches in opinion in the electorate and fully expect this drift in a Remain direction to continue as the chaos mounts. I was a non voter btw as I didn’t consider that we had enough information to make an informed decision in June 2016, due to lies by both sides.Report

  8. There’s bound to be an interest in what Conservative voters and supporters think, and I find John Curtice’s findings on this enlightening. But I’d find it just as interesting to be told about Labour voters or about the electorate in general. This whole thing started with a ‘merely advisory’ referendum on which both Parties had campaigners on both sides. Don’t we want to know how everyone (as it were) thinks? Of course the Government had to get to work to implement the referendum’s result. But given that it was meant to be a national vote, might they have wanted to take account e.g. of demographics among voters, differences between the UK’s four constituent nations, which might have given an understanding of why people voted as they did — of what they wanted?Report

  9. Democracy is dead in the UK. All the people who voted to leave will be betrayed . Mp s and the money men who benefit from being in the EU were never going to respect the result and have and still are trying to make sure we remain. Who would ever have believed that we would see a state run uk . Report

  10. When we have another referendum and we have a remain result then we should have another to make sure, ridiculous. let’s try two out of three or maybe three out of four, or maybe more, there goes democracy, be careful what you wish for.Report

  11. It’s time we recognised that the referendum of June 2016 did not express the will of the people. 3.6 citizens of the EU living and working in the UK who can vote in local council elections and for their national parliaments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were denied a vote in the referendum. Yet citizens of Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland were allowed to vote. Then expats who have lived abroad for 15 years were also not given a say although expats who have lived abroad less than 15 years could trouble is many of them did not receive their ballot papers in time! One might also mention the 16 and 17 year olds, who by March 29th will be 19 and 20 were also disenfranchised. Thus the referendum was undemocratic. Tyst’s why we must have another before we jump over the cliff.Report

  12. Will you please stop these ridiculous polls. As we all know opinion polls mean absolutely nothing, they are totally unreliable as the numbers are too small and they can easily be manipulated, we are all aware of how figures and statistics can be manipulated to show what you want them to show. They got the the last two election results wrong didn’t they.
    So I am sure that there are many others like myself that dont agree with or take any notice whatsoever of opinion polls, they cannot be trusted and can only ever represent the people asked, not the country as a whole. Give it a rest.
    Report

  13. I’m looking at the data that’s available, and this poll of polls simply doesn’t look correct to me. I’m unable to download 2/3 of the csv’s, and the mouseover isn’t always giving details. Also considering the number of surveys being done you seem to be picking your ‘average of 6’ moments very carefully.

    For me this site is completely discredited.Report

    1. Hi Jon, if you’d like to contact the information email address (info@whatukthinks.org) with some more details of the issue you’re having we’d be happy to try to help solve your problem. Best wishes, IanReport

    2. So Jon you don’t want to believe that remain is ahead, why not, simple demographics will see to that and now the lies of Vote Leave are coming to light, people are changing their minds. Report

  14. It is a gross violation of basic Human Rights that in excess of 20 million people face having their European Union citizenship unilaterally taken away from them without their consent.Report

  15. Well, what people don’t think about is that all private export import will just be gone. Before you didn’t need to think of VAT. You could e.g. by a car in the UK take it to Sweden and it would be fine, now u will be slapped with a 10% duty and then 25% VAT on top of it. How is that for starters. This will happen on every single thing that is exported though say ebay to the rest of Europe. The duty is the small portion the VAT and the fees are the killers. The same will of course happen the other way around too. Industry will most likely be quite fine, while the little man will not be. I lived in the UK 8 years and I think it’s sad what is happening. Report

  16. If you look at the two current alternatives, Chequers versus no-deal, the good news is that neither of them can be permanent.

    A no-deal Brexit will last for a short time, and then someone will initiate some bilateral deal between the UK and EU. European farmers won’t want their crops to rot in the fields, and imposing tariffs on UK wings and engines will simply raise Airbus’ costs, so after Brexit the UK and EU will meet periodically and trade this tariff for that, this bit of jurisdiction for that bit, so many more migrants to the UK for so many UK retirees to the EU. We’ll end up with an EU-UK relationship that no-one actively hates.

    We can already see this happening across the Atlantic. NAFTA is officially dead, but Trump has negotiated bilateral deals with Mexico and Canada to restore the bits of NAFTA everyone likes. This is smart politics because it allowed Tump to deliver on his populist anti-Nafta promises, but he still has a country to run and there is no point in allowing factories to close down or exclude cheap food.

    Chequers also can’t last for ever. Martin Howe has argued eloquently that Chequers gives the EU too much jurisdiction – I am not a lawyer, and he could be right – but this is actually one of the strengths of Chequers. If we were uneasy under EU jurisidiction as members, how much more will it chafe when we are no longer members, and as the EU share of UK trade continues its decline?

    In fact, under Chequers, both major parties will become Brexiteers, the Conservatives because Finance and Industry will demand more freedom to establish Free Trade agreements with third countries, and Labour because under Chequers, Labour policies could be appealed to the ECJ. When will a future Parliament be ready to abrogate Chequers? My guess is about 2030, when the EU is projected to take only a third of UK trade.Report

    1. You need to check some of your facts.

      “NAFTA is officially dead, but Trump has negotiated bilateral deals with Mexico and Canada to restore the bits of NAFTA everyone likes.” NAFTA is not yet dead, pending ratification of the USCMA.

      Make no mistake, USCMA is just a re-badged NAFTA, allowing Trump to fulfil a promise in name only. America as the dominant partner has just tipped things a little more in its favour.Report

  17. Two years after the referendum, and after two years of discussing not ‘if’ but ‘when’, it’s astonishing that there is any lead for Remain at all And despite the huge pro-Brexit bias of the print media and the BBC’s treatment of Brexit as a fait accompli most people doggedly refuse to see it as a good thing. That’s why the People’s Vote campaign has so much traction. And that’s why Brexit will be rejected if it’s put to the vote again – and why Brexiters fear such a voteReport

    1. Adrian ,

      you must not get out much,.as you are actually deluding yourself ref remain/ leave thought now .

      leave will win again this time be a bigger % watch this space ,or move to a European county within the 27 states.

      you are seriously wrong my friend .Report

        1. The polls didn’t agree with the first referendum 🙂 polls don’t work because they’re so easy to rig. The polls said remain were ahead back in 2016… look how it turned out.Report

          1. Polls before the referendum faced a big challenge in how to weight their samples to ensure that they were representative, so an error of a few percent (enough to tip the balance on a close vote) was no great surprise. Polls conducted since the referendum have the big advantage that they can include a question on how people voted in the referendum and use this to help weight the samples. This should help considerably with the accuracy.Report

        2. There have also been 2 years for you to destroy the leave with campaigning upon which there’s been no real leave campaign since with won the vote. All the remain campaign have done is made the leave voters more staunch. The remain campaign hasn’t even made a proper impact on the leave vote all you’ve done is annoy the voters by ignoring a democratic vote.Report

  18. It occurred to me to go back and check what the polls were saying just before the Referendum vote, and on June 23 2016, according to the wiki, “What UK thinks” published a poll of six polls that gave Remain/Leave numbers of 52/48, a Remain lead of 4%.

    In other words, the same poll results as today led to a win for Leave in 2016.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_United_Kingdom_European_Union_membership_referendum#Polls_of_pollsReport

  19. Following the Labour Conference and Corbyn’s visit to Brussels, it looks quite possible that May could bring back a settlement from the EU, and then Labour could vote against it, alongside Boris and Rees-Mogg, and end up responsible for a no-deal Brexit.

    I am not sure that will happen, but it could if you follow the advice of Diane Abbott and take Labour’s policy “at face value”.Report

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