Is David Cameron Now Leader of the Opposition?

Posted on 29 February 2016 by John Curtice

One key message from the opinion polls in advance of the conclusion of David Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership was that if the Prime Minister came back from Brussels with what he insisted was a good deal for Britain, then the public would swing in behind a Remain vote. YouGov, for example, consistently found that a clear majority said they would vote to Remain in the EU in those circumstances, even though that was far from being the position when the same respondents were simply asked how they would vote in a EU referendum now. Conservative supporters, in particular, seemed especially inclined to be willing to change their minds on the basis of a recommendation from David Cameron.

A week on from the announcement that the Prime Minister had concluded what he regarded as an acceptable deal with the rest of the European Union on Britain’s terms of membership, it does not look as though that in practice there has been a swing to Remain. None of the now six polls that have been wholly or mostly conducted since the conclusion of the talks in Brussels has detected a significant movement towards Remain, including, not least, amongst Conservative supporters.

Of the six polling companies in question, five of them also polled – using the same method – in the fortnight or so before a draft of the eventual deal was published on 1 February. At that time  those five polls (four of them conducted over the internet and one by phone) on average put Remain on 52.5% (once Don’t Knows are left aside) and Leave on 47.5%.

The equivalent figures for those five polls during the last week have been Remain 51%, Leave 49%. In other words, if anything, support for Remain appears to be slightly weaker now than it was before the details of the renegotiation first became public knowledge.

The sixth poll conducted since the conclusion of the renegotiation – a poll conducted by Survation over the telephone rather than over the internet  (as had previously been the company’s practice) – does not disturb this picture. At 59% its estimated share for Remain (once Don’t Knows are left aside) is in line with the average for all other telephone polls conducted since the New Year.

True, the position looks a little better now for Remain than it did in between the publication of the draft deal and the final agreement. Three of the six companies that have polled during the last week also polled during that interim period. These three polls now on average put Remain on 52%, up two points on the 50% with which it was credited after the publication of the draft deal, but still slightly less than the 53% that these same three polls gave Remain before the draft deal was published. That suggests that all that has happened Remain has reversed some of the apparent damage that immediate disappointment with the draft deal seemed to engender.

In line with the systematic difference between the results that they are obtaining more generally, most polls conducted over the internet suggest that a majority of Conservative supporters will vote to Leave the EU, while most polls done over the phone put Remain ahead amongst those who voted Tory last May. However, the polls agree that Conservative voters are seriously divided on the issue, and thus suggest that strengthening the level of support for remaining in the EU amongst Conservative supporters would be an obvious target for the Remain campaign. What better way of achieving that objective than a strong recommendation to Remain from the Leader of the Conservative Party?

So far at least, it has not turned out that way. On average the five polls from last week that were conducted using the same method as before suggest that, on average, 44% of those who voted for the Conservatives in May last year will vote to Remain, 56% to Leave. These figures are little different from the position before the publication of the draft deal, when in these same five polls 45% of Conservative supporters said they would vote to Remain and 55% indicated they preferred to Leave.

As a result, it now appears that Mr Cameron is embarked on a referendum campaign in which he looks more like the Leader of the Opposition than the Prime Minister of a majority Conservative government. According to last week’s polls, no more than one in four (24%) of those who intend to vote for Remain voted for the Conservatives last May. They are clearly outnumbered by those who voted Labour who comprise one in three (33%) of Remain supporters. Liberal Democrat and SNP supporters make up a further notable slice of Remain support too. In short, it looks as though the Prime Minister’s political future rests on his ability to retain the support of those who voted against his party twelve months ago – and at time when local and devolved elections at the beginning of May are likely to inhibit the room for cross-party collaboration of the kind that the Remain side looks as though it will need.

The reason for the Prime Minister’s predicament is, of course, because voters have not necessarily taken him at his word. True, ComRes’ phone poll found that 45% felt Mr Cameron had succeeded in improving Britain’s terms of membership, slightly more than the 42% who believed he had failed. In a similar vein, Survation’s phone poll found that rather more (35%) reckoned Mr Cameron had done well in the renegotiation than believed he had done badly (29%). However, these figures still represent less than the ringing endorsement for which Mr Cameron might have hoped.

Meanwhile, although in their internet poll YouGov found that the final agreement was rather less unpopular than the draft deal, still rather more (35%) believed it was a bad deal than reckoned it was a good one (26%). BMG (also via the internet) suggested voters might be even more critical than that, with just 13% reckoning the renegotiated terms represent a good deal for the UK and no less than 42% believing it to be a bad one. At the same time, ORB have found that on balance the developments of the last week have inclined rather more voters to vote to Leave (32%) than have edged them towards voting for Remain (24%).

The Prime Minister has become renown for his pumped up, jacket off, shirt-sleeves up style of campaigning. It looks as though he is going to have to be at his persuasive best in the coming weeks, for so far voters appeared to have been relatively unmoved by his efforts in Brussels.

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.

31 thoughts on “Is David Cameron Now Leader of the Opposition?

  1. Was a life long Conservative Voter but I now say ‘Kill two birds with one stone ‘ The European State and Cameron by voting OUT to Save our great country “Great Britain” Deceitful, dishonest and Corrupt Cameron is the worst Conservative Leader in History and actually a Traitor to our great Country showing no respect to the lives sacrificed to keep our Security, Freedom, Democracy and very long proud Heritage.
    Cameron is a total DISASTER!Report

    1. Here Here! I couldnt have said it better.Not only is he he the worst Prime Minister in History I believe he is now

      more disliked than Gordon Brown was(At least he kept us out of the Euro.Report

  2. If David Cameron is so big on democrasy , how is it the initial question 50 years ago was joining a Common Market . The older people think they have been duped by this question and the ever closer political movement inside the EU.
    He had to ask the Germans about what he could ask for in the change package .

    When was the last time we had an agreement by everyone at the Un or Nato .
    The EU is too big , everyone is looking after their own National interest , Except Britain ? . The only way we can be British is voting out and relying on the wrong that happened 50 years ago .Report

  3. Why do we even consider trusting poll results? Like the results of the referendum, they are and will be swayed towards the government stance. We will not be allowed to leave the EU because even if the public did vote out, the politicians and big business will want us to stay in and stay down. The UK has been given away by a minority for self interest…Report

    1. Then ****** well stand up and fight to defend your democratic will and those of your children and theirs. Our grandparents and theirs fought for and gave their lives so that you and I have this free choice and freedom today so grow some damned ***** and live up to their legacy.

      No-one is above the law. It’s YOUR country and YOUR democracy too so damned well fight for it if our government and big business are going to disregard our will.


  4. Honesty and truth have never been a quality of the conservative party. They appear to be owned and controlled by the banking industry. The proof is in how they allow the banks to fall in to dept and then use tax payer money to pull them out. If Cameron says we must stay in the EU then it must be obvious that out is the best option. Every government party we have had in over the past 40 years has finished their term with Britain in a far worse state then is was at the start of their term.
    Getting out of the EU now is the only way we can survive in the coming future.Report

    1. Just to take us back to the real World, it was Labour who were in power when the Banks got into trouble, it was Labour who exercised “light touch” Banking Regulation, and it was Labour who bailed out the Banks.

      Did you really think you could get away with re-writing history?Report

  5. The EU is nothing more than a political and economic project driven by an unelected elite with vested financial interests. That elite presides over a disgraceful lobbying system and uses its power to protect the interests of big business at the expense of any social change, which could benefit the ordinary citizens of the EU’s member states. Everyone likes to travel now and again, but most people want to quietly live and work in the place they grew up in. Hence, rather than benefiting Mr Average, the EU’s ideal of “free movement in a borderless Europe” has disadvantaged him, by bringing down the price of labour in the wealthier EU states. Just how many workers in Germany and France have been able to use the “free movement option” to get a better-paid job in say Bulgaria or Rumania? And how many of Britain’s “dole scroungers” have left our shores to try claiming benefits in Slovakia? The social and financial costs of providing for the endless streams of migrants moving east to west across the continent are paid for by the taxpayer alone and the benefits of a ready supply of cheap labour are reaped solely by the world of business. Can those who believe the EU has kept the peace in Europe actually prove that without it there would have been war? Let the readiness of the EU to jump into – and take sides in – the Ukraine crisis be a wake-up call. This is an EU hell bent on further expansion and ultimately, as history shows, expansion ends in conflict. Is that perhaps the reason why the EU is calling for its own army? Report

  6. There is so much mis-information being spouted in some of these comments and a total lack of the consequences of remaining in the EU.

    The British public have never had a say on joining the EU. The referendum in 1975 was the same question as it is today, to remain in the EU or to leave, we became a member of the EEC in 1973

    In the event the of remain in the EU we will be guilty of heaping more pressure on the NHS, Housing, Schools, Local councils and all our public services. We cannot continue to be party to the unrestrisicted EU movement of people. We cannot continue to have a net migration of some 320,000 a year, this is not sustainable, our population is due to rise by 5 million people within the next ten years according to the Office for National Stastistics. This would be our childrens and grand childrens problem, I don’t want them to have that type of inheritance.

    Peace in Europe is quoted as a reason for remaining in the EU, the facts are very simple. Nato came into existence in 1949 and has been responsible for the peace in Europe in our time. The EEC was not formed until 1958, with six menmber nations, the treaty of Rome being signed in 1957. Another issue quoted is our security, why do you have to be a member of the EU to share international security information afterall our strongest partner in the fight against international terrorisim is not the EU but America, perhaps you doubters should listen to Frank Gardners BBC reports on this subject.

    Regarding our trading position, we are the fifth largest economy in the world, the EU largest single market (16%) the USA is next at 15%. We have a trade deficit with the EU of some £75 Billion a year, is anybody really suggesting that we will not continue to trade with the EU. A failure to trade on mutualy beneficial terms would hurt the EU just as much as it would hurt Britain.. The growth markets in the world do not include the EU, just look to Brazil, India, Asia

    Finaly the only country to leave the EU, Greenland, has benefited from that decision, there is no reason why Britain cannot do the same.

  7. Batty Boris Promises More Jelly For The Boys If They Agree To Play The Game To His Rules.

    In an open attack on his Prime-Minister, Party and Country, the ‘Lunatic from London’ has fired the starting pistol on his bid to take over Number 10! Such are his true pursuits in all this.

    I cannot in any way imagine anyone (other than Jeremy Corbyn) to be more unsuitable to represent our country in parliament, around the world, in the United Nations or elsewhere than this total clown.

    Corbyn wants to send our nuclear submarines to sea without nuclear weapons whilst Batty Boris would probably want to send them out festooned with bunting and yellow balloons.

    He would be a laughing stock and the world at large would think that the British people had completely lost the plot. He doesn’t even speak clearly nor always intelligently and I sometimes wonder how on earth he has come as far as he has done.

    The United Kingdom does not need an intellectual (so-called) ‘Opportunist Twit’ to lead the country, it needs a serious and dedicated person who can deal with facts and substance and if nothing else Cameron has proved his ability to do that.

    We the electorate witnessed all these shenanigans with Brown and Blair so the last thing we need is another episode of that!

    Cameron must cut the head off this self-seeking dragon and despatch him off to never-land. We all like a joke and we all enjoy a bit of humour but these are serious times and the way forward for our country is not in the hands of a buffoon.

    I am not a great lover of Cameron by any stroke of imagination and I despise the way he has deprived British expats the vote in this life-changing referendum to appease the Tory Right Wing by not enacting his pledge to restore the vote to millions of disenfranchised indigenous British people around the world and also the way he has allowed Duncan Schmidt (sorry, Smith) to rampage through the basic rights of pensioners, the sick and disabled.

    However, on this issue I believe he is the man we need right now.

    The Right Wing Goons who would be led by the buffoon Johnson will damage the UK beyond all measure if they get their way. A new Extreme Right Wing Government led by Johnson will bring disaster on the whole British Population.

    New laws by the score will remove the slightest shreds of protection that the man on the street will have from bad behaviour by the government, police, employers and all other public bodies. Life will not be worth living for most of us since we will live in fear once they have scrapped the Human Rights Act.
    Britain will fragment as Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland all seek to re-join the EU and England will become more of a banana republic than anything else.

    Shunned by our neighbours, friends and trading partners in Europe, the USA, Canada, China and Japan, our trade will diminish all but for the new “Pea-Shooter” factory subsidised by Batty to ensure all his chums in parliament can shoot at each other in the name of ‘fun’. God Help England!

    Please vote to stay in the EU if only for the sake of your children and grandchildren!

    No sane person would normally take a leap in the dark.

  8. Anyone who has studied and researched the EU political heirarchy would not need to ask about sovereignty. The power in the EU is with unelected politicians who do what they think is ‘best’ for the EU members. The only thing that keeps politicians in check is the fact that they can lose their job if they sell their countrymen to the highest bidder. That threat does not exist in the EU, so their is massive corruption and the lobbyists are the winners.Report

  9. In 1975 we had a referendum to join the EEC.
    What we have now in the current EU, with 28 member countries, is nothing like the EEC we chose to join in 1975.
    If we were not already in the EU, we for sure would not today vote to join it, despite David Cammeron’s that we would.
    We should now vote to leave the EU. It is not in our best interests to remain in.
    Some leading ‘Let’s remain’ politicians, like Lord Mandelson advocated and lobbied for us to join the Euro currency. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now in their lobbying for us to remain in the EU.Report

  10. Andrew Duff MEP has published a short paper pointing out that Cameron’s “deal” actually isn’t binding on the whole EU. And it isn’t even binding on future Governments of existing member states.Report

  11. Out of EU and into a free trade World. GB should vote to leave now before the who;e EU system falls to pieces as it most within 10 yearsReport

  12. What is truly and utterly astonishing is that half the population seem to think that surrendering our sovereignty to a largely un-elected autocratic foreign power is OK as long as we don’t have to wait to long at passport control when we nip over to the continent on our hols. My grandfather served in the first World War, my parents in the second, and me during the Cold War to preserve our independence and way of life and we are throwing that hard-won freedom away for virtually nothing. We now live in a global world and our horizons need to be much broader than a failing and inflexible organisation designed to solve the problems of more than half a century ago. Come on Britons, this is the 21st century and the world has moved on – wake up and lets see these polls shifting towards BREXIT and the brighter future beyond!

    1. Chris N, Dear Sir, it always astounds me when people talk about ‘surrendering sovereignty’, yet when pressed on what they mean are invariably vague. What difference does it make to your everyday life if laws are made in Westminster rather than Brussels?. I personally don’t care to doff my cap to any ruling class either in London or in Brussels. Far more important is the individual privilege and freedom to be able to study, work, live, and retire in Europe than nebulous notions of sovereignty. Often, as in this case, coupled with “my grandfather served in WW1 for our independence” etc, While conveniently forgetting that the EU and its predecessors have also been instrumental in maintaining peace and stability in Europe, along with human rights.

      And this is before we even get into any economic consequences of leaving Europe It’s also misinformation to suggest that being in the EU.means that Britain can’t do business with the rest of the world. It can and it does. It would be utter madness to chuck away everything that has been achieved in Europe over the last 50 years or so, just for a fit of nationalistic pique giving two fingers to Brussels. There is no turning back on this one. If it goes horribly wrong, and no Brexiter has ever given cast iron assurances that it won’t, the bridges are burnt. Bye, bye the UK, or rather what is left of it when Scotland and quite possibly Northern Ireland have left the sinking ship.Report

      1. Yes, it does make difference if you are ruled by Berlin – sorry, Brussels – or Westminster. The UK GDP is now well above its 2008 peak, we have over 2% growth and 5% unemployment. By contrast, the euro area has less than one percent growth and it has had ten percent plus unemployment for nearly a decade. Its GDP is still less than in 2008 and it only has the same number of jobs as in 2008, while the UK has a million more.

        This would *definitely* affect your daily life, because if we were further integrated into the EU we would eventually become subject to ECB austerity policies and you would quite simply be much less likely to have a job.

        If that’s not an affect in your daily life, then what is?Report

    2. In 2013 the UK was represented by 1 MEP for every 875,289 inhabitants, Germany by 1 for every 838,789 inhabitants, France by 1 for every 886,935 inhabitants, Italy by 1 for every 817,606 inhabitants and Spain by 1 for every 864,895 inhabitants. This covers the larger member countries by population and it is true that smaller states get slightly better representation per inhabitant in the same way that smaller states in the US get slightly better representation per head in the US Senate. Each MP in Westminster does not represent the same number of inhabitants either.
      I do admit this is not perfect democracy but am sure the EU is working on the problem.
      Are you telling me that this is designed to be an autocratic organisation?
      The UK where I am a citizen once had an independent foreign policy. In recent years I have noticed that this policy has been increasingly decided by the US president and I am sure most of us UK citizens had no vote in his election.
      Had our government listened to the concerns of EU countries like France and Germany (or indeed the UN) before joining the US in an invasion of Iraq there would probably have been less refugees whose lives have been ruined arriving in Greece and Turkey. At least Germany is offering some relief to this serious problem. The burden should be shared by the UK and US.
      The EU is designed to be a democratic organisation. The unelected commissioners are chosen by the elected governments in the member countries so we have democratically chosen leaders to blame for them. So I guess you can blame our then elected PM Tony Blair for having Peter Mandelson appointed as an EU commissioner for trade.
      Whoever we elect in the UK seems to be dictated to by the City of London in their economic policies and by the US President in their foreign policies so I believe our best hope of a return to democracy is to stick with the EU.Report

      1. Look, it’s fine to lecture about the spiffy “democratic” structures of the EU, but don’t you think it would be a good idea to ask if they have any power?

        How did the Greek deal come to pass? Was it by open debate in a Parliament? Did it happen by means of a referendum?

        No, it was a closed door face to face meeting between Tsipras and Merkel *after* the ECB cut off liquidity to Greek Banks and threatened to collapse the Greek economy.

        That’s about as “democratic” as the French surrender to Germany in 1940.Report

  13. It’s taken the German government 75 years to take over the whole of Europe and now these ****** refugees have gone and spoilt it !!! shame.Report

  14. 1) Swopped good government by ourselves for bad government by the eu. 1975

    2) Swop bad government by the eu for good government by ourselves. 2016

    3) Win the european championships by fielding leicester city. 2016Report

    1. The greatest or the worst government is to come, PR and multi party politics outside the EU or commissioners drawing up laws in secret for corporations and Britain becoming a county of United States of Europe if we stay

      We can get control of Westminster and bring far more democracy to it and devolve it downwards to the people, will be pointless if we stay in the EU Report

  15. A major market for our goods, inward investment, peace within Europe (my father suffered in WWI and I lived through WWII, subsequently serving in HM Forces), co-operation in vital areas (crime, people trafficking, drugs, global warming etc), immigration (yes, it’s a net benefit only our governments won’t use the profit to build a matching infrastructure), a basic/living wage and protection for workers, part of a major bargaining force – why sacrifice all this for a dream world?Report

    1. Its not a dream world its the real world. We didnt fight two wars to hand over our country to a United States of Europe. There is no economical argument against leaving the EU. The EU doesnt not make us safer or wealthier, its imperialistic and undemocratic. Report

  16. Why Choose a Strong British Government? Political evolution is at our Referendum doorstep. EU movement of labour has to be stopped. Wakeup to a people’s referendum, vote to leave Europe.
    The German lead EU Federal States cannot take un-limited numbers of immigrants and refugees. or Google Referendum 1st page MUM Cartoons.
    There has to be a balance between an ageing population and influx of immigrants.
    Britain and Britannia have given us all the right to Vote, two World Wars for freedom, is now your birthright, Mr & Mrs  John Bull.

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