Leave Make A Leap

Posted on 18 June 2016 by John Curtice

On Thursday morning journalists and politicians were avidly discussing the apparent implications of two more opinion polls released within hours of each other. Yet no sooner had they begun to digest their results and the political world – and many ordinary citizens – were shocked by the murder of the Labour MP, Jo Cox, on the streets of her Yorkshire constituency. Our condolences go to Jo and her family and friends, and in line with the decision made by both campaigns in the referendum, the publication of this blog was postponed yesterday as a mark of respect.

Still, we have been but reminded just how precious it is that politicians should be able to campaign, voters make their choice, and everyone make their contribution to the debate without fear or favour. So we will now return to the attempt of this site to inform the referendum debate by trying to provide impartial insight into the evidence being provided by the opinion polls. Doubtless not everyone will agree with our interpretation, but hopefully all will still find it useful and informative.

We argued in our last two blogs that there appeared to have been a scintilla of a swing to Leave since the advent of ‘purdah’ on May 27. After having consistently put Remain on 50% and Leave on 50% ever since last September (after excluding Don’t Knows), internet polls were now on average putting Leave on 51% and Remain on 49%. However, although a number of these polls were putting support for Leave at a record high, the evidence that there had been a swing to Leave still had to be regarded with considerable caution. Not least of the reasons for that was that only three phone polls had been conducted since May 27, and while on average they reported an easing of the Remain vote from 56% to 53%, much of that apparent fall rested on the results of an ICM poll which, in reporting only a 48% vote for Remain, seemed to be out of step with virtually every other piece of phone polling.

No longer is that caution warranted. Seven internet polls published during the last seven days –  all of them conducted since 7 June –  have on average put Leave on 53% and Remain on 47%, implying that there has been a swing to Leave of three points during the last three weeks. It also, of course, means that if the internet polls are to be believed, Leave is now ahead.

But perhaps even more important are the findings of six phone polls that have now also been published, including one each from ComRes, Ipsos MORI and Survation, none of whom had polled for a month.  All those companies also reported a swing to Leave, as too did ORB, while ICM replicated its previous finding that Leave are now ahead. (The sixth poll, from BMG represented the first phone poll to be conducted by that company.) On average these six polls put Remain on 50%, Leave 50%. Not only do these figures imply that there might have been an even bigger swing to Leave than that suggested by the internet polls, but also that what so far has been one of the most striking features of polling in the referendum – the gap between phone and internet polls – may now have narrowed noticeably.

These last two statements, however, need a little closer inspection. As we noted previously, in recent weeks a number of internet polls have tweaked their sampling and/or weighting procedures with the effect of increasing their estimate of support for Remain. In a sense therefore it is even more remarkable that, nevertheless, those polls have still recorded a swing to Leave. Meanwhile, as signalled in our last blog, Ipsos MORI have now made changes to the methodology of their phone polls that cumulatively have the estimated effect of adding three or four points to Leave. Thus part of the reason why the two kinds of poll may have converged is that they have both changed their methods, as both phone and internet pollsters respond to the criticisms that have been made of some their earlier efforts.

To get a clearer picture of the size of the swing to Leave that has been identified by the polls irrespective of changes in method and differences in when they were last conducted, we show in the table below the difference between the most recent reading of each company and what the same poll said four weeks ago after taking into account (in so far as is possible) the estimated impact of any methodological changes that have been reported by the company during the last four weeks.



* After taking into account estimated impact of methodology changes. n/a: Not available


As we can see, this calculation also suggests that there has been a 7 point swing to Leave over the last few weeks. However, at the same time it also suggests that, at 5 points, the swing in the internet polls may not have been so dissimilar to that in the phone polls after all.

In short, however we look at the evidence, it appears that far from witnessing just a scintilla of a swing to Leave, the last few weeks have seen a significant leap in its support, with the consequence that the balance of the polling evidence is no longer in Remain’s favour. This can only be regarded as a dramatic movement in a referendum campaign that up to now has been notable for the remarkable stability in the level of support for the two options.

But what light do the polls shed on why this change has happened? Now on this, many polls are silent because they do no more than ask people whether and how they will vote. As a result, all they give us are the details of the demographic and partisan breakdown of the vote, and the examination of these does not uncover any consistent evidence that any particular group has especially been inclined to swing to Leave. For example,  the average level of support for Leave in recent polls amongst those who voted Conservative in 2015 is, at 57%, up five points on the equivalent figure for mid-May – but equally, at 36% the level of support amongst Labour supporters is up by six points. Nevertheless, here are four clues in recent polls as to why the Remain side may have lost so much ground,  since (with the onset of ‘purdah’) it has no longer had access to the civil service machine to help it dominate the media agenda.

  1. Voters have seemingly perceived that the Remain campaign has been less able to dominate the headlines. In the third week of May 48% told ORB that they had heard most from the Remain campaign, but that figure now stands at a more modest 36%. At the same time, the proportion who think that Remain have fought ‘the best campaign with a clear message’ has dropped from 44% to 32%.
  2. Immigration, the issue that is central to Leave’s appeal, has become more important in voters’ minds, while the economy, the core of Remain’s appeal, has become less important. According to Ipsos MORI, the proportion naming immigration as an issue that will be very important to them in deciding how to vote has increased from 28% to 33%, while the proportion naming the economy has fallen from 33% to 28%. This, of course, may be a consequence of the Leave side’s higher visibility in recent weeks.
  3. Some of the key claims made by the Remain side apparently lack credibility in the voters’ eyes. Ipsos MORI report that only 17% think it is true that we would all be £4,300 a year worse off if we left the EU (as claimed by HM Treasury), while only 32% think a decision by Britain to leave the EU would put the peace and stability of Europe at risk. In contrast, 47% believe the contested claim by the Leave side that we send £350 million a week to the European Union.
  4. The constant refrain from the Leave side that a vote for their proposition would enable the country to ‘take control’ is relatively popular and seems to be cutting through. In the third week of May, ORB found that while the phrase ‘will give us control over our lives’ was associated by 44% with the Leave camp, 37% also reckoned it was an attribute of the argument being made by Remain. Now those figures are 49% and 28% respectively.

In short, it looks as though the Remain side may have over-egged the pudding in their attempts to persuade voters of the allegedly dire future economic consequences of a decision to leave, while, in contrast, the Leave side have been relatively successful in conveying a simple fiscal message and an easily understood strapline.

Of course, at this point, we need to remember that leaving the EU is still more likely to be regarded as a risk than staying (even though voters are just as likely to say they are concerned about what would happen to immigration if we stayed as they are about the implications for the economy of leaving), and perhaps some risk averse voters may yet swing back to Remain at the last minute. We need to remember too that even final polls of vote intentions in referendums often overestimate the level of support for change that emerges in the ballot box. But even if we allow for these possibilities (not certainties), the Leave lead in the polls must now be regarded as being not far short of what it needs at this stage in the campaign to have an evens chance of winning. The outcome of the referendum has never looked more uncertain than it does now.

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.

46 thoughts on “Leave Make A Leap

  1. Do you know since the start of the EU there have been several political assassinations immediately prior to important EU votes. Bearing in mind how evil politics are generally it does make you think doesn´t it. If Britain leaves the EU the champagne quaffing leadership are going to have to change their lifestyle ad I don´t think they’ll do that without a fight.

    Whilst the death of Joe Cox is regrettable the crocodile tears being shed by politicians who don´t give Jack S for the average person or thing needs to be taken with a kg of salt. The class of many of them surfaced within minutes as they started to use her death for political advantage, insinuating that the leave camp had been responsible.

    However, the Joe Cox was not quite an angel and if you want to know who and what she was then visit here. http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2016/06/the-selective-compassion-of-jo-cox/#more-37416Report

  2. Apparently now Cameron has “invoked the spirit of Churchill” and compared the remain campaign with the fight against Hitler.

    I think that is the sound of the bottom of barrels being scraped.Report

    1. I saw that last night of television. How on earth can that lying coward even put himself in the same sentence as Churchill defies belief. Report

  3. With regard to “Remain” camp’s doom and gloom prophecies if we vote leave, consider a parallel. I seem to remember similar terrifying prophecies in 1999 from similar so-called experts about computers crashing making the the world come to a standstill, planes dropping out of the skies and similar nonsense. If you remember, it was called the “Millennium Bug”. These imminent disasters did not happen!

    Today, “Remainers” advocate the status quo as safer than the unknown of Brexit. But this status quo is NOT a status quo. There are changes just round the corner from the broken EU’s Brussels bureaucrats being held back until after our referendum. Think! David Cameron promised a referendum before the end of 2017. So why so early in June 2016? Because if it were held nearer the end of 2017, his case would be weekened because there would be more EU regulation changes in the equation. These wouldn’t help the Remain campaign but would have made make the argument for Brexit even stronger and more logical.

    When Turkey joins (EU and UK govt policy and helping to accelerate its membership) consider the implications. Refugees entering Turkey are not really be wanted by Turkey – nor would they want to stay there if there is a better option for them. So why would’n’t Turkey offer them Turkish citizenship. Then they become EU citizens. So they are free to move wherever they want to in Europe ad leave Turkey.

    A final thought – imagine on a dark cold night being on the Atlantic Ocean in 1912 on the worlds largest passenger ship. It is clearly sinking. Think about it. You have a choice. A place in a lifeboat to float into the unknown but which you can at least steer- or you can stay with the broken and sinking Titanic. Which one do you think you would have chosen?Report

    1. Pete,

      The referendum was brought forward because Cameron knows only too well that after the summer, anther 1,000,000+ immigrants will have broken their way into Europe, and that would have swung it for Brexit. Have you noticed that before the date of the referendum was announced, the BBC ran a ‘migrant’ headline almost on a daily basis? Funny how they seem to have gone all quiet lately. The Government went soft on their charter renewal in exchange for supressing unfavourable news about the EU and illegal immigrants. The whole referendum has been an establishment stitch-up from start to finish. I only hope the undecided see through it and vote LEAVE on Thursday.Report

    2. The millenium bug WAS real – thousands of computer professionals worked for years before 2k to prevent system failures. Just because it was successfully mitigated doesn’t mean it wasn’t a creditable economic threat.Report

      1. Sorry, but the whole point about the Y2K bug was that they could *not* mitigate it. It was – supposedly – a bug in cobol executables for which the sources no longer existed. That was the whole point. It was just more scare-mongering.

        Some people *live* for scare-mongering. It gives a perverse sort of meaning to their lives. That’s why scare-mongering persists. It’s because certain personality types feed off it.Report

        1. Are you saying that all the thousands of bugs that WERE fixed by replacing software, or updating of software for which they did still have the source code for don’t count towards mitigation of the millenium bug? That doesn’t make sense.


          1. Fixing bugs in programs for which we have source code is routine. Y2K was a scare about programs for which we did not have the source code – supposedly. And it turned out to be a false alarm.Report

          2. No, just wrong – I have never heard it framed that way and I cannot find a single credible source of your definition. Y2K was about programs that used 2 digits instead of 4 for the year, and therefore would assume 2000 was 1900. The shear amount of effort to audit programs for all uses and formats of dates was no routine matter.

            One of the worst cases of the bug not being fixed was in the UK – two babies were aborted after incorrectly being diagnosed with a congenital disease: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2001/sep/14/martinwainwright Report

    3. Yes, and remember all the other predictions about the UK. The UK is Greece. Sterling will go to zero. The UK will default on its debt. UK unemployment will sky-rocket. Will Hutton said we would need an E200bn loan from Europe to stave off “imminent” economic collapse. The UK will have to hand over management of its economy to the EU.

      None of this happened. This is because scare-mongering doesn’t *have* to be realistic. Scare-mongering is psychological. Scare-mongering isn’t about reality. It is about supplying panic fodder to personalities that are already timid and fearful.Report

  4. On whether the murder of Jo Cox would or should have any bearing, it was the Leave campaign which was very quick to try to make noises to prevent it doing so, as though they knew that it is relevant. It happened, I think, just hours after the Breaking Point poster, showing refugees from the Syrian war in Slovakia, was unveiled by a ****-a-hoop Nigel Farage. Tommy Mair is clearly very disturbed but also inflamed in particular to hatred on the issue of immigrants and refugees …. but they are not ‘EU migrants’ and have nothing to do with the referendum. They are however dark skinned (one ‘white’ face was photo-shopped out. It indicates the disreputable tactics being used by Farage and the general blanketed manner in which the immigration issue is being vaguely waved about in Leave’s own dismal and misleading Project Prejudice effort. It taints their whole enterprise.Report

    1. Undeniably certain distasteful acts have taken place.

      But please remember that you are voting for an ideological principle not a politician.Report

    2. You seem to have reached the conclusion that somehow Nigel Farage’s poster (not very tasteful, I admit) drove Mair to commit this vile act. That assumes that he felt hatred towards those of other races which is not borne out by his history of teaching English to refugees and immigrants. Why he killed Jo Cox is unknown at this moment and making assumptions as to his motives is foolish.Report

  5. The tragic death of Jo Fox murdered by someone who, it appears, had an extreme conviction that Jo was doing some kind of harm and this was not an act representative of normal thinking people. Everyone I know, no matter what their conviction , have been shocked and saddened by this pointless vile act . From what I have seen Jo was a well liked and respected local representative , who seems to have worked tirelessly for her community, no matter what their original nationality. She was a force of rational thought and she is a loss to us all, would be we had more like her, my thoughts are with her family.
    To try and make political gain from this or try to turn it into something else by anyone is just about as low as you can get, and if the people of this country continue to state that this referendum is connected to some kind of racist leanings by everyone who thinks we should leave the EU, then we insult the very memory of free thinking people like Jo Cox who seems to have done everything in her power to promote understanding and keep the balance between cultures.
    This country seems divided about 50/50 with the referendum, but I doubt you would find many who would think that this singular act of pure evil was a rational thing to carry out. The question on the ballot paper is not ‘do you like brown or white people’, it is ‘should we be in control of our own destiny or let someone else do it’. That is the balance we need to decide on ,using the information we have. I try to like everyone until they prove me wrong.
    Are there people who might gain from this evil persons act, well maybe it’s a thought and one I am sure the police will look into. Until I see some evidence however it is just conjecture no matter how one side or the other might think it may promote their opinions. I personally do not rely on the personalities of either side of this referendum, there are indeed pros and cons for both , I am sure there is a balance in there somewhere and I need to take the facts and shake the personal and political point scoring out of it and I would hope everyone will do the same.

    My thoughts right now are for Jo Fox and her family , in comparison everything else just pales.


  6. This was not a politically motivated killing it is said. But I am not sure but perhaps not for the reasons you all conclude. The family of the man has agreed that he has mental health issues but stated that he has NEVER spoken of politics. If someone likes/dislikes something political they talk about it with their friends and family. They do not harbour these things inside. That points to the media reports being false or at least someone’s account of events being false. Or perhaps he was somehow manipulated into shouting what he did.

    You not only have to question the above but myself, as someone who is not sure how they are going to vote come June 23rd, you have to ask about the timing of this murder. Two hours after the political world was taken aback and reeling by two majority “leave” polls which put a brexit at 53% to Remains 47%… Was this Killing something else. A desperate Remainers attempt to stop and perhaps reverse the brexits gains?… Yes, you may claim ridiculous conspiracy, but heed this. A lot of people (not just politicians) but greedy callous bankers, global corporates, financial powerhouses have a lot to lose by a Brexit. All of these know all to well how to make a “headache go away”. Regardless of what the truth is, the media spin will put people off of voting for a brexit because they will feel that they are siding with the beliefs of the killer over the “innocent mother who just wanted to make a difference and us all to live together peacefully”. It’s a disgraceful thing to use this woman who has lost her life in this way. I pray that the family and the family of the killer find out the truth so that they can both try and move forward. In the meantime I need to make sense of the (non biased) facts and vote for what I feel is best for me and my family. Report

    1. Based on the continued push for further financial regulation by European countries it would seem like some “greedy callous bankers” may actually have a lot to gain by a Brexit – less regulation and unimpeded risk tasking!Report

      1. Well “further financial regulation” is one of those poltically correct phrases that sounds as if it has to be a positive develoipment.

        Do you realise that the EU has already imposed a “mortgage directive” that is making it harder for prospective home-owners to obtain mortgages in the UK – even though we are not in the euro area.

        Why does a foreign power that uses a completely different currency get to regulate mortgage lending in the UK?Report

        1. I wasn’t implying that further financial regulation was good or bad, just pointing out that bankers aren’t necessary motivated to keep the status quo.

          w.r.t. EU directives – I imagine if you don’t believe that european politicians (thats including Britain) promote or pass legislation for the EUs benefit as a whole it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about mortgages or trade tariffs, the end result is never going to be palatable.

          Why does the EU get to set import trade tariffs for the UK? Because the trading power of the EU is greater than Britain alone – and for that benefit we compromise.

          Why would the EU regulate mortgage lending in the UK? In the hope of creating a european-wide mortgage market that would improve competition and potentially decrease lending rates. For that benefit we compromise.Report

  7. I have seen no commentary on the steady decline in the number of “don’t knows” since early June. Have they swung towards leave reflecting the sharper focus on immigration? Is the core support for either side remaining the same?Report

  8. We do not yet know, Orwell, if the killer can be considered a “madman”. The police appear to be taking the idea that this could be a political hate crime,seriously. His words and the fact cuttings about Cox and her fight against Brexit, were found in his house support the idea.

    Both sides have been guilty of inaccuracy in this referendum but only one has attempted to bring the notion of Britain being flooded with foreigners into it. Farage”s obscene anti-refugee poster was released one hour before Cox was killed.Report

    1. Well, the reason why Farage and UKIP brought the subject up was because it happens to be TRUE but then when have the left-wing ever accepted the results of their own extreme-left globalist and profoundly anti-British policies? NEVER in my view. As for the Labour Party MP’s death, I will reserve judgement but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if MI5/Special Branch and more likely Britain’s external security service of MI6 murdered her. There is, after all, a well-known saying of cui bono? Who profits from the crime? Certainly not the Brexit campaign!Report

        1. There is a difference between “reduce immigration” and “regain control over immigration”. I am broadly in favour of legal immigration, but very uneasy at the thought that a foreign court can impose free movement on us.Report

      1. Barry,

        It certainly was ‘convenient’ for the remain camp, and as you say, there are so many powerful vested interests who are clearly desperate to remain that nothing could be put past them.

        There’s definitely something about this that sits very uneasily with me. Within hours of her death, her husband releases a clearly politicised statement relating to hate, and also takes to Twitter. Now, I’m married with 2 young kids, and if my wife was laying in the morgue still warm, the very last thing I would be doing is issuing political statements. I don’t know what others would do, but personally I would be spending every moment comforting the kids who had just lost their mother. Maybe it was his coping mechanism, who knows….Report

  9. Very true Orwell, but the British public is quite able to see through this awful manipulation of personal grief and pain. Just like the scaremongering this will not go down well with most.Report

  10. With apologies for bothering you … does the above take into account the effect on public opinion of the terrible shooting of Jo Cox? Have any polls come out since then? Have you any opinion of what the effect of the tragedy might be on public opinion?Report

    1. Why should the tragic death of Ms Cox at the hands of a madman have any influence on the referendum vote? Although I have to admit I have a queasy feeling some of her ex-colleagues might be milking it, which is truly revolting if so.Report

      1. “Why should the tragic death of Ms Cox at the hands of a madman have any influence on the referendum vote?”

        That seems a naive position to take. Whether it’s right or wrong – and I’m not saying it’s either – the impact of a high profile murder of a politician is a political event. We’re in the middle of a different political event and it seems strange to think it wouldn’t have some kind of impact. What’s harder to say, is what kind of impact it will have.

        Can you, for instance, conceive of a voter who thinks / consdiers a) Thomas Mair gave his name in court as “‘death to traitors, freedom to Britain'”; b) reports from witnesses suggest he said “Britain First” whilst actually murdering Jo Cox; c) Jo Cox, in her short parliamentary career, had become known for her stance on immigration, refugees and for being a Remain supporter; d) there has been a large amount of criticism
        and disquiet during the campaign that both sides have conducted nasty and unpleasant campaigning.

        I find it very easy to see a voter, in this context, being influenced by what has happened. You said “why” – I think the above suggests a possible reason why.

        I am not discussing my particular views or feelings on the issue here. I just think it’s naive in the extreme to disregard the context and impact of what has happened.Report

        1. With respect, nothing your write here convinces me that this murder was a “poltical event”. It might have an effect on politics, but so might a tornado. This was the act of someone with a history of mental illness, who is now exhibiting pretty classic narcisistic delusions.

          You know, this campaign has been going on for a long time, and there was always going to be a least unstable person who was going to be driven over the edge by it. What that person did after going over the brink is a function of their instability, not of politics.Report

          1. There have been six MP’s murdered in the last 100 years. If you don’t think that is a political event – whatever the motive or reasons – then I think you’re being wilfully naive.Report

          2. The shooting was not a political event in itself, just as the example given above of a ‘tornado’ however, it has been decided to turn it into a political event. One man shooting a woman, is neither terrorism nor a political event. If I shout, “Brexit” as I throw myself under a bus and bring traffic to a halt, I have no more created a ‘political event’ than if I had shouted, “Breakfast” Report

      2. I think the answer is that it will in the short run, but in the longer run people will get back to thinking about the principles involved.Report

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