Tory MPs Decide: But what do Tory voters think about Brexit?

Posted on 12 December 2018 by John Curtice

Theresa May might have been able to put off a vote on her Brexit deal in the House of Commons yesterday, but that decision has simply precipitated a confidence vote this evening in her leadership of her party.  The argument that attempting to change the Prime Minister would upset the Brexit timetable lost much of its force when that timetable was put on hold anyway. Now, doubtless central to the considerations in many Conservative MPs’ minds as they decide how to vote on Mrs May’s future will be both what they think of the Brexit deal that the Prime Minister has secured so far and whether they think Mrs May is the best person to lead the negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU on which the government is due to embark after the UK leaves on 29 March next year.

One piece of evidence that Tory MPs might think relevant to their deliberations is what Conservative voters make of the Brexit process so far. If those who support the party are critical of what Theresa May has achieved then MPs might think that is one reason to vote against her. On the other hand, if the party’s supporters are largely content with her achievements to date, MPs might think she deserves to stay as their leader.

What is relatively clear is that Conservative supporters comprise a predominantly a pro-Brexit group of voters. When YouGov most recently asked people whether they thought in hindsight the Brexit vote had been right or wrong, two-thirds (67%) of those who currently say they would vote Conservative said that the vote had been right, while only around a quarter (26%) felt that it had been wrong. Similarly, in the most recent poll to break down how people would vote in a second referendum by how they would vote in an immediate general election, two-thirds (67%) of Conservatives told ComRes that they would vote to Leave, while just 28% stated they would back Remain. Most Conservative voters are then asking whether May is delivering Brexit well rather than questioning whether she should be pursuing it in the first place.

Moreover, those who currently say they would vote Conservative comprise one group who, on balance at least, are inclined to back Mrs May’s Brexit deal. For example, in a recent poll that BMG conducted for the pro-Brexit organisation, Change Britain, 44% of current Conservative supporters say they approve of the deal, while just 29% stated they disapprove. Similarly, when YouGov most recently asked their respondents whether they thought MPs should accept or reject the deal, as many as 52% of Conservatives said they should accept it, while only 33% rejected it.

Even so, these might well be thought to be rather modest levels of support amongst Conservative supporters for a major policy being promoted by a Conservative leader. Much of it might perhaps also be relatively reluctant support. For example, when YouGov asked the very same respondents who answered the question about what MPs should do whether they themselves supported or opposed the deal, the 44% of current Conservative supporters who said that they supported the deal was nearly matched by 41% who said that they opposed it. Meanwhile, when Ipsos MORI asked whether it would be a good or a bad thing for the UK to leave the EU on the proposed terms, rather more Conservatives (47%) said that it would be a bad thing than reckoned it would be a good thing (40%).

Moreover, even current Conservative supporters are far from enamoured of how well the government has been negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU. In their most recent reading on this subject, YouGov found that no less than a half of Conservatives (50%) said that the government had been handling the negotiations badly, while only 42% felt that it had been doing so well.  There is evidently some unease among those who back the party about how well the Brexit process has been handled so far.

But perhaps Mrs May’s biggest difficulty is that when Conservative supporters are faced with a choice between accepting her deal and pursuing an alternative course of action, many of them say they would prefer a harder Brexit than the one that she seems to have in mind. For example, when YouGov most recently asked their respondents to choose between leaving the EU on the basis of the Prime Minister’s deal, leaving without a deal, or remaining in the EU, the 41% of Conservatives who said their first preference was to accept the deal was almost matched by the 39% who stated that their first choice would be to leave without a deal. A second YouGov poll found that, although, when faced with a range of options, 41% of Conservatives felt that Britain should leave the EU on the basis of the deal, as many as 36% either said that Britain should reject the deal and either leave without one or else seek a new one.

The inclination of many (but far from all) Conservative voters to pursue a harder Brexit was also in evidence when BMG presented voters with a very wide range of alternative courses of action, ranging from leaving without a deal at one end through to having a second referendum on whether to leave or not at the other. In this instance, as many as 53% of Conservatives chose either leaving ‘the EU and trading on WTO rules’ or pursuing in one way or the other a ‘Canada plus style free trade deal’. Just 14% picked out the government’s deal. Similarly, when faced with a straight choice between accepting the withdrawal agreement on the one hand and ‘leaving the EU and trading on WTO rules’ on the other, slightly more Conservatives (52%) backed the latter course of action than supported the former.

In short, much like the party itself, Conservative voters appear to be roughly evenly divided between those who are willing to back Mrs May’s deal and her approach to the Brexit negotiations, and those who are more critical and would prefer a harder Brexit. That reality will not make the decision that Tory MPs now face any easier.

 

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.

8 thoughts on “Tory MPs Decide: But what do Tory voters think about Brexit?

  1. It is clear the country is still divided and the various grievances very much need to be addressed. The parties can’t do it as they are all just as divided as the nation. The nation owes it to itself to stop bickering and listen to all sides to find compromises, why would any of us want to impose something the other half views so negatively, this is civil war stuff, the UK is better than this.

    Regardless, referendums should only be advisory, we elect parliament, parliament has sovereignty, the system is the system.
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  2. In reply to Linda. Linda you are welcome to your opinion. I have two elderly aunts who both voted out. Both voted based on the extra money for the NHS. They have both told me they regret their decision and feel like they were hoodwinked by lies. Their words. Their opinion. Its their vote and its everyones democracy. A second vote is not against democracy, it IS democracy. To prevent lies, this and all future referendums should have the judiciary vet the official campaigns to ensure we the voters are presented with facts for and against that we can debate. Then we can all come together and we can all decide. Lets all take a step back from the precipice. Lets take a few deep breaths and let democracy rule. The Magna Carta was all about preventing exploitation of power. So lets Use our Votes to show those in power what we want now that we have a better understanding as to what we will get by staying in or by going out. Report

  3. In reply to Bob, I voted to leave, not because of the NHS bus or the immigration issues, a myth perpetuated by people who do not accept real democracy and the obvious sound bites of people who are unhappy that the result didn’t go their way. I voted to leave the European Union because the public did not vote to join the European union in its current state. We voted to join an economic institution back in 1973 which was then confirmed again in 1975. Using the remainders argument I was too young to vote at this time even though this step affected my life for the following 46 years. However in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty was introduced which transferred foreign policy and judicial authority from the UK to the EU. This was neither explained to the general public nor were they given an opportunity to debate or agree to this power transfer. This was then superseded by the Lisbon treaty in 2009 which in effect moved power from the national governments to a more central EU parliament working alongside non elected Eurocrats to extend the decisions taken in more policy areas. Once again signed on behalf of the UK but certainly not endorsed by the public. Over the last 40 years we have seen numerous times the relocation of successful British businesses to Europe with European loans or incentives. In 1973 our fishing areas extended to 200 miles around our coastline, now we are ‘allocated’ a 12 mile boundary which is subject to review every 10 years. I could go on and on about how the EU has asset stripped this island and these facts are why I strongly believe that we need to leave this organisation. So if you want to continue to believe that all leavers are racist bigots with no understanding of the reasons why we should leave, then I think that says more about the remainders attitude and arrogance than it ever does about people who believe in this country and it’s people and who wish to see the UK people benefit from their hard work.Report

  4. I fail to see why so many people are so upset about the prospect of a second referendum. No, it is not undemocratic – if the British public still want to leave then fine, vote to leave again in the full knowledge of what that would entail and we will leave on that basis. If however, a majority feels that on reflection, it might not be the best idea, then here is an opportunity to change direction. Again, any decision that would be made would be a properly informed choice and would only be made based on a majority vote.

    The only reason I can see for the distress at a potential second referendum is that leave voters (who are determined to leave at any cost) think they might not get their way, they suspect that a reasonable number of voters will have changed their minds.

    As far as I can see, Brexit is largely supported by: older affluent voters who can afford to absorb any economic downturn – they own their houses outright, they have comfortable savings and their children are independent adults; and voters from lower socio-economic groups who have little or nothing to lose by giving Brexit a shot (and sticking a middle finger up to the establishment). Meanwhile, most people in the middle, who will be materially and economically impacted by a decision to leave the EU, think the whole thing is a pointless and regressive nonsense.Report

  5. very very angry at the remain parliament mainly voted tory but have dabbled labour liberal in the past, and u/kip but they have lost it. who do a vote for now ? do I join the tory party will I get more say on next pm? should I vote for any of the rabble ever again, very confused and angry leave means leave.Report

  6. Theresa May is working hard to please all parties concerned. She has not had much support from some members of her party or even better suggestiions which Europe may accept. The British people voted “LEAVE” yet some members of the Tory party think they know better and that we, the British public are not capable of making that vital decision. Surely the treatment that our MP’s (and this country) have received from Europe since the decision to leave was made, has opened our eyes to the fact that Europe need us for the Billions we pay in each year. I have always voted Tory as all members of my family have and we will continue to do so. We will not desert them in these hard times.Report

  7. ‘Conservative voters’ – a group that is rather difficult to nail down.

    I myself have voted Tory in the past, but will never do so again because of Brexit and because of the ‘swivel eyed’ membership (not the same as voters). In the past I might have been labelled a ‘shy Tory’, but it’s a misnomer, I was never ‘shy’, just that my support was qualified. I think it’s a rather large group. The Tories have made very clear that the economy and jobs are no longer their primary concern, they’re now the party of economic decline on grounds of ideology. Political suicide for the Tory party.

    Running up to the 2017 GE, the Tories had a 20% lead in the polls, proved to be total nonsense, and in my opinion it’s due to ‘Brexit bravado’, essentially people who support Brexit but never really vote Tory are vociferous about Tory support due to Brexit, but it’s pretty clear that the Tories would have a real struggle to win even minority government if there was a GE today, so saying that a majority of ‘current’ Tory voters support Brexit is a bit like saying UKIP supporters were mostly pre-Brexit, all other support has left them.Report

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