The Vote Could Be As Much As Two Years Away, But Support For A ‘Brexit’ Seems To Be Growing

A vote is still as much as two years away, and support for staying in the E.U. still has the most support, but support for the idea of a British exit from the European Union has grown in the past several months.

British European Flags

A new poll finds that a majority of Brits favors leaving the European Union, a result that is likely to put even further pressure on Prime Minister to schedule a “Brexit” vote for some time in the near future:

A majority of the public now favours leaving the European Union, according to a poll.

Research by ORB for The Independent found 52 per cent wanted to see so-called “Brexit”, compared to 48% who backed staying in.

It is the first time the survey has recorded a majority for quitting.

In June, July and September, 55 per cent supported remaining inside the union, while last month the margin narrowed slightly to 53 per cent-47 per cent.

ORB questioned 2,000 people last Wednesday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, one of the two anti-European Union referendum campaigns has started merger talks aimed at creating a single campaign ahead of the in/out vote on Britain’s EU membership.

The talks were initiated late last week by Arron Banks, the millionaire founder of the Leave.EU campaign, in a letter to Matthew Elliott, the campaign director of the Vote Leave campaign.

Given the fact that previous polling on this issue had shown the numbers to be almost completely reversed even as near as two months ago should be reason to take this particular poll with something of a grain of salt. Added into that warning is the fact that polling in advance of May’s British elections was significantly off from where the final results ended up being. That being said, the promise that the British people would have the opportunity to weigh in on the United Kingdom’s future was a part of the Conservative Party’s platform leading up to that election, in no small part in response to some of the populist fervor that had led to the rise of groups like the UK Independence Party as well as general British frustration with European policies that seemed out of tune with the political direction the nation wanted to take. So, for better or worse, there will be a referendum at some point before the end of 2017.  In that regard, it’s worth noting that opinion polling on this issue may not be very useful in determining the ultimately fate of this issue since many Brits are likely not paying much attention to the issue. Once there’s a date set and the campaign begins in earnest, voters are likely to become much more focused on the debate. Moreover, as we saw in the lead up to the Scottish referendum, and as we often see on referendum questions here in the United States, public opinion on ballot questions that are controversial and the subject of high-profile campaigns often fluctuates wildly before the matter is settled at the ballot box.

Looking beyond this one poll, The Monkey Cage blog looks at polling on the issue going back to May and finds that, while polling still indicates support for staying in the E.U. among Britons, support for the idea of a “Brexit” is growing:

For this estimate, we examine polls beginning in May, when the wording of the referendum question was first announced, up until the start of November. (The government accepted a recommendation from the Electoral Commission that wording needed to be changed in September). We look at the unadjusted responses, which means we include undecided voters, in part because we cannot be sure of how those undecideds will eventually break.

Over the past six months, there has been a steady rise in support for leaving, from around 33 percent to 38 percent. At the same time, support for remaining first increased slightly, reaching approximately 56 percent, but then fell sharply in August to below 48 percent. This collapse in support coincided with the European refugee crisis.

The steady rise in support for Brexit, in the face of both upward and downward shifts in support for remaining, suggests that the leave campaign has made at least some of its gains by winning over undecideds rather than by converting those who previously wanted to remain in the E.U.

Despite these moves in public opinion over the summer, there is still a ten-point gap between the leave and stay camps, with the plurality (so far) saying they will opt to remain. The polls appear to have stabilized over the last month or so.

This chart demonstrates the trends being referred to quite well:

Brexit Chart

Much like the Scottish referendum last year, the fate of the eventual Brexit referendum will likely depend in no small part on the timing of the vote. To the extent we can accept these new poll results at face value, for example, they may reflect public apprehension over the impact of the E.U.’s open borders policy on national security, as demonstrated by the ability it gave the perpetrators of the Paris attack the ability to move freely, and largely undetected between France, Belgium, and, apparently, Germany as they planned their attack and possible follow-up attacks. As The Monkey Cage notes, there has already been an up-tick in support for leaving the E.U. as the refugee crisis has grown over the past several months has increased. Given this, it’s not inconceivable that at least some of what we’re seeing in this new poll is a reflection of how events such as the refugee crisis and now the Paris attacks have influenced public opinion on the European Union in the United Kingdom. As we’ve seen before, though, public opinion can change greatly over time. So, I wouldn’t necessarily read anything definitive into these numbers, but they should at the very least send a message to a political establishment in the United Kingdom that would obviously prefer to see a “Brexit” referendum fail.

FILED UNDER: Europe, World Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    When I lived in Munich we would often go down to Saltzberg, Austria for dinner. We had to stop at the border and show our passports but were always waved through after one or two minutes, not a big deal. I expect that the open borders will be the first to go.

  2. Bill Lefrak says:

    Ultimately this in many respects would be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, as Britain like the rest of the West itself is in a staggering leftism-infused decline. But yeah, there’s a whole host of reasons for Britain to decouple from the EU, and the disastrous policy of completely open borders only is one of those reasons.

    If you’re part of the EU then you’re going to get dragged down below the waterline by PIIGS, much the same way as the U.S. at large has and continues to be dragged down by the likes of Chicago, Bridgeport, Detroit, Oakland, Newark, Philly, etc.

    Britain was smart enough to keep its separate currency. Perhaps they’ll be smart enough now entirely to decouple. The EU is a failed experiment and the future is worse than the present. Only kicking the can down the road, accounting tricks and cheap money have prevented a total collapse. But the end game is certain and it’s certain to be horrific.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    @Bill Lefrak:

    Actually, if we are “dragged down” by anything it’s the entire red-state south which continually underperforms the rest of the country in just about every metric.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    @Bill Lefrak: Dearie, if Illinois didn’t have Chicago it would be just another collection of corn, corn, corn, soybeans, and more corn.

    Where do you think small entrepreneurs get their start? Not in the middle of a wheat field.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: I was going to mention that but you beat me to it. The red state south hate the federal government but don’t have a problem with feeding at the public trough.

  6. Slugger says:

    Let repeat what I usually say when the EU is criticized. Looking at Europe’s history we must recognize that the last two generations have been peaceful in large part. No young German, Frenchman, Russian, or Brit has experienced a Verdun,Stalingrad, or Dresden firestorm. This is a big deal that must be considered a genuine achievement. Now, obviously instrumentalities that brought peace and a truly fantastic economic expansion to Europe from 1960 to now are not guaranteed to be useful from now to 2050, but I would think that caution is in order before throwing away something so successful.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    Doug–I’d also question whether this vote would in fact turn out the way the Brexit-pushers assume it will.

    At present, it’s the Brexit types that are making a fuss. I think if it actually comes down to a vote, a heck of a lot of Brits will say, yeah, we don’t really like all those bureaucrats in Brussels….but do we really want to get OUT of the EU? And the same sort of vote will happen as with the one on Scottish independence. A lot of squawking and posturing, but at the end, the Brits will decide to stick with the EU. They’re not stupid–they know that outside the EU, they’d still have to deal with it because the rest of Europe isn’t going to obligingly break up as well and geography. So the U.K. would be outside the EU, have to deal with it, and would have thrown away any chance it has of affecting the EU.

    (Any Brit who thinks that the U.K. would have more clout with the EU outside the EU rather than inside it has to be smoking something.)

  8. @grumpy realist:

    I didn’t really intend my post to be a prediction either way on this issue, not the least because the fact that the promised referendum may not occur until some time late in 2017 makes it next to impossible to predict what might happen or how the vote will be influenced once campaigning actually starts.

    That being said, I think you may be on to something. There was, and I would bet probably still is, a lot of emotional support in Scotland for the idea of an independent Scotland, but when Scots were actually forced to deal with the prospect that it could actually happen, the logic for staying part of the United Kingdom seemed to outweigh the emotion of Scottish independence. British voters faced with the prospect of leaving the E.U. could well react the same way when it comes time for them to vote.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I’m reminded of a teenager who keeps threatening to run away from home unless his parents treat him better but never actually does it.

    The whining and pouting here are similar.