A pollster speaks: what the public thinks about Brexit

Anti-Brexit demonstration © Getty Images
Public opinion is moving towards a softer Brexit

It’s safe to say that polling industry as a whole didn’t emerge from this month’s election with a lot of credit. Most of the major companies predicted a vastly increased Conservative majority instead of the hung parliament.

One of the few exceptions was Survation, which was one of the first to pick up the collapse in the Conservative lead, with its final poll having the Conservatives only 1% ahead of Labour. Survation also correctly predicted the “No” result in the Scottish referendum and, of course, the triumph of the “Leave” campaign last June. While its final published poll in 2015 put Labour ahead, an unpublished poll on the eve of the election put the Conservatives in the lead.

We’ve therefore decided to talk with Damian Lyons Lowe, Survation’s CEO and founder, about what makes Survation’s polls so special, and recent shifts in public attitudes to the EU.Lyons Lowe believes that his polls have done consistently well for several reasons.

Firstly, while most pollsters take a random sample and then try to make a lot of adjustments for demographics, Survation tries to ensure that its original sample is demographically representative (what pollsters call a “random stratified sample”) to begin with, so there is less need for adjustment. It also works hard to reach groups like younger and older people. Most importantly, Survation does not make arbitrary adjustments to turnout based on previous elections, “because every contest is different”.

Lyons Lowe thinks the main reason his competitors overestimated the Conservative lead this time was because they didn’t really understand why they got things wrong in 2015. Instead of “shy Tories” or “a spiral of silence”, their big mistake was not trying hard enough to contact hard-to-reach voters and their failure to capture the late surge to the Conservatives.

As a result, they overcompensated by assuming that young people wouldn’t vote this time. Days before the election, Patrick Sturgis and Will Jennings of the University of Southampton were warning that the unadjusted Conservative lead was much smaller than the headline figures.

Ironically these errors of judgement by the polling industry meant that “both Labour and Conservatives ended up being badly served by their internal pollsters”, resulting in them running inefficient campaigns.

Public opinion is moving towards a softer Brexit

For example, if Labour had known that they were closer to the Tories they would have been more aggressive, putting people and money into campaigning in marginal and targets, rather than defending seats which turned out to be safe. Similarly, the Conservatives would have been much more defensive, “if they had known that they were at risk of losing seats like Kensington”.

In terms of the wider EU debate,Lyons Lowe thinks that there has now been a shift in public opinion towards a softer Brexit. A recent poll for the TV show Good Morning Britain showed that 55% of people want to keep Britain in both the single market and customs union, compared with 35% those who would oppose such an arrangement. While most Labour and virtually all Lib Dem voters support this option, around 40% of Conservatives are at least not opposed to considering such a solution.

Another recent poll, this time for the Mail on Sunday, found that only 27% want to leave the Customs Union. Even more striking is that 60% of the public want cross-party involvement in the negotiations, including even 25% of Conservatives.

When looking at questions about Europe, it’s important to consider what is being polled.Lyons Lowe notes that the public generally doesn’t want a re-run of last year’s referendum, with 57% opposing another vote on membership. However, when you change the question to a vote on the final deal once the negotiations are complete then 48% of the public would support such a move, with only 42% of the public opposing it.

Beware the Tory “headbangers”

Again, around a quarter of Conservatives, and a third of those who voted Leave, would be willing to support such a move. Interestingly, if the referendum was to be repeated then Remain would be ahead by 50% to 47%.

Of course, there hasn’t been a complete reversal in attitudes. Although Theresa May’s lead over Corbyn has narrowed considerably, the public still trust her more than the Labour leader – by 52% to 39% – to negotiate a good Brexit deal. Two-thirds of people, including around 45% of Labour voters and a majority of Lib Dems, want Brexit negotiations to proceed, rather than being delayed. Finally, while only 30% of people think that leaving the EU without an exit deal would be good for Britain, 49% of people would trust Theresa May’s judgement if she came out and said that “no deal” was better.

Overall,Lyons Lowe thinks that these results give the PM enough room to moderate her position and support a closer post-Brexit relationship with the EU, at least as far as the public are concerned. Certainly he feels that “she would have the support of the Conservative parliamentary party” and would probably be also able to carry Conservative supporters.

The problem is that the “headbangers” would almost certainly try and depose her and replace her with either Boris Johnson or David Davis. The outcome of that scenario would all depend on how the membership voted, though previous polling of councillors suggest that they would be sympathetic towards her.

  • The low information voters who accept everything that the BBC and Channel 4 News tells them, will always go for a soft Brexit (actually, remaining in the EU would be a more truthful description). If you tell people the unvarnished truth, that if you add a third of a million people to your population every year, you will always have a housing crisis, a debt crisis and an NHS on the brink of collapse, they may spot the merits of Brexit. (That is what a majority voted for in June 2016, to leave the European Union and all the EU’s institutions.)
    And why do so many young people support Jeremy Corbyn? Is it because the militant far-left members of the NUT drip their poison into the delicate ears of Britain’s children throughout their schooling? A process that sadly continues in our universities. As a consequence, our kids don’t grow up learning about duty, selflessness and patriotism. They grow up with a sense of grievance, of victimhood, resentful towards the hated Tories who took all their money away. God help us!

    • Peter Edwards

      You would not know the truth it slapped you in the face,

      The crisis we face in the western world are the result of demographic’s not immigration.

      As people get old they pay less into the system and rely more on public services like the NHS.

      The housing crisis was mainly caused by the public sector selling of housing and not building replacement properties, The public sector built around 45% of housing in the 70’s while today they build under 20%.

      https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-house-building

      • marylyn ford

        Unfortunately most of it was the slums of today, and replaced nice terraces that housed more people, but graft and corruption meant that there was not an earner in doing up older property or reducing the housing waiting lists. The money should have gone to help ordinary people, not make fat cats and quangocrats even richer, at everyone else’s expense.

    • marylyn ford

      You are not wrong, in our eight year old’s primary, they are not allowed to ask questions and were compelled to vote labour in mock elections, and those who voted tory were censored. At eighteen they still know less than those of us who left school at 15.

  • Andrew Crow

    The problem with polling voting intentions is that unlike weather forecasting which makes no difference to the weather, opinion polls affect not only voters opinions, but also the campaign strategies and promises of the candidates.
    I’m not at all convinced that publishing opinion polls is in the interests of democracy and can all too easily affect the outcome of elections.

    A complete ban on publication from the time an election is called would be no bad thing.

  • Prof Raus

    Quite extraordinary to witness this scramble by anti democrats to twist everything and subvert democracy. The question was straightforward. Everyone; Remain. Leave and the EU said that a vote to leave meant leaving both the Single Market and the Customs union. Those who voted leave understood that and although I’m sorry for Remain voters, some of whom seem not to have understood the question or the arguments, that does not negate the result.

    There is no hard or soft Brexit, simply truth or lie and rather than this constant attempt to re-run the referendum or overturn the result it is beyond time that those that support the EU stop hiding behind scare stories and tell the truth.

    The EU is a political project to create a new state. The new State will have a common fiscal policy (to augment it’s common currency, which all members will have to join) it will have a common foreign policy to bolster its common trade policy and a common defence policy backed by its own army. Creating this new state means that the limited sovereignty currently enjoyed by members states of the EU will be removed. Of course, some might have legitimate reasons for considering that a good idea. Normally politicians and others with a good idea can’t stop talking about it. During the referendum campaign no one on the remain side talked about political union. No one is talking about it now. If I am supposed to agree to my country being dismantled I am entitled to know why. If political union is such a good idea I’m entitled to know why the EU has consistently ignored democratic votes against it (France, Holland, Ireland) As a taxpaying voter I’m entitled to ask the supporters of anti democracy to
    stop telling lies and present their case. When they have done that, every state
    of the EU should hold a referendum with a simple question. The EU wants to
    abolish your country and make you a citizen of a new one do you agree Yes or No.

    • Aldo

      Simple question, or simple minded? Just like Remain in or Leave the EU. Not simple at all. Besides, it makes not a scrap of difference to me if “my country is abolished and I’m made a citizen of a new one”, in fact I can see some good in it, warts and all; presumably to you, it’s an existential threat.

      • marylyn ford

        Depends on the country, and how many layers of bloodsucking politicians and cronies there are.

    • marylyn ford

      I wish you would explain that to the BBC and channel 4.