‘Big beast’ politicians intervening in EU debate has backfired, says new research

Poll reveals public turned off by personality politics of EU referendum


New polling for the Electoral Reform Society shows that ‘big names’ wading into the referendum debate has in almost all cases had the opposite effect to the one intended on how people will vote – or had no impact at all.

The ERS commissioned BMG Research to ask voters how the interventions of major politicians into the EU referendum debate has affected how they will vote on June 23.

The findings show that ‘big beasts’ tend to mobilise opposition more than support for their views, suggesting the public are hostile to the personality politics of the campaign.


Boris Johnson’s contribution to the debate has actually made 20 per cent of people more likely to vote to Remain – only five percentage points less than those it made more likely to Leave.

David Cameron’s interventions have made 29 per cent of people say they’re more likely to back Brexit, compared to 15 per cent for whom it has made more likely to vote Remain.

Worryingly for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn’s interventions have had no impact on 68 per cent of the public, while it has made 19 per cent more likely to vote Leave – compared to just 13 per cent it’s made more likely to stay.

However, it has had some impact on young people, making 17 per cent (to 12 per cent against) of 18 to 24-year-olds more likely to Remain, while making 31 per cent of Labour voters more likely to Remain.

Meanwhile Nigel Farage’s comments have had the intended impact, making 22 per cent more likely to vote to Leave, compared to 17 per cent he’s made more likely to vote Remain.

CorbynHowever, it has had no impact on 61 per cent of voters, while making 25 per cent of 18 to 25-year-olds more likely to get out and vote Remain

In a blow for the Remain camp, Barack Obama’s ‘back of the queue’ interventions on the campaign made 24 per cent more likely to vote Leave, compared to 16 per cent more likely to stay, although 31 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds said it made them more likely to vote to Remain.

And finally, Donald Trump’s ‘contribution’ to the debate has had the desired impact, with his call for Britain to Leave making 19 per cent more likely to Leave, compared to 10 per cent it’s made more likely to stay. 70 per cent of people say he’s had no impact on their decision.

Analysing the results, Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

‘These surprising findings show that the public are completely switched off by the ‘big names’ of the EU referendum debate.

‘Voters are tired of personality politics and it’s driving them away from engaging with the referendum, with the public seeing it as a battle within parties and parliament rather than the crucial decision for Britain’s future that it is.

‘Almost all interventions from heavy-hitting Leave and Remain figures have made people more likely to vote to vote the other way, or had no impact, perhaps reflecting opposition to a campaign largely perceived as top-down and Westminster-dominated people.’


She added:

‘Party cues are important in referendum campaigns – in complex constitutional matters voters look for guidance from political figures they respect…

But interventions from the ‘big beasts’ should go hand in hand with a mature, issues-based and positive debate, alongside grassroots conversations in every part of the UK – the kind of lively discussions we saw with the Scottish referendum.’

In response to the personality politics of the referendum campaign so far, the ERS and universities around the UK have set up an online toolkit for the EU vote called Better Referendum to take groups of voters through the issues and encourage them to organise their own debates ‘on the facts rather than the party spats’.

[Full disclosure: Josiah works for the ERS]

Josiah Mortimer is a regular contributor to Left Foot Forward. You can follow him on Twitter@josiahmortimer.

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