Is the Remain vote ‘softer’ than polling suggests?

Signs of an upset in the EU referendum, with voters non-plussed and Labour's campaign 'muted'


The polls are closer than ever and the sense of concern is growing within the campaign to keep the UK in the European Union.

Was this then the week that the campaign got serious, in much the same way as that now infamous poll just a few weeks before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, which put support for leaving the UK ahead of those wanting to stay in it?

Earlier this week Robert (now Lord) Hayward, who was one of John Major’s polling gurus in 1992, predicted that the country will vote to leave the EU on June 23:

‘Unless something substantial changes in the remaining days of the EU Referendum campaign, the balance of probability is that the nation will vote to Leave.’

His case was simple – the pro-EU vote is far softer than many of the polls have predicted.

Hayward’s views matter because of his uncanny ability to predict things the pollsters miss. In 1992 he successfully picked up on the ‘shy Tory’ vote that sent John Major back to Downing Street.

Last year Hayward again predicted prior to the General Election that the polls were underplaying Conservative support.  Add that to Hayward’s personal view that he wants the UK to stay in the EU and his warning should be taken seriously.

Last night the sense of gloom deepened as Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham on BBC Newsnight warned of the very real prospect of the Leave campaign winning the referendum, largely as a result of Labour voters failing to connect with the all too muted campaign Jeremy Corbyn is ‘leading’.

What makes this worse however is that even the pollsters are beginning to cast doubt over their own figures.

Take Scotland as an example, a country where poll after poll has shown a clear lead for those wanting to stay in the EU. For so many it is somewhere seen as certain to vote decisively for Remain.

Yesterday however, IPSOS Mori and IPPR Scotland published the results of focus groups they had run. It found that Scottish voters regard the EU referendum campaign being lower-key and less important than the 2014 independence referendum.

As such, those supporting EU membership in Scotland do not appear to be doing so with much enthusiasm; they seem ready to be persuaded to change their minds by the rest of the campaign; and negativity towards the EU outweighs positivity and is felt with more passion.

Russell Gunson, Director of IPPR Scotland, warned:

‘It seems the EU referendum is more of a ‘tinman’ referendum in Scotland, lacking heart and lacking passion, especially compared to the independence referendum.

While the polls may show significant support for Remain in Scotland, our research shows this support is potentially quite soft, and could therefore weaken between now and the 23rd June.’

In Wales meanwhile, the latest political barometer puts the Leave and Remain campaigns all square at 41 per cent each.

With Welsh Labour AM, Mike Hedges having this week argued that the party in Wales has lost support to UKIP because it had become ‘irrelevant’ to many people’s lives, the sense that the Labour Party is already engaged in a post-mortem is palpable.

Labour needs to up its game, and the Conservative side of the Remain camp needs to step aside and let those on the Left committed to membership make the running over the next two weeks, with a message on jobs, employment, social protection and indeed security.

There needs also to be a targeted consumer offer to the public – talk less about big numbers and the macro issues, and more about bread and butter issues that people really feel, such as the dangers to roaming charge caps being removed if we leave the EU.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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