The four million ‘don’t knows’ could decide the EU referendum

Ten per cent still haven't decided how to vote next week


For all the talk of polls, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone has made their mind up about next Thursday’s vote.

Yet over ten per cent of Brits still don’t know how they’re going to vote on June 23.

It’s perhaps no surprise when the three ‘big wigs’ of the EU referendum – the prime minister, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson – have all had their own commitment to each side questioned.

In fact, usually you’d expect the number of ‘don’t knows’ to considerably decline the closer we get to polling day. Yet the BBC’s poll tracker has the number of ‘don’t knows’ at the start of the campaign hovering in the high tens, and now we’re in mid-tens territory, with the latest Survation poll pinning it at 15 per cent.

A ‘don’t know’ base of ten per cent equates to potentially five million voters, or when rates of registration are taken into account, around 4.3 million voters. That’s a huge bank for the campaigns to capitalise on.

As Kingsley Purdam, David Bayliss, Joseph Sakshaug and Mollie Bourne point out in research for Democratic Audit:

‘The ‘don’t knows’ and how they vote are potentially going to determine the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.’

With Remain and Leave so close in the polls, getting out even a fraction of those 4.3 million could make all the difference.

The tradition in referendums is for people to opt with the status quo. That should give an advantage to Remain in the ‘don’t know’ category, if they actually get out there and vote.

People generally err on the side of caution, and this is more likely if Remain’s so-called ‘Project Fear’ with regards to the economy has had an impact.

There’s a good chance many will only make up their mind a day or two before polling day.

As Democratic Audit adds: ‘In 1975 the post referendum survey suggests that only just over a third of people had made up their mind a ‘long time before’ polling day, while 23 per cent of people decided ‘just before’ polling day. Women were more likely than men to have made up their mind at the last minute.’

If that’s anything to go by (and women still generally say they feel less well-informed than men), there’s still time for fresh arguments to be used, particularly among sceptical Labour voters, many of whom will still be wavering.

Many of them don’t know their own party’s position, which is important when party cues can be so pivotal in referendums.

Myself and others have droned on endlessly about the lack of a decent debate. A lot of it comes down to information; having the clear arguments in one place, and basic knowledge of how the EU actually works.

So there’s a role for self-education here if the campaigns and media can’t do it.

Either way, the ‘Great Unknown’ are a potentially a force to be reckoned with. They shouldn’t be the Great Ignored.

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

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