OPINION16 June 2016

Should we stay, or should we go now?

Brexit Features Public Sector UK

At Ipsos’ investors’ event yesterday, Ben Page CEO of Ipsos Mori shared his thoughts on the state of play in the EU referendum. By Jane Bainbridge

One of the biggest problems with this EU Referendum is that, in the main, British people do not see the EU as a particularly important matter – other areas of politics are consistently seen as more important to the UK.

“For most of the past decade, only 5% of the population have said the EU was a top issue,” said Ben Page, CEO, Ipsos Mori, pointing out that so much of the referendum has actually been driven by an internal debate within the Tory party. And even now, with the EU so high on the political agenda, only three in 10 mention it as an issue (May 2016 ).

“The polling is pointing to a tight race but in the past few days Leave has gone into the lead,” said Page. Today, Ipsos Mori’s latest poll shows 53% Leave and 47% stay, excluding the ‘don’t knows’.

Looking at long-term trends paints an interesting picture. Since 1978, the issue of the EU has shown volatile changes in opinion. “Our relationship with Europe is very pragmatic. People don’t care that much so things can be swayed by the debate” added Page.

During the Scottish Referendum, the polls showed opinion getting much closer in the final month but at the last minute, Remain prevailed. “The status quo bias means people tend to vote for what they know if they’re undecided.”

One of the biggest factors in the final outcome is who will actually go out and vote; “the challenge is to find those who are actually going to go to the polling station,” said Page.

And he also shared the breakdown by age – another significant determiner in this vote. There are 14.2m 18- to 34-year-olds among which there is a less than 50% turnout while there is an almost 80% turnout among the 11m over 65-year-olds. The older voters are tending to favour Brexit.

In terms of the issues, the two camps are motivated by different factors. For Remain, it is the economy ( 40%) while Leave is more affected by immigration ( 49%). “The problem is immigration is cutting through more,” said Page. “Both sides think the economy will get worse but they are more undecided about the impact in 10 to 20 years – 46% think there will be no difference to their standard of living.”

Ipsos Mori also used implicit reaction times to compare people’s stated opinions with the strength of their unconscious associations. “Both Remain and Leave are certain their option is best for the economy.”

On trade Remain were more confident, while Leave unconvincingly think Brexit is good for trade. Both are unconvinced on the impact on their own standard of living.

Page said he still thought Remain would win and pointed out that the betting markets are still 60% for Remain but when asked how its clients were responding he said “some are anxious” and as a business “if we do leave, we are looking at scenarios and we’ll respond appropriately.”