What A Contrast! Phone Polls Put Remain Well Ahead

Posted on 16 December 2015 by John Curtice

The uncertainty surrounding just how close the referendum race really is has grown today with the publication of two further polls of referendum vote intention, one from ComRes for the Open Europe think tank, the other from Ipsos MORI for the Evening Standard. In contrast to the picture of a very tight race painted by two online polls from ICM and Survation released yesterday, both of today’s polls – conducted in each case by phone – put Remain well ahead. Once Don’t Knows are left to one side, ComRes put Remain on 62%, Leave on 38%, while Ipsos MORI’s estimate is Remain  64%, Leave 36%.

This contrast starkly confirms the warning that we issued last week – that polls of EU referendum vote intention conducted by phone are securing markedly higher levels of support for remaining in the EU than those conducted via the internet. That original observation was based on just two previous polls of referendum vote intention that had been conducted by phone, one each from ComRes and Ipsos MORI, and thus to some degree had to be regarded as tentative. But the fact that today both these pollsters have again put Remain much further ahead means we have now have to conclude that the two different methodological approaches are indeed securing very different results. Alas, we cannot be sure which approach is right and which is wrong (if either); the divergence simply means that we are left with very considerable uncertainty about just how close the referendum race really is.

Still, today’s polls do provide some further clarification on whether the balance of opinion has been changing. First, neither poll provides any evidence that the race has been narrowing since the ballot paper question was settled at the beginning of September. Both polls in fact put Remain somewhat further ahead than they did when they polled previously; back in September ComRes put Remain on 60% (two points less than now) while in October Ipsos MORI reckoned Remain were at 59% (five points less than now). Neither of these shifts is big enough to rule out the possibility that it might have occurred by chance, but the fact that neither poll has identified any movement in favour of Leave strongly supports our previous contention that the race has not narrowed since the beginning of September. Certainly, just as we warned that not too much notice should be taken of the fact that our Poll of Polls had narrowed somewhat during the course of the autumn to Remain 51%, Leave 49%, equally the fact that it now stands at Remain 55% Leave 45% cannot be taken as evidence of a material shift in the other direction.

That said, today’s Ipsos MORI poll does provide additional evidence (further to that noted in my previous blog) that the race has been tighter throughout the autumn than it was during the summer. As in their previous poll in October, Ipsos MORI only asked the ballot paper question of half their sample (which is why even a swing to Remain of as much as five points could still simply have occurred by chance). The other half were asked a question on whether people would vote to ‘stay in’ or ‘get out’ of the EU that the company has asked on an occasional basis ever since 1977. As in the case of the referendum ballot paper question, the pattern of responses to this question in Ipsos MORI’s latest poll is much the same as it was in October, with 53% saying they would vote to stay in (up one point), 36% that they would back getting out (down three points), while 11% said Don’t Know (up two). However, at the same time these figures are markedly less favourable to Remain than they were in June, when 61% said that they would vote to stay and just 27% that they would opt to get out. This represents the third straw in the wind, further to those provided by yesterday’s Survation poll and YouGov’s Eurotrack series, that the referendum race has indeed been tighter throughout the autumn than it was during the summer, and that the contrast between those two seasons is not simply a consequence of the change in the wording of the referendum question at the beginning of September.

Today’s polls have also tried to provide further evidence on how the public view the renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership. Much like other polls, ComRes’ poll finds that denying recent EU migrants access to welfare benefits is the most likely of Mr Cameron’s objective to be regarded as ‘very important’ (48%), though in contrast to other polls it was almost matched in importance by that of ensuring the UK is not ‘disadvantaged’ by decisions taken by the Eurozone states (46%). The explanation may well lie in the use of that word ‘disadvantaged’; it is doubtful whether any electorate would be willing to accept a possible disadvantage of any kind.

The poll goes on to suggest (as YouGov have previously done) that the Remain side will win quite easily if Mr Cameron is perceived to have been successful in the renegotiations, but that equally it could still face a tight contest if the Prime Minister is thought to have failed to have delivered any of his four objectives (and especially so in the case of the welfare benefits for EU migrants issue and being disadvantaged by decisions of the Eurozone). But there is an obvious risk that such hypothetical questions exaggerate the degree to which the public will react to the outcome of the renegotiations. The real question is how many people end up coming to the conclusion for themselves that Mr Cameron has ‘succeeded’ or ‘failed’, and the answer to that question will only become apparent in the weeks (and months) ahead.

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By John Curtice

John Curtice is Senior Research Fellow at NatCen and at 'UK in a Changing Europe', Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, and Chief Commentator on the What UK Thinks: EU website.

30 thoughts on “What A Contrast! Phone Polls Put Remain Well Ahead

  1. I’m not being funny, but how many people actually have a telephone line these days. Most have mobile phones that are not in any phone book. If your calling people on these landline phones, then they are obviously people that don’t like changing with the times. Just look at the phone book, there was a time when this thing was huge.Report

  2. I completely agree with David. I have been working in Export for 46 years and well remember
    the nightmare of exporting to Europe. Do we go back to the bad old days or look to become a
    real leader in the E.U.?
    Too much is blamed on the E,U., but many of the problems have been brought about by our
    own elected governments.
    If we leave the E.U. and everything goes pear-shaped, do you think the Boris Johnson’s and Nigel Farage’s of this World will worry? Should we take such a huge risk? Its a no brainer.
    Lets help reform the E.U. and not be so negative. VOTE POSITIVELY – VOTE REMAIN .

  3. There are actually more Brits living in Europe outside UK than Europeans living in UK. Last year more than 60% of British immigration (Sunday Times) came from OUTSIDE the EU. Most of the 140,000 EU immigrants are in work and paying taxes. So the Brexit argument regarding the EU is irrelevent and frankly stupid. If there is an immigration problem it is from OUTSIDE THE EU and has been going on since the 1950’s and is NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO WITH THE EU.. Also anybody who can remember business life in UK before the EU (as I can) would think us absolutely crazy to go back to those days of endless paperwork, impossibility to recover VAT spent outside the UK, technical standards from umpteen different countries and days and ‘000’s of pounds wasted on beaurocracy, not to mention having to watch 25 plus different exchange rates. The democratic deficit in Brussels needs to be addressed clearly but it cannot be addressed from outside the EU can it?Report

  4. The Leave camp always come back with the same dreary argument, usually via the” voice of reason”, Mr. Gove, that if we leave the EU, we can decide, who should come and work in our country. The Leave camp seem to have forgotten, we already have such a process;. U.K,. employers can already take on whoever they want. Why is the Leave camp putting all the blame on migrants. If they are so upset and paranoid, why not blame U.K employers?Report

  5. Most people I have spoken too are wanting to leave the EU, and interestingly due to my line of work I have access to people from different social classes and different age groups on a daily basis, the referendum is the big topic and a lot of people are talking freely about it, and quite willing to let there opinions be heard.
    I think the remain campaign better beware, because we are heading straight for an exit vote. Yippee !!!Report

  6. I expect any minute to hear ” The World is your lobster ” from the Brexit camp.
    It is a little like listening to Arthur Daley; promising the World but not telling anyone
    how it will be done.
    It is amazing how they talk of standing up against the establishment – They are the
    Their policy appears to be, to blame all our ills on EU migrants. A housing shortage? Yes,
    but what did Boris do to alleviate the situation in London?
    The EU is not perfect, but do we want to be led into a disaster by such people?Report

  7. If we are the fifth largest economy in the world ,why would we want to be in the EU ,that has high unemployment and low economic growth?
    Also why is the remain camp made up of wealthy ,privelliged people. I can only see that these are the only ones to benefit from staying in the EU .I am most deffinately out .

  8. If the question was Do you believe in the EU? I bet the No percentage would be 80 percentage plus. So a vote to remain is a vote for No change. I am convinced that if Leave won on the 23rd there would be a major rethink in Brussells and serious reform would get underway.It is the only way to see change is to Vote Leave. The EU is a faceless cancer out of control lets not follow the sheep here. Love Europe Hate the EU Vote Leave for me.Report

    1. Neither side can tell the future !

      We only have the past to judge upon.

      After 40 odd years the European dream has crumbled into an unmitigated political and financial disaster.

      Does anyone in the UK wish to be associated with it any more?Report

  9. I read a great deal about how much we pay into Europe but very little about how that money is actually spent in Europe. I have been living in Spain (Murcia) for 12 years but have now returned to live back in the UK. A brand new International Airport was built in Murcia using a large contribution of monies from European funds. The Airport and all the connecting roads etc was finished about 5 years ago but the Airport has never been opened. What a dreadful waste of our money! How is the decision taken by Europe to spend our hard earned taxes and what is done to ensure that our contributions to European funds are spent wisely?Report

  10. We are no longer a great power wielding gun boat diplomacy. We are the 5th largest economy with a massive trade deficit with the rest of the world and it’s getting worse. We need to have a seat at the top table. Norway has to obey EU rules if they want to trade with it. My prime reason for voting “remain”: An EU is the best chance of avoiding catastrophic wars because it makes it uneconomic for member countries to “sabre rattle. Alan Fraser StockportReport

    1. I’m not from UK and have no interest in UK leaving or staying in EU.
      I read a lot about this referendum and I can summarized the 2 sides by :

      Bremain speech: Fear of job lost, fear of losing EU/UK passport, Fear of being isolated, etc.

      Bremain are fearful.

      Brexit speech: Bright futur, Free and independant, British uniqueness, Yes we can, etc.

      Brexit are courageuous.

      My guess about the winner : Fear and I will be VERY surprise if Brexit win.

      Hard to imagine that the UK was the dominant power there 100 years.


  11. I am far more worried about what will happen if we stay in! Let’s face it Europe is broken but cannot wait to take on more lame ducks. They won’t be satisfied until we are broke too. I’m for jumping an already sinking shipReport

  12. Strange all the polls seems remain in front,as previously commented,everyone I speak to at my Golf Club at work and throughout my social circles all want to leave bar two one a student teacher who believes he will not be able to travel or work in Europe if we leave ( hurrah for education!! Same guy just back from working in China surprise surprise he got a visa and work permit )
    My point is as I suspect there seems to be disparity between the pollsters and the people on the street if you like to call them.
    Reply to above as a migrant myself ,don’t panic it would just be like any other country Australia USA etc you will probably need visa and work permits ,no big deal please don’t be afraid ! Rest assured the rest of the world does fine with this system.Report

  13. I would trust the internet polls an awful lot less. They are too open to repeat voting and organised voting, which is easily done. Phone polls are just random. Also I agree with Paul that the leavers are more committed but I think that also means the undecided are more likely to play safe and go with the status quo.
    I still haven’t heard a proper answer about what will happen to Brits working and living in the EU like the million who live in Spain if we cease to be EU citizens. Also if we vote to go out and we lose our EU/UK passports how long will it take to renegotiate visa deals with the rest of the world for our UK only passports?Report

  14. Migrants will come in their droves, Britain will be at breaking point….what the hell, it already is !! Let us be special & unique .. free & independentReport

  15. I feel a there is too much bias from anyone who is connected to the government.
    Such a chorus of unity with every point having a swathe of contributors, that all seem to be impartial. All singing from the same hymn sheet.. then it turns out they are a charity funded by the EU etc. I find that offensive & that thing posted from the government with ‘FACTS’ written on it when it was clearly assertions.
    I do find the more I look into the history of the EU and the way it is going with ever closer union that it is a major concern.
    I am going towards voting to LeaveReport

  16. I agree that the internet polls are more accurate and given that the leave voters are more committed their cause, I would think they will win on the day.Report

  17. Excellent work Frederick B. Are you able to share any details of your personal polling from the streets? I’m sure it would be useful for us all to be able to compare your findings with the results from the professional pollsters.Report

    1. haha…I like that…the street pollster with his secret methods (not be shared of course) which predictions have been always right and never wrong. The absolute certainty of qualifying other polls other than his as dodgy proves the ultimate mastery. how can I doubt you, oh Frederick!

      Polls are hard and are getting harder, as ppl don’t feel comfortable or may even get bored when answering a torrent of questions. So the best way is to vote and then wait and see…I hope remain gets it, otherwise: we may have to move to Germany to escape the crash of the pound…

    2. Well I too have spoken to many people who will be voting leave. Their friends are doing same and so far I have not met or spoken to anyone wishing to remain and everyone is asking how these polls are coming up with these results or is it a ploy to make people believe that the majority wish to remain thus hoping that those people will follow like sheep and vote remain. Just a thought.Report

  18. I would just LOVE to know where and who you polled for this rather dodgy poll? This does not reflect the people on the street at all.Report

  19. Hi I own I import export and uk based company with 29 staff . If we do leave I will be opening a new unit in Europe right away as the risk not to do so is far too high . There will be a least 7 % tax plus added papper work if we leave . This will cost in excess of 200k a year with our trun over of over 3 million . I can t not see how leaving would not cost the uk lots of job and income .

  20. Pollsters will never question the validity of their own individual methods. However, in my opinion, those who are confronted verbally on the phone are obviously more likely to say they wish to remain in the EU. Leaving could be perceived as rocking the boat, reactionary, even revolutionary, whereas staying is toeing the line, maintaining the status quo, and safe. Those who express their opinion anonymously via the internet have far greater freedom to express their genuine feelings – without any emotional pressure of wondering if the voice at the end of the phone will personally agree or not. In addition, when an individual conducts a phone poll there is always the chance of peer group pressure from others present in the same room. Therefore I can only deduce that the more accurate poll is that conducted on the internet, which is not only 100% secret, but also currently seems to reflect a desire to leave the EU. Report

  21. firstly, thank you for this opportunity to comment; being in favour of the UK remaining in the EU
    what is your considered view on the effect of the ‘undecided’ element – to increasing the likelihood
    of the vote swinging towards staying in ?

    many thanksReport

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