Debates about economy and immigration hold key to outcome of EU referendum campaign

Remain voters persuaded more by economic arguments; Leave voters more united on immigration

A new report published by NatCen Social Research suggests that those people who say they will vote to Leave the EU and those who would prefer to Remain disagree above all on two big issues, the economy and immigration.

The two sides are further apart in their views on the impact of leaving the EU on the economy and immigration than they are on any other issue, including its impact on the NHS, Britain’s influence in the world and their own personal finances.

Polls apart:

  • 73% of those who want to Remain in the EU think the economy would be worse following a Brexit, while 59% of Leave supporters believe we would be better off.
  • 65% of those who want to Leave think that immigration can only be brought under control by leaving the EU, whereas 56% of Remain supporters think leaving the EU would not ensure we could control immigration.

Challenge for the campaigns

The report, the fourth in the ESRC-funded “What UK Thinks: EU” project, suggests, however, that those who say they wish to Leave the EU are less convinced of the economic arguments for leaving than they are of its impact on immigration. Conversely, those saying they wish to Remain in the EU are less convinced of the immigration case for staying in than they are on the economic arguments.

  • Among supporters of staying in the EU, only just over half (56%) think leaving the EU won’t make it easier to control immigration, compared with three quarters (73%) who think that leaving would mean the economy would get worse.
  • Among those who want to Leave the EU, as many as a third (35%) believe the economy will be no better or worse following Brexit, compared with 22% who think that even after leaving the EU Britain will not be able to control immigration.

Prof John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow, NatCen Social Research said: “These findings pose a challenge for both sides of the referendum campaign. Do they seek to persuade voters on those arguments where even their own supporters are currently less likely to be convinced? Or, do they seek to focus debate on the issue on which they are seemingly the stronger? The first option would perhaps help the public make a more informed decision. More likely, however, is the second, which could mean the two sides spend the campaign talking past each other and leave voters having to work out for themselves the merits of the arguments on the key issues.’


Download the full report here 


For more information or a copy of the report contact Sophie Brown:, 020 7549 9550 or 07734 960 069 or Leigh Marshall:, 0207 549 8506 or 07828 031850

  1. The ‘What UK Thinks: Europe’ website can be accessed at It provides a comprehensive collection of polling and survey data on attitudes in the UK towards Europe, data on what the rest of Europe thinks about the EU, and impartial commentary and analysis on the evidence of the polls. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its initiative on ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’.
  1. NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.
  1. The UK in a Changing Europe initiative – – promotes independent, rigorous, high-quality academic research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the European Union. It provides an authoritative, non-partisan and impartial reference point for those looking for information, insights and analysis on UK-EU relations.
  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.