Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The state of play in the EU referendum remains as clear as mud

I've been meaning to update the EU referendum Poll of Polls for quite some time, but because I had settled on a method that gives equal weight to telephone and online data collection, it wasn't possible to do it in the absence of any recent telephone polls. But it seems that phone polls are like the proverbial London buses - you wait months for one, and then two come along at the same time.

SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

50/50 ONLINE/TELEPHONE AVERAGE :

Remain 50.1% (+1.4)
Leave 37.6% (+0.4)

ONLINE AVERAGE :

Remain 43.1% (-0.7)
Leave 41.7% (+3.4)

TELEPHONE AVERAGE :

Remain 57.0% (+3.5)
Leave 33.5% (-2.5)

(All polls conducted at least partly within the last month are taken into account. The online average is based on nine polls - four from ICM, two from Survation, one from ORB, one from BMG and one from YouGov. The telephone average is based on one poll from ComRes and one from Ipsos-Mori.)

As you can see, the trend is far from clear.  If only online polls existed, we'd probably be halfway towards convincing ourselves that Leave have made significant progress in recent weeks and have practically drawn level.  But the two new telephone polls suggest public opinion is moving in completely the opposite direction, so much so that in the 50/50 average, the online trend is more than cancelled out, and the Remain lead has slightly increased.

I'm fairly confident that the method I'm using is the best one available, because almost any alternative you can think of would give too much weight to online polls, which are conducted far more frequently.  That might not be such an issue if the gulf between the results produced by the two types of poll was not quite so huge and consistent, but it is.  However, the problem with what I'm doing is that each telephone poll is given a disproportionate amount of weight, and so if there's any specific problem with an individual poll, it becomes greatly magnified.  Unfortunately, I'm a bit sceptical about the approach Ipsos-Mori are using for their phone polls, because they ask about referendum voting intention in two different ways, and they use the actual referendum question second, not first.  Logically, I have to use the results from the real question, but I can't help wondering if the first set of results are more meaningful.  If we used those instead, the average Remain lead in telephone polls would be significantly lower, at 54.5% to 35.5%, and the 50/50 average would be Remain 48.8%, Leave 38.6%.  If that's a better reflection of reality, it could be that Leave have indeed made some modest progress of late.

UPDATE :  I see from John Curtice's analysis that I've misunderstood Ipsos-Mori's approach slightly - they don't ask respondents the question two different ways, but instead split the sample in two and ask each half of the sample one of the two versions of the question.  That makes the numbers for the actual referendum question much less problematical, but quite what the value of the exercise is escapes me.  OK, it helps Ipsos-Mori make a comparison with the question they've been asking for years, but surely that consideration is more than outweighed by the detrimental effect of cutting the sample size in half.

50 comments:

  1. Hi James

    thanks for this. Can you give your thoughts on why they differ so greatly? I'm actually interested both personally but as an interesting example of a question I might be asked in a job! I understand the reason for differences but what are the specifics of this difference.. different demographics online?, shy Nos on the phone (like toxic tory in the 90s?) - obviously we can only speculate..

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    1. The two most obvious possibilities are that telephone polls are being distorted by 'Shy Leaves' who are too embarrassed to tell a real person down the phone that they'd rather leave the EU, and that online polls are distorted because of too many politically committed people on the volunteer online panels. That might lead to a unrepresentative Eurosceptic sample, even after weightings have been applied. It could be that both factors apply, in which case the 50/50 average might be closest to the truth.

      My default assumption is that telephone polls are more likely to be accurate, but that hasn't always been the case. YouGov famously got the better of Ipsos-Mori in the 2008 London mayoral election, for example.

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    2. Do you really think people are shy about this kind of thing? It's not like the Scottish referendum when many Scottish people were embarrassed and ashamed to be voting No. They voted No, not because they didn't feel Scottish but because they were nervous about change and believed the No crap about the 'best of both worlds'.

      But nobody has such qualms about Europe, surely?

      My interpretation is that the telephone results are from more cautious older voters who don't engage online, and are naturally fearful. The status quo is therefore their natural default position.

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  2. It's not that surprising to me that the polling is a bit all over the place. Historically, the polling on EU membership has been pretty volatile and has swung one way or the other quite drastically in short periods of time (far more so than opinions on independence in Scotland prior to the referendum).

    Some see that as a positive thing for the Leave side, but I'd argue it's the opposite. One of the reasons you see such volatility in the polling over recent decades is that the issue was never that salient to begin with. That's a problem for the leave side because we're effectively going to end up with a campaign in which the objective economic evidence is all pointing in one direction (that we'll benefit from staying in). If you don't care about an issue passionately and the evidence (and the government for that matter) is telling you it will damage the economy there's not much basis for taking a risk.

    The independence referendum was completely different. It was an issue almost everyone cared passionately about. The fact that most of the raw economic evidence was in favour of staying in the UK (even more so now) wasn't enough to decisively win the referendum for the No side because the issue was far bigger than that. It touched on identity and there was a core political argument that even if independence reduced the size of our public spending budget we could compensate for this by creating a more equal society or changing the way we do politics.

    These arguments aren't nearly as convincing in the case of the EU referendum. Even if you despise the EU you're unlikely to see leaving as a way to completely alter the nature of British politics. It wouldn't even necessarily reduce immigration as the same benefits of an open migration policy will still exist whether we're in the EU or not. That lack of passion about the issue is ultimately where the stay side will win in my opinion - the economy is (rightly or wrongly) perceived to be improving and the option of risking that by leaving the EU (a fairly niche concern for most people) just isn't that appealing, even if you aren't a great fan of Brussels.

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    1. The counter-arguments are that in this referendum nobody will feel they are 'sacrificing an identity' by voting to Leave (even some people who feel more Scottish than British were troubled by the idea of dispensing with Britishness), and that there will be lots of people voting who can actually remember what it's like to live outside the European Union and its forerunners. That will make scare stories a good bit harder to sell than in the indyref - people aren't being presented with quite such an 'unthinkable' option.

      On your first point, public opinion has indeed been volatile historically, but it's actually relatively stable at the moment. The current uncertainty is driven by methodological issues, not by volatility.

      Oh, and lastly, Leave have got a very obvious and very nasty card to play - fear of immigration. So the fear of change will cut both ways.

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    2. Probably not the correct place for this but you mentioned it first! Britain is the geographical entity so if we'd voted for independence then we would still been a part of Great Britain. In fact the British Isles include Ireland. What we would have left was the political entity of the United Kingdom. Sorry to be pedantic.

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    4. Rebecca, what "raw economic evidence was in favour of staying in the UK"?
      Given that I've never seen a single shred of legitimate economic data that actually supports the Union I'd be delighted to be educated.

      Mandela

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    5. @Anon

      I really don't want to get into that argument, but by "raw economic evidence" I'm referring to our basic fiscal position (i.e. the GERS figures which have shown us generating a lower percentage of UK revenue than the percentage of UK spending we've spent in 12 of the 16 years they've been published in the current format).

      The point being made here isn't about independence, it's precisely that despite those numbers being the way they are, the independence issue was much bigger in scope than the EU one - it's perfectly possible to look at the GERS figures and claim (as the SNP do) we'd still be better off because we could alter the nature of Scottish politics, create more equality, and so on. When UKIP try to make that argument about the EU it's much less convincing because contrary to the rather exaggerated claims about how much impact EU membership has on our lives, we still retain the bulk of our responsibilities in Westminster.

      As such I'm of the opinion that the economic 'don't rock the boat' argument will be more successful in the EU case than it was in Scotland. If you don't care about an issue in the first place why risk it?

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    6. @James

      The immigration issue is an interesting one strategy-wise because it's simultaneously the biggest card the leave side have to play and one of the most problematic issues for them. If they turn the referendum into a referendum on immigration then they'll completely alienate the centre (which is exactly why there's so much opposition to having Farage lead the campaign among some Eurosceptics). If they don't emphasise immigration however then they're losing one of their key weapons.

      I expect the line they'll go for is to endlessly repeat "Australian points system" and try and cover the basic anti-immigrant sentiment up with apparent pragmatism. Raising grand fears of a swarm of immigrants descending on the UK is also factually incorrect and quite easy to debunk (asylum seekers have no right under EU rules to come to the UK and we already have border controls because we're not in Schengen).

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    7. "One of the reasons you see such volatility in the polling over recent decades is that the issue was never that salient to begin with."

      Absolutely right Rebecca. Tonight all news programmes, even Channel 4 News, led with the sacking of Mourinho, on the same evening that Cameron was meeting with the other EU heads of governments to begin negotiations on the opt-outs from EU law he's trying to achieve. For all the media hype about the EU, I don't think most British people are particularly concerned about it one way or the other.

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  3. Michael Ashcroft has a EU poll out tomorrow. Britain Elects have tweeted this:

    EU referendum poll:
    Remain: 38%
    Leave: 47%
    (via Lord Ashcroft polls)


    The full details will be on his website sometime tomorrow.

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    1. If that's a telephone poll it would transform our understanding of this referendum, but I can only assume it must be online.

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    2. It's online from what I can see, and not a straight question poll, but an interpretation of 'place yourself on this scale' type thing.

      http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2015/12/leave-to-remain-public-opinion-and-the-eu-referendum/

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    3. Oh, well that's a load of rubbish, then.

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  4. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 16, 2015 at 11:24 PM

    Rebecca, the original vote was based on what was described as just a trade deal. What has happened since then has almost rendered the nation state omnipotent. There is hardly any point in Scottish independence if we remain in the EU. We would have six MEPs and a waste of money pretend Scottish Parliament. The EU would dictate currency and interest rates. Scotland would not be noticed in Bruxelles even if our six delegates farted at the same time.

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    1. Don't worry, I know you only substituted 'obsolete' with 'omnipotent' because you didn't want to deal with the apostrophes.

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    2. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 17, 2015 at 1:23 AM

      Fine words James. I do prefer the coma tae Tories and their Tartan obedients. Seems wee Geordie Osborne has the SNP on board the capitalist system.
      So will we hear any more nonsense from the Nat sis about welfare and foodbanks. The SNP have given Osborne credence. And us miserable Jocks will keep pealing the sweety wrappers in our pockets. Shamefull day for Scotland.

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    3. Well firstly we get more MEPs as an independent nation and secondly we get a seat at the top ministerial tables and our chances at having Scots as commisioners and to make alliances in our own interests instead of Britain's and we get our own negotiators at the fisheries talks instead of some Tory Peer with no apparent experience or interest.

      If you cannot see some benefit from that then there truly is no hope for you. But continue to lie by omission, it's become the standard unionist trope. By your leavings shall we know you.

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    4. Probably 13 MEPs in fact to match Denmark and Finland. But when has Glasgow Unionist Troll ever let the facts get in the way of a good story?😱

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    5. "Rebecca, the original vote was based on what was described as just a trade deal. What has happened since then has almost rendered the nation state omnipotent."

      Aside from omnipotent meaning the exact opposite of what I suspect you think it means, this just isn't true. There's a clear division of competences in the EU and we've opted out of most of the areas that affect our sovereignty most (monetary policy through the euro, Justice and Home Affairs, refugee relocation, the Fiscal Compact, Schengen, etc.)

      The vast majority of EU legislation is directly related to trade. The point in it is to come up with compatible rules applicable across Europe so that if a business wants to export to the EU it only has to negotiate one set of standards rather than 28 different sets.

      Moreover, the argument that "we signed up to a free trade area" is also completely inconsequential. It was an argument people used to cite to argue for another referendum - in essence, we were lied to so the first referendum didn't count. Given we're having another referendum the argument no longer has any relevance.

      The only way it would have relevance is if the suggestion was that the government itself had no idea what it was signing up to, which is clearly nonsense and every future transfer of power has been done via a Treaty our own government signed and ratified in parliament. We could have halted that process at any stage as Treaty revisions require unanimity, but we didn't or simply opted out of bits we didn't like (hence why we have so many opt outs).

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    6. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 17, 2015 at 8:19 PM

      muscleguysblog. Only if you are admitted to the corrupt club. It may take years so what happens in between when England has put up border controls.

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    7. Your Unionist overlords want the Jag cleaned.

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  5. Wasnt there a "yes minister" episode where the EU wanted brittish sausage to have actually sausage in it? Exactly what do you gain leaving?

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    1. Norway is not in EU & trades with EU. 70% of Norwegians happy in EFTA who have trade deals EU could only imagine. If No side offer an alternative of EFTA instead of EU they would walk vote. Uncertainty over what Leave means will be a factor if not addressed. A tactic played hard in indyref as I recall. Di you want a trade deal with Europe or to be in EU would be easier to win and argue.
      Scott

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    2. I suppose from a Scottish point of view the most obvious thing would be control of fisheries. If the Leave campaign have any sense, they'll put together a Scottish branch that poses as a crusade to increase the powers of Holyrood.

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    3. "If No side offer an alternative of EFTA instead of EU they would walk vote."

      I'm fairly sure that will be their alternative, but they still won't walk the vote. Being in EFTA these days means being in the EEA, which means accepting a huge chunk of EU law without having any say over it

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    4. EFTA/EEA has freedom of movement too; a hard sell for those fretting over foreigners. If you want to restrict freedom of movement, you'll need to accept restrictions on free trade, with tariffs etc, otherwise it wouldn't be fair to all the rest.

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    5. It also means paying in for things that you have to accept, like product specifications and standards and you have no say in how these are formed although EFTA would buy you a seat at the table, but no voice or vote.

      Anyway looking at the French press and comparing it to R4 a few minutes ago, mm. Nobody in France in this country area gives a flying if Britain stays or goes. If it goes, it goes; big deal. The more politically aware of my friends say Cameron hasn't a snowball's chance in Hell of getting what he wants if it requires a Treaty change because that requires a unanimous vote of all the member states.

      Cameron's chance to put his case will be taken at the end of the evening which will probably mean in the early hours. Last time according to Nigel Farage he was given 6 minutes.

      Hollande's position will be clear when Angela tells him. So what will Angela do? I think tell Cameron to go away and grow up, diplomatically.

      Cameron has painted himself into a corner and nobody is going to throw him a rope unless he wants to hang himself.

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    6. "If No side offer an alternative of EFTA instead of EU they would walk vote."

      I've seen this said a lot, yet nobody ever points out that we were founding members of EFTA and left precisely because it wasn't in our interests and left us marginalised from the key decisions the rest of Europe were making (which still affected us indirectly).

      Which is exactly the problem with it and the Norwegian model today. The EU is effectively setting the rules for trade in Europe within its institutions (and indeed many of these rules extend outside the EU into other markets as well). Norway is an example of a country that simply allows the rest of Europe to determine these rules and goes along with them from outside. If that's the arrangement we want then you're entitled to argue for it, but for the life of me I can't see what the actual case for it is. It's a bit like us resigning from UEFA's decision-making bodies yet still having to use UEFA's rules every time we play football on the continent - what are we actually gaining beyond throwing away all of our influence to prove a point?

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    7. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 17, 2015 at 9:06 PM

      The EU is a corrupt gravy train that pays inept politicians large salaries from taxpayers money. All we need is fair trade deals not the baggage.

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    8. Glad to hear you are a supporter of 'fair trade'. I've always found the fair trade coffee rather good old chap.

      On the subject of the EU; UKIP averaging ~1.7% for next May's General Election.

      #UKIPbreakthrough

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  6. Does any one know just who "Glasgow Working Class" actually supports or is HE just a lone voice in his own wilderness. fair play to him for being the only person in England who cares so much about what the SNP say or do. If he is a Glaswegian I shall do a Paddy Ashdown and eat my hat.

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  7. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 17, 2015 at 8:12 PM

    Eat yer hat Paul and can do a Paddy Pants Down and buy me a pint of St Mungo at the West Brewery.

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    1. Any one can quote a brew or pub from Glasgow. Stop hiding behind a silly name and I will eat the hat.

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  8. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 17, 2015 at 8:22 PM

    Mein Gott even the rag Daily Mail is takin ra piss aboot the Tartan Tory budget. Tories do know each other.

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    1. What would you expect the right wing warmongering rag the Mail to do? They would certainly agree with Labour though wouldn't they person with no name.

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    2. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 18, 2015 at 12:04 AM

      Paul, you are deviating from the SNP Tory policies as the Nat sis do. The Nat sis have a comfort zone away from reality and the lies they have told about protecting the poor.

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    3. Doubtless you felt right at home in the swivel-eyed zoomery that is BTL at the Wail...

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    4. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 18, 2015 at 11:11 PM

      Only you would understand yourself but maybe not.

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    5. Such praise from the master of incomprehensible gibberish. Finished washing that Jag for your Unionist overlords yet?

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  9. GWC Are you on the piss again?

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    1. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 19, 2015 at 2:21 AM

      Never aff it. Keeps the mind keen and on the Nat si watch.

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    2. He soaks his sash in it.

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    3. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 19, 2015 at 9:36 PM

      Uz Naws nurture your likes as you keep the Naw vote intact. You are a particular nasty type of bitterness and division. Keep it up.

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    4. I rarely find myself concurring with GWC, but those indulging in sectarian mudslinging need to knock it off. It's offensive, weak and does us no favours.

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    5. Glasgow Working ClassDecember 20, 2015 at 11:47 PM

      Depends on which favours and to who I suppose.

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  10. Which result would most benefit the cause of Scottish independence?

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  11. UK Opinium poll Scottish subsample:
    63% SNP
    14% Con
    10% Lab
    6% UKIP
    4% Green
    3% Lib

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