Friday, February 01, 2013

EU referendum: little change in the polls

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The Lord Ashcroft has made the Press Association with his commentary on the effect of the Cameron speech. 

Based on a recent private poll, he concludes that the speech "has cheered Conservative supporters, but done little to improve the party's chances of success at the next general election". It has not, he says, "unleashed a desire for an overall Conservative majority".

Thus, Labour is still in the lead, on 38 percent, the Tories get 33 percent, the Lib-Dems 11 percent, UKIP nine and "others" nine. A small increase in the Tory vote is attributed to an increase in those who voted Conservative in 2010, coming back to the fold.

As regards "Europe", the noble Lord observes that the upsurge in debate about the EU in advance of the high-profile speech appears to have bolstered pro-European sentiments.

That conclusion is based on a question about sentiment on the EU, with 22 percent feeling "positive" about EU membership, up four points from the Populus poll in December 2012. Those who feel negative about EU membership, but feel we should remain in account for 19 percent (down one), and those who feel we are better off out score 26 percent (down eight). Those with no strong views either way account for 33 percent of the poll. 

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There is no question on renegotiation, but if one assumes that the first two categories would go for that option, we are looking at 41 percent – against 26 percent wanting out. That is not an untypical result, very close to the 42-34 percent finding in the July 2012 YouGov survey.

Why the speech should not have had more of an impact is perhaps explainable in terms of people simply not believing that the referendum promise is real, oir a feeling that it is completely undeliverable. We seem to have a perverse situation where, in order to enjoy a sustained surge in the polls, the Tories need already to be ahead, to give the promise credibility.

On the other hand, now that we are seeing an upsurge in europhile propaganda, the likelihood is that sentiment will harden against the "EU-out" proposition. And give also that the europhile attack is focused on the referendum itself, we may even see the strength behind calls for a referendum diminish.

Add to this the boundary vote, and the prospect of a Conservative win at the next election begins to look so unlikely that the referendum promise will have little immediate traction.

However, there is a wildcard here. Consistently, Cameron is scoring much higher in polls than is Miliband. If we see a firming up of the presidential-style of campaigning, we could have voters choosing between a (relatively) popular leader of an unpopular party, and an unpopular leader of a (relatively) popular party. In such circumstances, the polls may find it hard to predict a winner.

Nevertheless, if the Tories do drag themselves out of their mid-term rut and begin to show a lead, the referendum promise may start to have a real impact, reinforcing the lead. In those circumstances, Miliband may feel inclined to neutralise the effect, by also promising a referendum.

While it is thus difficult at this stage to see Cameron's promise materialising, we might not get any serious indicators until after the euro-elections next year. Certainly, the game is not yet over – and nor will it go away.