At first sight, the headlines are good, very good in fact, for Remainers when it comes to the latest Guardian poll on Europe. It shows a 58% – 42% solid lead* for people wanting a referendum on the exact terms of Brexit when we know what they are.
A big lead and one that fits a pattern of shifting views found with other polling. So break out the Euro-bunting?
For one thing, the wording is the sort of wording likely to give the largest pro-referendum result:
I think the public should have the chance to take a final decision on whether or not to leave the EU in another referendum when the outcome of the negotiation is known?
It’s a regular finding of polling that people like saying ‘yes’ to ‘should the public have a say?’ in all sorts of forms. What’s more the question was in the agree/disagree format which tends to boost support for agree. Ashcroft’s recent polling on this topic also showed how sensitive public opinion can be to different wording formulation.
That said, it’s pretty standard caveat-land for any poll to say ‘beware the wording’ just after you say ‘beware listening to much to just one poll’. (Just as it’s pretty standard in social media land to ignore both caveats…!)
More caveats, however, apply in this case. There’s a further technical one: a question with this wording hasn’t been used before, so we don’t know what the trend is.
The bigger caveat, however, is a political one.
To win Remainers need to convince people to change their minds. Celebrating and welcoming examples of people changing their minds can in turn help more change their minds (and here’s one way to do that). The problem is if that becomes a substitute instead and therefore people don’t put the necessary work into changing minds.
You only have to see how common it is for Remain supporters to insult rather than welcome a change of mind from Leavers to have sensible doubts about how well keyed-in some Remainers are to the need to persuade people to change their minds.
All the more so as the lead for a remain vote in a putative further referendum is usually slim in the polls. For such a referendum to happen and to be won, it needs to be much larger, consistently.
Read very selectively, polls such as The Guardian‘s provide a nice positive respite from the harder work of conversion, but they should be treated as just that and no more.
Remember, even this poll found only 51% now in favour of Britain being in the EU. Only 51%. That’s a sign of how much more there is to do.
* Excluding 19% don’t knows. Throw in another caveat, why don’t you?