Why hasn’t public opinion changed more over Europe?

Since the European referendum, there has been a small but clear and persistent move in public opinion towards the pro-European viewpoint. The movements have, however, been small. For an issue that has (rather rarely in politics) been one of sustained public interest, with many twists along the way, it’s perhaps surprising that there hasn’t been greater movement, not even in the form of bouncing back and forth between pro and anti.


John Curtice and Sarah Tipping reckon that the stability in views is because they now so closely reflect people’s values and sense of identity – factors which therefore give the views great stability:

Those whose underlying identities, values and perceptions of the consequences would lead one to anticipate that they would back leaving the EU are now more likely to express that view. Conversely, support for staying in the EU is now, relatively speaking, more popular among those who one would anticipate ought to be predisposed towards that view.

This development perhaps helps explain why attitudes towards Brexit have been relatively stable during the last two years.  Attitudes that are firmly rooted in people’s identities, values and perceptions are less likely to be labile than those that are not. But, of course, if those identities, values or perceptions themselves were to change, then maybe the future trajectory of attitudes towards Brexit would begin to look rather different. So far, however, neither side in the Brexit debate seems to have made much progress in that endeavour.

That explanation for the stability of views also has an important implication for anyone seeking to change views: you need to move people at a deeper level than a recitation of facts about a technical policy detail. On which point, see Do you know how to change the sports team that someone supports? (Expanded version).



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