Has Britain changed its mind about Brexit? That was the question explored by John Curtice, probably the UK’s most famous pollster, during his keynote presentation on the final day of RSS Conference.
The talk followed days of media coverage of a report Curtice had overseen for NatCen Social Research, which suggested that were a second referendum to be held now, 59% would support Britain remaining in the European Union, up from 48% who voted remain in 2016.
However, in both the media coverage and at conference, Curtice was at pains to point out that this headline figure failed to tell the full story.
First, in his report, Curtice explained that those interviewed for the poll reported that they had voted 53 percent in favour of remain in the referendum – a 5 percentage point higher proportion than the actual vote.
This indicates some bias in the survey sample used. But discount that extra 5% and the results still point to an apparent six-point swing from Leave to Remain, wrote Curtice, 'larger than that registered by any of our previous rounds of interviewing, and a figure that would seemingly point to a 54% (Remain) vote in any second referendum held now'.
But are these new Remain voters former Leavers who now regret their choice – a state of anxiety that has been dubbed 'Bregret'? Not entirely, according to Curtice. Yes, he said, attitudes have shifted on certain aspects of Brexit: NatCen has, since September 2016, tracked a slight softening in concern about EU migration, greater pessimism about the economic impact of Brexit, and a growing expectation of Britain leaving the EU with a 'bad deal'. And, yes, concern for the economy has led some Leave voters to rethink their support.
Yet 'very few have changed their minds on the principle of Brexit', said Curtice, with voters instead preferring to blame the politicians for the worsening Brexit outlook rather than the idea itself (and if you voted Leave, you are more likely to blame the EU than the UK government for the current state of affairs).
Rather, Curtice said, the swing to Remain can be explained in part due to the shifting attitude of abstainers. Those who did not vote last time are now about two-to-one in favour of staying within the EU. According to the NatCen report, this 'accounts for as much as a third of the six-point swing to Remain that we observed in our most recent survey'.
- John Curtice's Campion (President's Invited) Lecture was titled 'Viewed through Tinted Glasses? Public Reactions to the Brexit Process'.