Leave is growing, but don’t dismiss Remain yet.

Leave is growing, but don't dismiss Remain yet.

The EU Referendum: A Rollercoaster Race

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The EU referendum race is getting too close for comfort. In The Economist’s poll-of-polls, Leave is ahead by two points. A survey published by ORB on Friday gave it a ten-point lead, sending the pound to a two-month low against the dollar; one by TNS today puts its advantage at seven points. Betting odds that used to put the probability of a Remain win above 80% now place it at some 60%.

Signs from the campaign trail point a similar way. Labour MPs say they are shocked at the levels of Euroscepticism they are encountering in their constituencies; hence Mr Cameron has stepped back somewhat this week to let prominent left-of-centre figures take the limelight. Brexiteers who previously pooh-poohed the notion that they might win now say they can do it.

Delving beyond the headlines

While the polls have narrowed in recent weeks, a closer look reveals reasons to stay sanguine—for now, at least. The ORB poll, being an outlier, even by recent standards, shows that more people think Remain will win than Leave. This indicates that while some “Leave supporters” may claim that Remain will win, they may ultimately vote for the status quo, projecting their own deeper instincts onto others.

Another aspect to consider is the large number of undecided voters, standing at 13% according to our poll tracker. After weeks of dominant Leave arguments and the prevalent notion that supporting Leave is more acceptable, it is likely that some of these undecided voters will lean towards the safer option—Remain—when they cast their vote.

Historical perspective

Referendums, such as the upcoming one on June 23rd, tend to reveal more support for the status quo than the polls preceding them. This has been observed in seven out of ten recent referendums studied by political scientists. In contrast to the polls, the final vote often shows that the pollsters have overstated support for the “change” option.

Taking a look back at last year’s general election offers a relevant parallel. The final polls predicted a neck-and-neck race between the Tories and Labour, with some even suggesting that Labour was ahead. However, on the day of the election, the Conservatives won with a majority. This highlights how the headline figures in polls may not accurately represent the popular opinion. In a similar vein, the June 23rd referendum outcome may be determined by the juxtaposition of two salient issues: the economy, where Remain leads, and immigration, where Leave holds an advantage. Polls indicate that voters prioritize economic concerns over immigration, and Remain’s lead on jobs and prosperity has increased as the campaign has progressed.

The risk-averse Britons

When Britons are faced with a choice between an imperfect status quo and a leap into the unknown, they have historically tended to choose the former. For Leave to defy this established pattern, they must present a vote to leave the EU as the safer, more small-c conservative option. However, according to YouGov’s tracker, the campaign has failed to convince the majority. Despite false claims such as Turkey’s potential EU membership, there is little evidence that voters have been swayed to believe that the risks of continuing in the EU outweigh the dangers of leaving. The fact that voters perceive the June 23rd choice as more significant than a general election suggests that they will be particularly risk-averse in their decision next week.

A telling conversation

A conversation I had with a taxi driver may provide insight into the mindset of undecided voters. While I hesitate to quote taxi drivers as it may seem cliché, this particular conversation sheds light on broader attitudes. The driver initially expressed a desire for Britain to Leave the EU due to competition from immigrant Uber drivers. However, as we discussed his family and their future, his perspective started to shift. He realized that an extra £100 per week would not make much of a difference, but losing that amount would be disastrous. In the end, he admitted that he wouldn’t take the risk and would vote to Stay.

This conversation, though anecdotal, reflects the sentiments of many crucial swing voters. Even in places like Leigh-on-Sea, which may not be wealthy but are certainly not poor, the mindset tends to decide elections. This provides hope for the Remain camp as voters who are open to Leave, upon contemplation, may lean towards the safer option after weighing their personal circumstances.

The EU referendum race is still unpredictable. The shifting polls, the undecided voters, the historical precedence, and the risk-averse nature of the British electorate all contribute to the unpredictable outcome. As the final days of the campaign approach, both sides must continue to make their case, but ultimately, it will come down to the individual choices made by voters in the privacy of the polling booth.