October 6, 2011
What is the state of British public opinion on Europe? A recent survey by YouGov for Vote UK out of the EU gave us the headline that a majority of people would vote in a referendum against membership of the EU, but looking behind the headline provides a rather more interesting picture.
Positive about membership?
The question “do you think EU membership has been positive or negative for the United Kingdom?” produced 50 per cent negative as opposed to 29 per cent positive (net -21). This overall negative sentiment is widely but not universally shared.
Political party: Conservative voters are more Eurosceptic (-29) than Labour (-2), with Lib Dem voters actually +21 in favour.
Gender: men were less negative than women: -13 as opposed to -28. Interestingly, throughout the survey, women were twice as likely as men to say “don’t know” (16 per cent, on average, compared with 9 per cent), for reasons I will not speculate on but which everyone reading this will recognise.
Age: voters over the age of 40 are negative about the EU (-36), while those under that age are actually in favour (+6). Is this because younger people have had different experiences and education than the previous generation, or it is simply because they have not become Eurosceptic yet?
Social grade: negative feelings are less prevalent among ABC1s (-10) than among C2DE voters (-26).
Geography: every region of the country is negative, but London (-6) is less negative than elsewhere. Recall that six of the 10 districts that voted Yes in the referendum on electoral reform were also in the capital: London is different.
A separate question asked whether Britain is economically stronger in the EU or would be more prosperous outside it. The overall finding was 22 per cent in favour of the EU and 48 per cent against (net -26), with a much higher don’t know score of 15 per cent (as against 6 per cent for overall benefits). Every single breakdown of the voters was negative – political party, gender, age, social grade and geography – with the sole exception of Liberal Democrat voters.
Not even Liberal Democrats could find a majority in favour of further UK participation of bailouts of eurozone countries (-29, compared with -52 for the country as a whole). The notion that, as a non-member of the eurozone, Britain can stay out of its troubles seems to be widely shared.
Should there be a referendum?
Lastly, the survey asked a series of questions about referendums, both on EU membership and on any future treaty, asking whether they should be held and which way one might vote. The headline figures are that, on EU membership, 62 per cent think that their political party should commit to holding such a referendum (27 per cent against) and 51 per cent would vote against membership (27 per cent in favour) were one held. On a new treaty, 59 per cent think there should be a referendum (26 per cent against) and 49 per cent would vote No (13 per cent would vote Yes, 32 per cent don’t know).
The figures show that there is strong support for a public vote on the future of Britain in Europe. Examining the numbers more closely, however, shows that there is a very strong correlation between support for holding a referendum (on EU membership or on a new treaty) and voting No in that referendum. What this suggests is not simply dissatisfaction with the way in which decisions about Britain and Europe have been taken, but rather dissatisfaction with the result of those decisions. A referendum on Europe is the means to reverse the decision of parliament rather than an end in itself.
What this means is that if pro-Europeans wish to win the argument, they have to put the case for Europe and not merely against referendums. If confidence in Britain’s EU membership returns, demands for a referendum against it will diminish.Author : European Movement UK