Does 61% of the country now back Remain?

Published: 10th May 2019

In brief

Claim

61% of the public would back Remain in a second referendum.

Conclusion

This is only true in polls that limit the choice to two options: remaining in the EU or leaving with the current deal. When other options are included, support is lower.

“New poll finds 61% would back Remain in a second referendum”

The New European, 3 May 2019

It’s misleading to suggest that 61% of the British public would back remaining in the EU if another referendum were held, because it’s based on a poll which assumes the only other option in a referendum would be the government’s draft Brexit withdrawal deal.

Opinion polls about Brexit often give conflicting messages about the public’s preferred way forward, because so much depends on what options people are given to choose between and how the questions are worded. We’ve previously covered claims that no deal is the public’s favoured option, which were based on a similar limited choice.

Polls do generally suggest that more people currently back remain than leave, but a 61%-39% margin is probably overstating the lead.

What did the poll say?

The report is based on a survey conducted by YouGov for a firm called KIS Finance.

As KIS say, the 61% figure is the number who would vote to remain “if given the choice now of remaining in the EU or leaving on the terms set out in Theresa May’s deal”. 39% would support the prime minister’s deal under that binary choice.

That figure only includes those who said they would vote, and excludes those who answered “don’t know” or refused to answer. If you include them, the figures are 45% for remain, 29% for the government’s deal, 13% say they would not vote, and 13% don’t know or didn’t answer.

If another option, of no deal, is added to options presented, then the numbers change to 44% for remain, 28% for no deal, and 10% for Theresa May’s deal (while 7% would not vote and 11% did not know or didn’t answer).

The 61% figure is the same as that in a similar poll, also run by YouGov, which was published in mid-March, which also limited the choices to remain or Theresa May’s deal, excluded don’t knows, and was weighted by likelihood of voting.

The polls can give mixed messages

In all polling (and particularly current polling around Brexit) the responses people give can change significantly depending on what options are presented and how questions are worded.

The problem here is that the headline says “61% would back Remain in a second referendum”, which assumes that any second referendum would be between remain and the government’s current withdrawal deal. But if there is a second referendum, there is no guarantee that these would be the options put to the country. As we wrote when checking a similar-but-opposite claim that no deal was the country’s preferred option, “the question poses a hypothetical situation which isn’t the one Britain finds itself in”.

In this case, pitting remain against the current deal (which is generally not popular with most of the public) may help to boost its figures somewhat, as is also the case when you pit no deal against the prime minister’s deal.

There’s nothing wrong with asking questions like this to explore issues, but it’s important to understand the context of what the question was. The New European article does give more details of what the poll asked; however the headline figure has since been repeated on social media without those caveats.

In general, when polls present a wider range of options (such as this series of polls from Opinium that offer five possible ways forward), the public is more split and no option comes close to having a majority. In polls that ask the simpler question of whether people would back remain or leave were they given that choice again, remain has consistently been the more popular option for some time, but with a smaller lead over leave than the 61%-39% split suggested here.


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