Thursday, 14 April 2016

First Poll after Cameron’s Off Shore Tax Scandal Puts Leave EU 3 Points Ahead

An opinion poll by ICM for The Times newspaper (subscription), the first poll after the recent Panama Papers revealed that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had been avoiding paying British tax, puts the Leave EU campaign three points ahead of the Remain camp.

The survey of 2,030 people which was conducted on 8 and 10 April, show Leave on 45% and Remain on 42%, with 13% undecided. The poll also found an 8 point drop in the Prime Minister’s approval rating, and so this is no doubt reflected in the swing towards the out campaign, as Cameron is the best known advocate of staying in the EU. After all, he renegotiated Britain’s membership terms and keeping the country inside the union has become something of a personal crusade.

ICM's previous poll, released on April 6, had found that the in camp were ahead by one point on 43 percent. Speaking about the latest poll on Tuesday, ICM's Jennifer Bottomley said:  

"Most polls continue to suggest that it’s a very tight contest, with neither side able to gain a decisive lead."

As always with opinion polls there is room for scepticism and ICM conducts its polls online, where all of these types of polls have given the Leave campaign higher scores than polls conducted by telephone. At last year’s general election telephone polls proved to be much more accurate than online ones.

I think there are reasons why online polls tend to get different results from telephone polls. Although online polls are usually from larger samples, YouGov recently conducted an EU referendum poll of over 16,000 people, these people may not be typical of the average voter.

People choose to join online voting panels, they are not a random sample like the telephone polls, and I think the people are much more politically engaged than the average person. These people are more likely to have made their minds up a while back, whilst those randomly sampled may well be just coming around to thinking about which way to vote.

All the same, there is a marked shift of four points away from the Remain camp, which must be related to the last week’s reporting of Cameron’s previous tax avoidance antics. This may not last of course, but Cameron’s personal association with wanting to stay in the EU, whilst doing his level best to rip off the British tax payer, plays into the anti-establishment narrative of the out campaign.

This kind of thing has always been the risk, given the general unhappiness with the political status quo, here and across the world. When the Prime Minister set the date of the referendum to be held by 2017 during the last Parliament, this trend wasn’t apparent, and we all know it was about keeping the Tory party together over an issue that has torn them apart for 25 years now. Short term expediency triumphed over a more cautious long term strategy, which rather sums up British politics generally.

The other big risk for the Remain camp is that even voters who are saying that they will vote to stay in the EU, are not generally very enthused about the EU. I count myself in this group, though I will definitely vote to remain, but I wonder how many others in this position will actually get around to voting? Whereas the out voters are well motivated, and much more likely to turn up and vote.

The accusation against the Remain campaign has been that it is too negative, ‘Project Fear’ is the term bandied about the Brexiters, and even people who support staying are calling for a positive campaign about the benefits of our membership.

The problem is, although there some benefits to being in the EU, they are pretty thin gruel, and I suspect that highlighting the risks of leaving is probably the argument that will resonate most with Remain supporters.  

My best guess is that we will vote to stay in the EU, but it is clear that with more than two months to go, everything is still in play.   

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