Friday, 10 June 2016

Will the Euro 2016 Football affect the result of the British EU Referendum?

The Euro 2016 football tournament kicks off this evening with the host nation, France, playing Romania in the opening game. It should be a celebration of football and bring the nations of Europe together, in what should be a party atmosphere. Let’s hope that there are no problems with terrorism to spoil the mood.

I got to thinking today, is the tournament likely to influence the result of our referendum on membership of the European Union (EU)? The referendum is, after all, slap bang in the middle of the tournament. England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s football teams are all taking part, so will success or failure have some kind psychological bearing on how people vote in the referendum, even if subliminally?

The voting populations of Wales and Northern Ireland are relatively small with less than three million voters combined. Relative to England that is, which has some 38 million voters in total, so is far more likely to influence the end result. But will it?

There is no real evidence that I can find that sporting events influence voting behaviour in any significant way, but the politicians seem to imagine that it does, or at least might. The 2014 Scottish Independence referendum was purposefully held by the (SNP) Scottish government just after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow of that year. In the Commonwealth Games, as opposed to the Olympic Games, Scottish athletes represent Scotland, rather than Britain and the SNP hoped that this would lead to a Scottish patriotism flowering, and influence the voters towards independence. Scotland did pretty well too, winning 19 gold medals in a total of 53 medals overall, and ranking in fourth place on the medals table. The Scots voted to stay in the UK, so maybe it didn’t have any affect at a tall.

There is a political myth that Harold Wilson, the former Labour prime minister, called the 1966 general election after England won the football world cup, but this is not true. The general election in 1966 was held on 31 March, whilst it was almost four months later, on 30 July, that England clinched the world cup with a win over West Germany in the final.

What is true, is that Wilson thought England losing to West Germany in the quarter finals of the 1970 tournament, and bad weather, was instrumental in his party losing the general election of that year. England were knocked out of the 1970 world cup in Mexico only four days before the election and Wilson felt that the defeat had a depressing effect on the public. Certainly, the opinion polls gave Labour a comfortable lead in the run up to election, and Wilson felt it lowered the turn-out at the election, amongst Labour voters in particular.   

The referendum is the day after the first round of Euro 2016, so if England especially, are knocked out at this stage, it could have some kind of effect on the English public. Which way this would go though is open to debate. It could reduce turn-out in the referendum and it could, depending on the circumstances of the exit, lead to feelings of injustice at the hands of the Europeans.

I do think it is unlikely that England will exit the competition at the first hurdle though anyway. For the first time, this tournament has 24 teams competing in it (up from 16) and the first round only eliminates 8 teams. England’s group is not that difficult looking either, but if the worst should happen, the defeat will only be at the hands of the Welsh, Russians or Slovakians. Russia isn’t in the EU and Wales and Slovakia are hardly the source of any major anti-Europe feeling. It might have been different if England were knocked out by France or Germany, but if that happens, it will be after the referendum has concluded.

Personally, I don’t think it will make any difference to how the English will vote in this referendum, but if the margins are apparently as tight as most people seem to think, a poor performance by the football team could have a more profound impact, than the usual attitude of ‘when does the Premiership club football begin again?’


  1. I wonder what the weekend's violence between Russian, local, and English thugs will do for international relations, and what they signal about how the propaganda of those nations regarding each other as received within England and Russia?

    Alan Wheatley

  2. Just spotted on Yahoo News, as if in answer to my query: Euro 2016: Senior Russian football official tells violent fans: keep it up!.

    I should have guessed that it was due to involvement of the ultra-nationalists. I wonder, though, whether that sort of thing will serve as encouragement to Putin to be even worse than he is generally in sabre rattling?

    Alan Wheatley