The public are switched off by #EUref ‘big beasts’

Katie Ghose, former Chief Executive

Posted on the 10th June 2016

The past few months have seen the campaigns – perhaps understandably – wheel out the ‘big beasts’ from the various parties in an attempt to bring people over.

But polling by BMG Research which we commissioned and have released today shows that almost all interventions from heavy-hitting Leave and Remain figures have made people more likely to vote to vote the other way, or had no impact, perhaps reflecting opposition to a campaign largely perceived as top-down and Westminster-dominated people.

For example, Boris Johnson’s contribution to the debate has actually made 20% of people more likely to vote to Remain, only five percentage points less than those it made more likely to Leave, while David Cameron’s interventions have made 29% of people say they’re more likely to back Brexit, compared to 15% for whom it has made more likely to vote Remain.

For Labour, Jeremy Corbyn’s interventions have had no impact on 68% of the public, while it has made 19% more likely to vote Leave – compared to just 13% it’s made more likely to stay.

Meanwhile UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s comments have had the intended impact, making 22% more likely to vote to Leave, compared to 17% he’s made more likely to vote Remain. However, it has had no impact on 61% of voters, while making 25% of 18-25 year olds more likely to get out and vote Remain

Finally, Barack Obama’s comments have made 24% more likely to vote Leave, compared to 16% more likely to stay, although 31% of 18-24 year olds said it made them more likely to vote to Remain.

What these surprising findings suggest is that the public are completely switched off by the ‘big names’ of the EU referendum debate.

It’s no secret that voters are tired of personality politics – and it’s driving them away from engaging with the referendum, with the public seeing it as a battle within parties and Parliament rather than the crucial decision for Britain’s future that it is.

Hearing only from polarising or controversial figures could be making voters turn away from the arguments they are hearing, which strengthens the need for the public to have their own mediated debates in communities across the UK.

And now for some good news. The ERS and university partners are enabling exactly that through our Better Referendum online toolkit.

Our findings today are mirrored by a new Ipsos Mori survey which shows thatacademics – who are a key part of the Better Referendum project – “come behind only “friends and family” (57%, compared to 72%) in terms of whom people trust on issues related to the referendum. Politicians [come] in at 11%”.

Party cues are important in referendum campaigns – in complex constitutional matters voters look for guidance from political figures they respect.

But interventions from the ‘big beasts’ should go hand in hand with a mature, issues-based and positive debate, alongside grassroots conversations in every part of the UK – the kind of lively discussions we saw with the Scottish referendum.”

So in response to the personality politics of the referendum campaign so far, ourselves and universities around the UK have set up an online course on the EU vote called Better Referendum – to take groups of voters through the issues and encourage them to organise their own debates on the facts rather than the party spats.

If you’re switched off by the ‘big beasts’ of the referendum campaign and want to get to the real issues, organise a meetup with your friends and family today. Let’s build a better referendum.

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