EU referendum: Economy will be decisive in making voters’ minds up

Doubts about the economic consequences of leaving are widely felt

John Curtice
Tuesday 23 February 2016 23:05 GMT
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Services activity in April was its weakest since February 2013
Services activity in April was its weakest since February 2013 (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

It looks like many will face a difficult choice when they decide how to vote in the EU referendum on 23 June. That is the implication of new research based on the latest instalment of NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey.

In some respects, voters are clearly attracted by the idea of leaving the EU. Well over half (57 per cent) believe immigration would be lower if Britain left the EU; just 9 per cent believe it would increase. Meanwhile nearly half (47 per cent) feel that being an EU member is undermining Britain’s distinctive identity. Only 30 per cent disagree.

Many voters are uncomfortable with the “cultural” implications of EU membership; they fear the country’s “Britishness” is under threat.

It is concerns such as these that help to explain why no less than 65 per cent want the EU’s powers reduced. Euroscepticism is widespread.

At the same time, however, many voters also believe there are distinct advantages to being in the EU. One consideration is how tall Britain would walk on the world stage if it were to leave. Over a third (36 per cent) believe that Britain would have less influence in the world if it left, while just 16 per cent feel it would have more influence.

Doubts about the economic consequences of leaving are also widely felt. No less than 40 per cent say Britain’s economy would be worse off if we left, while only 24 per cent anticipate that it would be better off.

So the outcome is likely to turn on whether voters go with their doubts about the cultural consequences of EU membership or whether they pay heed to their fears about the likely practical implications of leaving.

At the moment, however, it looks as though the latter may prove the more persuasive. For while 65 per cent of BSA’s respondents were Eurosceptic, just 30 per cent said Britain should withdraw from the EU.

Among those who feel that EU membership is undermining Britain’s identity, but who do not believe exiting would deliver any economic benefit, well under half (40 per cent) back leaving.

Only among the minority whose cultural concern is married to a belief the economy would be better off is there is a majority for leaving. Then no less than 82 per cent want to head for the exit. In the end, it looks as though it will be voters’ hard-headed judgements about the economy that will prove decisive.

John Curtice is chief commentator at whatukthinks.org/eu where full details of the research can be found

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