Has Britain’s membership ceased to be an issue?
Last week my post on the public not really “caring a monkey’s” about the EU caused a little bit of a stir in some places. My argument was simple – we’ve been in the EU for 37 years and Britain’s membership has ceased to be an issue for all but a very small minority on voters.
I quoted the latest MORI issues index where those naming the Europe/EU as the “most important issue facing Britain” simply did not register and did not even rate a one percent figure by the pollster.
Some have pointed to the results of the EU parliament elections in June 2009 to try to undermine my point. Then 16.5% of voters opted for UKIP putting the party into second place. Yet in the Ipsos-MORI issues Index of that month just one percent of those surveyed rated it the “most important issue” and a further three percent included it with “other important issues”.
Given the high profile that UKIP enjoyed during June 2009 then you would have thought that their main policy point would have at least registered. It’s didn’t for 96% of those polled.
What’s clear is that in those elections UKIP was a useful protest vehicle particularly as it took place in the immediate aftermath of the MPs expenses exposes.
Another line of attack has come from James Frayne of the Wargame Blog. He wrote on the day my post was published:-
“.Conventional wisdom in Westminster is that the public don’t care about Europe, pointing out that polls show it sits well down the list of public priorities and that recent campaigns that have tried to push eurosceptic arguments have failed. This is partly true. Ask if they want a referendum and they’ll say yes, but the public don’t follow the ins and outs of debates on treaty changes and potential reform.
But it only tells half the story. The opinion research is clear – if you link Europe in people’s minds with issues that they do care about then Europe becomes relevant and important. The research shows there are three issues above all that do this: the cost of the EU; free movement of people within the EU (ie immigration); and concerns over the EU’s effects on national security. Other issues occasionally come up but most are irrelevant.”
I don’t know what research James is referring to – he didn’t include a link – but the point I’m making is about the relative importance that the public attaches to issue. That’s where the Ipsos-MORI methodology which has been used for well over three decades comes into its own. Interviewees are asked UNPROMPTED to state the issues they consider to be important.
There have been times in the past when the response on EU-related matters has been very high but the long-term trend is one of decline to almost zero.
I stick with the point I made. Hardly anybody gives a monkey’s.