Voters aren’t pay much attention at the moment
Membership of the EU is so central to many aspects of our political debate that almost everyone in politics has a strong view about it. We project that onto the electorate at large, and then puzzle over the small number of people who actually mention it as an issue that they worry about. Is it because the question is badly put, or because theyâ€™re concealing their strong feelings?
No. Look at the IPSOS-MORI poll taken Oct 17-19. The topline figure is that people would vote 57-43 to remain members, more than other polls have shown, though down from 69-31 last time. But look at the weird responses to the secondary questions. Suppose Cameron was successful in â€œPreventing countries that use the Euro currently from imposing extra rules on the City of London.â€ 25% say this would make them more likely to want to remain, but 29% say theyâ€™d be more likely to want to leave. WTF?
Or what about Britain being allowed to â€œOpt out from an â€˜ever closer unionâ€™ with Europeâ€? 28% say thatâ€™d make them more likely to want to remain, 24% say oh, in that case theyâ€™d be more likely to vote to leave. 41% say meh, no difference.
Is there really a quarter of the electorate that is so Europhile that it wants an ever-closer union, yet so Eurosceptic that it will vote to withdraw altogether if this is not in prospect?
The reality, surely, is that most people arenâ€™t really paying attention. We anoraks feel that the looming referendum is a massive event that will affect our countryâ€™s future. Weâ€™re right. But most people see the EU as a mildly irritating fact of life, like the weather â€“ occasionally quite positive, often quite annoying, but not worth worrying about. Note that the UKIP surge only really took off when they focused on immigration, not on EU membership per se.
What are the betting implications of this? Primarily, Iâ€™d suggest that it means that you should discount temporary swings in polls, and generally lay the favourite. Peopleâ€™s views are going to change quite a bit up and down as the drama (or, for the cynical, mock-drama) of the negotiations finally gets under way. I personally think theyâ€™ll vote Remain in the end. But in the meantime there is money to be made from betting against the prevailing opinion at any one moment. At the moment, you can back â€œLeaveâ€ at 2.8 on Betfair â€“ that looks tempting. But an even better bet, though at modest profit, is to back â€œThere will be a referendum under this governmentâ€ at 1.08, to pay out on the day the referendum is held. Thatâ€™s free money, 8% over probably 18 months, and itâ€™s quite a liquid market too.
Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010 and has been contributing to PB since 2004