EURef Myth-busting: laying to death some persistent memes

EURef Myth-busting: laying to death some persistent memes

Myth 1: Cameron’s deal has been unexpectedly badly received

Answer: NO

Ipsos-MORI polled the public in November 2014 asking whether David Cameron would get a good deal for Britain in Europe.  69% said that they were either not at all confident or not very confident that he would do.  Only 26% were either fairly confident or very confident.

How in fact has the outline deal gone down?  Well, almost exactly in line with this.  YouGov polled on this at the beginning of the month:

22% thought it was a good deal while 46% said it was a bad deal.  Adjusting for Don’t Knows, this is a fairly similar result, suggesting that the draft deal is no worse than the public expected.  And in fact, the YouGov poll bears this out in the answer to another question – those who thought the deal was worse than they’d expected and those who thought it was better than they’d expected almost exactly cancelled out.

Myth 2: The public see immigration and the EU as one and the same thing

Answer: NO

Many of those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU reject the suggestion (clearly signed in the regular monthly polls for Ipsos-MORI) that the EU is a low priority for voters.  They argue with vehemence that when voters name immigration as one of their three priorities, they mean the EU: ergo, the EU is really super-important for them.

Let’s leave aside the obvious objection that if people thought the EU was important they’d name it as one of the things they thought was important – that seems to cut no ice with otherwise-intelligent people who have convinced themselves of this connection.  We would expect to see some kind of correlation between movements in the monthly polls for people naming immigration and people naming the EU as one of the most important issues facing Britain because presumably the two would become more or less salient by reference to the same events.

Instinctively, I’d expect to see a direct correlation if there was some connection in the public’s minds between the two – you might expect at least some of the people who thought that immigration and the EU were inextricably interlinked would be naming both as and when the topics rose up the agenda.  I would also be open to finding an inverse relationship if the two were indeed interconnected in peoples’ minds – people naming immigration may conceivably find their insular instincts satiated by naming just that, so might not feel the need to name the EU as an issue.  But you would expect to find some kind of correlation if the two issues were inextricably linked in the public mind.

So what in fact do you find when you look at the past movements in this monthly poll?  I have made the effort to track through the movements in the monthly issues polls since November 2013 (the date from which monthly polls are usually readily available), which I have put in table form here: 

How to judge whether there is any connection?  I have used a simple scoring mechanism, allocating +1 each month where both issues moved in the same direction in the polls, -1 each month when they moved in opposite directions and 0 when one (but not both) of the issues remained at the same level.  It’s crude but over the course of long periods should give a fair picture.   The higher the positive score, the stronger the direct correlation.  The lower the negative score, the stronger the inverse relationship.  The closer to zero, the more ethereal the correlation of any kind.

Since November 2013, the cumulative total is 1.  For the last twelve months, the cumulative total is -1.  For the last six months, the cumulative total is -1.  All three scores are no different from what you would expect from pure chance.  There is absolutely nothing in the polls to suggest that the public as a whole see any linkage between immigration and the EU as issues.

Maybe one or other side in the referendum debate can establish such a linkage in the coming months, but there is no evidence that it has happened yet.

Myths: busted

Polling myths are not as exotic as myths about straight bananas or undersized cucumbers, but they can be just as misleading and long-lived.  Sadly, I doubt whether these myths will be scotched by mere facts.

Alastair Meeks

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