18 May 2016

Today’s Ipsos-MORI poll for The Evening Standard has caught people’s attention because of the large 18-point lead it gives to the Remain campaign – the biggest Remain lead for some time. However, looking beyond the headline voting intention figures, the poll also contains several other interesting findings. Most notably, it supports the view that the referendum will be chiefly decided by economic considerations – 33% list the economy as a “very important” factor in determining their vote, ahead of immigration on 28% and Britain’s ability to make its own laws on 15%.

A subsequent question then reveals that by a margin of 49% to 26%, respondents believe that the economic impact  of Brexit over the next five years will be negative. However, in the longer-term, so in the next 10 to 20 years, by a margin of 39% to 35%, they believe the UK economy would be better off.

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This suggests that voters are more sophisticated than they are often given credit for – it appears they have absorbed the warnings made by Bank of England governor Mark Carney, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde and others about the immediate volatility that would could occur in the immediate aftermath of a Leave vote, but are able to distinguish that from the UK’s longer term growth prospects and that they are sceptical of the Treasury’s long-term forecasts. Indeed this was also the conclusion of Open Europe’s Brexit report which found that if the UK secured a favourable deal with the EU post Brexit and pursued economically liberal policies in areas such as migration, trade and regulation, its GDP could be up to 1.6% higher by 2030 post Brexit (though failing to strike such a deal and pursuing protectionist policies could see UK GDP falling by 2.2% by 2030 under a worst case scenario).

The findings of the poll will likely be welcomed by the Government ahead of the imminent release the Treasury’s analysis of the short term economic impact of Brexit – this report will likely play up the immediate uncertainty and the potential for economic decline in the wake of the Leave vote to really cement these concerns in the minds of voters. While many (including some on the Leave side) accept that Brexit would lead to short-term disruption, it is very difficult to put definite numbers on what the impact might be, so we will see what the Treasury come up with. In all likelihood the Leave campaign will struggle to effectively counter the general sense of short-term uncertainty, but they could instead talk up the longer-term economic benefits of being able to strike free trade agreements with emerging economies and pursue different regulatory policies in areas such as social and employment law, financial services and energy and climate change.

It will then be up to voters to weigh up whether the short term-pain is worth the long-term gain.