LONDON—The latest Brexit opinion poll shows a six-point swing toward remaining in the European Union, in the furthest shift from the narrow referendum result in 2016 that pushed Britain down the road toward a possible exit from the 27-member trading bloc.
The new polling showed 59 percent of voters would now vote to remain in the bloc, versus 41 percent who would opt to leave, according to an academic-led report on Sept. 5 by research bodies NatCen and The UK in a Changing Europe. It’s the highest support for EU membership in such a survey since the 2016 referendum.
On June 23, 2016, 52 percent of those who voted in the referendum opted to leave the EU, and 48 percent voted to stay.
Since then, opinion polls have overall shown a slight shift in favor of remaining in the EU, although they have fluttered along with the political winds whipped up by Brexit issues.
The UK has yet to leave the EU, and the terms of Brexit have yet to be agreed on between the EU and the UK—the matter that will decide on a “hard” or “soft” Brexit.
Polls showing support for the EU are often used to bolster growing demands for a second referendum on whether or not to accept the final deal with the EU.
Referendums Harder to Predict than Elections
The researchers note that the composition of remain-voters and leave-voters in their interview panel didn’t quite reflect the percentages of the referendum vote—53 percent had voted to remain.
Nonetheless, the poll marks a significant shift, said professor John Curtice, a senior research fellow at NatCen.
“There has apparently been a six-point swing from Leave to Remain, larger than that registered by any of our previous rounds of interviewing, and a figure that would seemingly point to a 54 percent (Remain) vote in any second referendum held now,” Curtice wrote.
Polls prior to the Brexit vote wrongly predicted that voters would opt to remain in the EU.
Polling experts said it is even harder to predict referendums than regular elections.
However, the NatCen survey is the latest in a series of five surveys, asking the same questions with the same method. So it more reliably tracks changes in public attitudes, even if it is hard to predict exactly how that shift would correspond to votes cast on the day in a ballot box.
The research was carried out before Prime Minister Theresa May put forward her much-pilloried Brexit blueprint.
The researchers also compared people’s attitudes toward various other factors often linked to Brexit—such as immigration.
When it comes to predicting whether someone will change their mind about Brexit one thing alone stands out, according to the researchers: the economy.
Curtice said, “Nothing is more likely to persuade someone who voted Leave in 2016 that perhaps they made the wrong choice than the perception that the UK will economy will suffer as a result of Brexit.
“Equally, nothing is more likely to persuade someone who voted Remain that perhaps the UK should be leaving after all than the perception that the UK economy might benefit from Brexit.”
‘No Credible Bargaining Position’
Voters have become less concerned about controlling EU migration, and also are losing faith that the UK will secure a good deal with the EU.
May has come under fire in recent weeks from all sides for her negotiating tactics.
On Sept. 5, former Bank of England Gov. Lord King said that the UK did not have a “credible bargaining position” because it had not made serious preparations for the “no deal” scenario.
King told the BBC, “We hadn’t put in place measures where we could say to our colleagues in Europe, ‘Look, we’d like a free-trade deal, we think that you would probably like one too, but if we can’t agree, don’t be under any misapprehension, we have put in place the measures that would enable us to leave without one.'”