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Argument or organisation?: The battle over membership of the European Union

This report presents the main findings and conclusions from a Fabian Society and GQRR poll which explored attitudes and arguments about the referendum campaign.


  • Argument or organisation?
  • By Olivia Bailey
  • Published 3 April 2016

This report presents the main findings and conclusions from a Fabian Society and GQRR poll which explored attitudes and arguments about the referendum campaign. It reveals that the race is on a knife-edge. Remain have a narrow lead among the total adult population, but there appear to be three factors in Leave’s favour:

  • Leave voters are more likely to vote. While Remain leads overall, their lead disappears amongst the most likely voters, with 47 per cent saying they’ll vote to leave against 45 per cent for Remain.
  • Leave arguments seem to have a greater power to persuade. We tested core messages being used by each campaign, and, on the majority of issues, Leave’s arguments have more persuasion power than those used by Remain. We were also able to test the impact this might have on voting behaviour by asking people to tell us their voting intention before and after they had been shown arguments from both campaigns. While remain led by 45 points to 40 amongst the total population at first, after respondents had been exposed to a balanced debate, Leave and Remain tied on 42 per cent of the total population.
  • ​Remain’s vote is softer. Using GQRR’s in-house measure of how loyal voters are to their cause, we show that there are nearly double the number of Leave loyalists as there are Remain loyalists.

The report also discusses the crucial role of Labour supporters, outlining a number of key insights for both Labour campaigns.

  • Both Labour campaigns need to work harder to promote a distinctive progressive case. Labour’s Remain campaign should talk about workers’ rights, but avoid empty phrases about ‘social Europe’. Just 14 per cent of  strong Labour supporters selected this phrase, when asked to choose the three most important issues in the referendum campaign. Meanwhile, Labour Leave should make more of the threat of market forces to public services in Britain.
  • Turnout is crucial. Only 56 per cent of Labour voters from May are very likely to vote in June – but with as many as 6 million votes on the line for Remain (two thirds of Labour’s vote from May) turnout is key. Labour Leave is at a disadvantage when it comes to turning out their vote because they don’t have Labour’s electoral machine. They should instead focus on getting their arguments heard.
  • Jeremy Corbyn can be decisive in this election. Jeremy Corbyn is comfortably the most trusted figure in this debate for Labour voters, significantly ahead of Alan Johnson. If he were to offer full-throated support for Labour’s position, that could be powerful. The Labour Leave campaign will hope he continues to keep a low profile.
  • Both campaigns should prioritise patriotism. When we asked respondents whether remaining or leaving would be better simply for ‘pride in Britain’, Leave had an 8-point lead amongst Labour supporters. But when Remain sound patriotic they are able to convince people. We tested a pro remain statement about being proudly British and supporting remaining in the EU, against a leave statement about standing up for Britain, and the Remain statement led amongst labour supporters by more than twenty points.


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Olivia Bailey

Olivia Bailey is director of social policy at Public First and former head of domestic policy for Keir Starmer. She was previously deputy general secretary at the Fabian Society


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