Brexit: the latest on public attitudes in Wales
Since the historic Brexit referendum in June last year, the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University has conducted detailed research on public attitudes to this issue. In the Welsh Political Barometer polls (carried out jointly with YouGov and with ITV Wales) we have tracked public opinion at regular intervals since the June 2016 referendum. We have also conducted a major academic survey of the public to explore knowledge and attitudes in much greater depth. And this summer we also carried out some qualitative focus group work, which looked at working-class Leave voters in the valleys that voted so heavily for Brexit.
The general picture that has been developing thus far has been one of little change in public attitudes since last year, with aggregate stability reflecting very few people on either side of the Remain/Leave divide having changed their minds. Indeed, our detailed survey conducted earlier this year showed differences between Remainers and Leavers to be not only about what sort of Brexit (if any) the UK should be seeking. As well as differing on what they wanted to happen, the two sides also had very different expectations about what would happen because of Brexit: Leavers were much more optimistic about the material and other consequences of Brexit. There were even considerable differences about matters of political process – about how Brexit should happen. (For some further discussion on this, see here).
Despite many media reports suggesting that the Brexit negotiations have not been going well, and some forecasts of dire consequences for the UK in the event of a ‘No Deal’ scenario, our research has found little evidence thus far of ‘Leaver Bregret’. Leave voters in our focus groups showed little signs of changing their minds, and articulated clear reasons for their decision last year. Many had concerns about the impact of immigration on the living standards of ordinary people; they felt that EU aid to their communities had largely been wasted; and many believed that even if Brexit causes some short-term pain, it will be worthwhile in the long-run. (Further discussion of this aspect of our research can been seen here).
Our latest Barometer poll includes two, now regular, Brexit-related questions. The first asks people whether they would support or oppose holding a second referendum on the issue. These were the findings of our new poll (with changes on the previous one, in September, indicated in brackets):
Support second referendum: 44% (+4)
Oppose second referendum: 43% (-5)
Don’t Know: 13% (+1)
We also asked, as we have done consistently since June last year, how people would vote in any second referendum. Here is what we found, with changes since our last poll again in brackets):
Remain: 45% (-1)
Leave: 40% (-2)
Would Not Vote: 6% (+2)
Don’t Know: 9% (+1)
The changes in how people say they would vote in any second Brexit referendum are very much within the sampling ‘margin of error’. They show that things are still very close, and the details of the poll indicate few voters having changed their minds since last year. It is perhaps worth noting that the final pre-referendum poll last year in Wales put things dead-level in Wales. So that poll got the final result correct well within margin of error, but showed a slight tendency to overstate support for Remain. Since then, our friends at YouGov have, of course, sought to correct for this. Whether their polls are still over-stating Remain support, whether they might have over-corrected, or whether we now have things exactly right, is of course something that we could only ultimately know through having another referendum.
More interesting than the small changes in referendum voting intention are the rather larger moves in attitudes towards having a second vote. Until recently our pols had been consistently showing most people against the idea: even quite a few Remain voters from last year seemed to take the view that the decision had been made and it was time to get on with things. Our new poll, along with a Britain-wide one by Survation reported at the weekend, suggests that more people are now coming around to the idea of another vote. If this trend continues, it would be an important development in public attitudes to Brexit – which, hitherto, have been notable mainly for their lack of change since June 2016.