Brexit and the undecided voter

The undecided could have the biggest impact on the outcome

June 13, 2016 08:56 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:01 pm IST - LONDON:

Unlike a general election where an electoral verdict can be overturned in five years time, a referendum has long-term implications and consequences. Whatever the outcome of the June 23 in-out referendum on Europe, the final decision cannot be reversed, at least not in the short and medium term. A Leave vote will set in motion a long-drawn out process with no precedent of de-coupling Britain from the European project.

It is perhaps this realization of just how much rests on the referendum outcome that has raised the pitch on both sides of the debate and campaign, with lead campaigners arguing in an endless circle of claims, denials and counterclaims.  Both sides realize that success depends on the voter turnout and on winning the undecided voter.

20 to 30 p.c. decide at the last minute

According to experts who conducted a recent study on voting behavior, generally 20 to 30 per cent of voters make up their minds just a week ahead, and half of them on election day. This proportion could be even higher in referendum, according to the collaborative study (‘The Impact of Brexit on Consumer Behaviour’, a collaboration between Opinium, London School of Economics and Lansons.)

In a poll conducted for the Observer on Sunday the group found that 43% of those polled will vote to remain in the EU as against 41%
who plan to vote leave.

Undecided have the biggest impact

The undecided could have the biggest impact on the outcome. “When we nudged, or forced, them to make a decision, 36% of those yet to make up their mind said they’d vote to remain, 33% would vote leave. It is still incredibly close,” said the authors of the report.

“The ‘Don’t Knows’ in EU Referendum opinion polls currently comprise about 15% of the samples and how they break is likely to prove pivotal to the outcome,” said Patrick Sturgis, Professor of Research Methodology at the University of Southampton. “There is some evidence that Don’t Knows move disproportionately toward Remain, when pressed, although several pollsters have not found this effect,” he told The Hindu over email.

Phone polls and online polls

Another issue puzzling psephologists is the difference in the results between phone polls and online polls.

“Although there has been some convergence in recent weeks, phone polls continue to show a Remain lead in the region of 10% while the online polls are calling it neck and neck, with indications of a small lead for Leave. It is not currently possible to determine which type of poll is the more accurate, though theories abound. We will only know for sure on June 24,” Professor Sturgis said.

Momentum in Brexit

Brexit has gained momentum in the last week according to a poll conducted by ORB for The Independent and published on June 10. Of 2000 polled, 55 per cent believe the UK should leave the EU while 45 per cent want it to remain – which established a staggering 10 point lead for Brexit.

Sounding a note of caution is political scientist Professor Matthew Goodwin from the University of Kent. “There remains a fierce debate over the accuracy of the underlying samples in the polls. That said, the general perception in British politics and media is that as the country heads toward polling day it is the Eurosceptics who have had the better campaign of late,” he told The Hindu in an email comment.

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