Politicians vs the public: Opinion-formers are ignoring the people over Europe

An opinion poll reveals that the majority of people in Britain want to leave the EU. But the powers that be don’t agree

Are you listening, David Cameron?
Rory Broomfield
On 4 August 2012 15:29

A recent opinion poll conducted by Chatham House and YouGov shows that the British public want both a referendum and to come out of the EU, whilst opinion-formers do not want either.

Surveying over 2,000 members of the public and 735 “opinion-formers” – drawn from sectors including the government, business and the media – this poll shows that a clear majority (57 percent) of the general public want to vote on the UK’s membership of the EU while only 42 percent of opinion-formers would like one.

However, the clear divide comes when both groups were asked how they would vote in an In/Out referendum.

Almost half (49 percent) of the British people questioned would vote for the UK to leave the EU altogether, with only 30 percent saying that they would vote to remain a member. In contrast, 63 percent of the opinion-formers questioned would vote for the UK to remain a member with only 27 percent saying that they would vote to leave.

This divergence of opinion underlines how out of step “the elite” seems to be with the British public. Even when asked for more details about their opinions, 46 percent of the opinion-formers questioned believed that the UK’s closest ties should be with the EU, with only 12 percent of the British public supporting a more integrated European Union.

Given that the direct net cost of UK membership to the EU was nearly 60 percent higher in 2011 than in 2009 (£10.8 billion per annum compared with 2009’s £6.8 billion figure), some may speculate whether some of the 735 opinion-formers that were questioned have decided to set up camp in the EU’s new £850 million headquarters in Luxembourg. 

Certainly, it seems that the opinion-formers of some of the main political parties are out of step with their supporters in the general public.

The research shows that 69 percent of Conservative supporters amongst the general public would vote to leave the EU whilst 50 percent of Conservative opinion-formers would vote to remain (with 40 percent voting to leave). 

Moreover, when Labour supporters were asked how they would vote in a referendum on UK’s membership of the EU, less than 40 percent of Labour supporters in the general public said that they wanted to remain in the EU whilst a huge 89 percent of the opinion-formers said that they wanted to stay within this Union.

Indeed, when the Liberal Democrat supporters amongst the general public are divided (45 percent wanting to stay / 40 percent wishing to leave) and 75 percent of their opinion-formers are in favour of UK membership, it shows the gulf between the two groups.

There is, however, one thing that both the general public and opinion-formers agree on.

The figures show that a whopping 73 percent of the general public think that the Coalition has either made no difference (41 percent) or made foreign policy worse (32 percent).

This is very similar to the 76 percent of opinion-formers who think that the coalition’s foreign policy has not worked (52 percent thinking it has made no difference, 24 percent thinking that they have changed foreign policy for the worse).

It is good that they can agree on something.

Rory Broomfield is Deputy Director of The Freedom Association and tweets @rorybroomfield   

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