Why EU Remain needs an 8-10 point poll lead to win

With near monolithic establishment support for Remain, the pressure of polite society means Brexit is significantly underestimated in opinion polls, especially when conducted by phone. A dead heat in the polls just prior to the referendum means Brexit will win

What's really in the ballot box?
the commentator
On 19 April 2016 08:07

Every time an opinion poll comes out on the June 23 referendum, someone gets nervous. That's understandable. Passions are high, and inevitably it is difficult to distinguish between what will happen and what we want to happen.

But, as things stand, Remain has more cause to be nervous than Brexit, despite a slight lead in the poll of polls.

There are two main reasons.

1) Everyone agrees that, as things stand, turnout is going to be higher among Brexiters. No real surprise there. But what has not been properly considered by most commentators is the following;

2) With almost monolithic support for Remain among (domestic and foreign) establishment organisations -- the PM, the leader of the opposition, the unions, the establishment think tanks such as Chatham House, the CBI, the IMF, President Obama and so on and so forth -- there is likely to be a significant number of respondents to opinion polls who simply won't be forthcoming about their real intentions if they intend to vote for Brexit.

It is this second reason that should really worry Remain, and it explains why Brexit does better in internet polls than in telephone or face to face polling. Internet polling is more anonymous, but even in this case there will always be some Brexiters who feel reluctant to go against polite society by expressing their true preferences.

It is extremely difficult to quantify the extent to which support for Brexit is being underestimated though we do have a clue in that differential between telephone polling and internet polling.

This is from the Guardian today:

"A new Guardian/ICM telephone poll, conducted over the weekend, puts the remain on 54% and leave on 46%, while a second poll – conducted online – suggests a dead heat."

Interesting. So an eight point lead evaporates into nothing when the methodology changes in favour of the more anonymous -- and therefore less threatening -- approach.

It's back of the envelope stuff, of course, but when you take into account both turnout and the greater reluctance of Brexiters to tell pollsters the truth, we reckon that Remain can't be sure of winning unless it goes into the referendum with an 8-10 point lead in the combined opinion polls.

Conversely, a dead heat in the poll of polls just prior to the vote would probably mean victory for Brexit. We shall see.

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