Conflicted voters could mean close EU poll

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British and European Union Flags outside the European Commission in BrusselsImage source, EPA

There is at least one thing on which those campaigning for Remain and those arguing for Leave both agree. The choice that voters make on 23 June matters.

Each side believes its preferred alternative offers Britain the prospect of a better and brighter future - and claims the country will go backwards if it makes the wrong choice.

The task facing voters is to decide which of them is right.

Trouble is, they suspect that both sides might be correct - up to a point.

Pollsters YouGov have regularly been asking voters what they think would happen if the UK were to leave the EU. They give the prospect a mixed review.

On the one hand, a majority believe immigration would be lower if we left - and for most at least that is something they would welcome.

Many voters are concerned that the EU's "freedom of movement" provisions make it impossible for the UK to reduce immigration below the relatively high levels the country has experienced in recent years.

At the same time, many appear to believe the NHS would be better if we left the EU.

Image source, Christopher Furlong
Image caption,
The Brexit campaign claims more money would go to the NHS if it won

They seem to accept the Leave campaign's argument that the financial contribution the UK currently makes to the EU budget could be spent on the NHS instead.

In addition, polling undertaken by another polling company, ORB, suggests voters warm to the claim that leaving would give people in Britain "greater control over their lives".

As many as 58% reckon we would have greater control if we left, while only 28% believe that would be the case if we remain.

On the other hand, more voters believe we would be worse off economically if we left the EU than feel we would be better off.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Former PMs Sir John Major and Tony Blair have warned of the possible dangers of Brexit

Voters are inclined to think there would be fewer jobs and lower pensions if we left, not least, perhaps, because they reckon the economy would be weaker overall.

Many seemingly accept the Remain side's argument that Britain's prosperity depends on continued membership of the European club.

At the same time voters are also inclined to the view that Britain's influence in the world would be diminished if we were no longer in the EU. Being one of the bigger players in a 28-member club evidently has its attractions.

On some issues, though, such as whether Britain would be at greater or less risk of terrorism, most voters are not convinced that either side has the better case.

And despite their views on the implications of leaving for the economy as a whole, most are not convinced that leaving would have much impact on their own personal finances.


It is, then, little wonder that the polls suggest the result in a fortnight's time could be close.

Many voters are having to settle a conflict in their minds - between on the one hand a suspicion that we might be better off inside the EU and, on the other, a concern about the implications of staying for immigration.

That means the task facing campaigners in the next fortnight is to persuade voters to focus on the arguments where their side's case appears to be the more persuasive.

For Remain that means convincing them the choice on 23 June is primarily about the economy, while Leave wants voters to think about immigration.

The outcome could well turn on which side eventually proves to be more successful at defining for voters what the choice in this referendum is really about.

John Curtice is chief commentator at