We still don’t have a firm date, but Brits could go to the polls within months to decide whether the UK stays in the European Union.
The outcome of the EU referendum is of course anybody’s guess, but thanks to detailed polling analysis, we have an insight into how the issue could pit countries within the UK against each other, and divide generations of the same family.
How will Britain vote?
The best research we’ve found comes courtesy of What UK Thinks: EU, a site run by NatCen Social Research featuring analysis by polling expert Professor John Curtice, among others.
The site’s latest “poll of polls” – based on pooling results from the six most recent voter intention questionnaires – show 52 per cent are favour of remaining in the EU, and 48 per cent want to leave.
People who say they “don’t know” how they will vote have been left out of this analysis, but typically 15 to 20 per cent of people say they are undecided in most surveys.
It’s hard to see any evidence of a significant shift in opinion one way or the other in the recent months covered by this poll tracker.
The latest 52/48 split in favour of “remain” is exactly the same as the first “poll of polls carried out in September last year.
The “remain” vote has tended to maintain a consistent but very narrow lead over that period.
Can we trust the polls?
The polling companies carrying out this research are the same ones who failed to predict the outcome of the general election last year. Does that mean we should ignore their forecasts this time?
Prof Curtice told FactCheck some of the pollsters have tweaked their methods since last May.
And since both Conservative and Labour voters appear to be divided on the EU question, the fact that polls failed to accurately measure support for those two parties last year may not mean they are wrong about the EU referendum.
He notes that some companies poll people by phone, while others use the interent, adding: “The two methods have so far consistently produced different results. Phone polls put Remain well ahead; internet polls suggest the race is close.”
Who will vote for what?
Where you live in the UK is likely to have a big effect how you vote, according to Rachel Ormston from Natcen Social Research.
At the time she did the research, 52 per cent of English voters said they wanted to remain. This was the most anti-EU stance of all the countries in the UK.
Polling at the time found that in Scotland, 64 per cent backed staying in the EU and in Northern Ireland it was a resounding 75 per cent:
Scots have been consistently less likely to back leaving the EU than English voters since 1999.
Party support, not surprisingly, is a key predictor of voter intention. Supporters of Ukip strongly support Brexit in all surveys – although oddly, one poll found that as many as 17 per cent of Ukip voters wanted to stay in the EU.
Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green voters are very likely to support staying in, while Labour and Tory supporters are split (these results from the British Election Study are typical):
Age is also another significant factor. The trend across a range of different polls is pretty clear: the younger you are, the more likely you are to vote to stay in the EU.
In every survey, a majority of 18 to 34-year-olds were pro-EU and over-55s were most likely to vote “leave”.
That makes it interesting to speculate on how different things might have been if 16- and 17-year-olds had been allowed to vote, as they were in the Scottish independence referendum (plans to include younger voters again were defeated in the Lords last month).
Education is another big dividing line. The British Social Attitudes and British Election Study surveys both show that people with a university degree are most likely to favour staying in the EU, and people with no educational attitudes are most likely to back Brexit.
This chimes with a poll of 1,000 university students carried out last November. Some 70 per cent backed EU membership.
So the voter most likely to favour the “remain” campaign is young, university-educated and from Northern Ireland, while an older, unqualified English person is the model “leave” voter.