What Voters REALLY Feel about the EU Referendum
The traditional way of finding out how people will vote in the coming EU referendum is, of course, to ask them. Which is exactly what polling organisations have being doing regularly over the past months.
While their polls – that assign respondents to one of three groups: Vote to remain, vote to leave and undecided – offer a snapshot of voting intentions, such explicit questioning gives no sense of the strength of support for each position. Those marginally in favour of leaving or remaining, who could potentially change their mind, are combined with voters already firmly convinced one way or the other.
In the present study, conducted in collaboration with the Guardian, we adopt a radically different approach. By using a specially developed form of implicit rather than explicit testing, we are able to access both subconscious ‘feelings’ and the strength with which these views are held. This type of research relies upon the fact that for most of our decision-making, we employ mental shortcuts that call upon information that has been ‘absorbed’ into the subconscious. This information does not exist in isolation. Each piece of information is connected with every other in memory.
When presented with new information people generally take time to process the information and form a rationalised response. Over a period attitudes become more automatic as the individual devotes less energy into re-evaluating opinions already firmly established and connected in their minds. If we record the speed of response we obtain an insight into how embedded these opinions are. The more multi-faceted and complicated a decision becomes the more likely voters are to go with their gut feelings.
In this referendum, apart from a minority on either side who are passionate and committed, most voters seem confused and uncertain. A recent letter to the Metro undoubtedly expressed the feelings of many:
“I am educated enough to recognise that I have no hope of understanding and evaluating all the factors affecting this decision demanded of us in the EU referendum,” the writer admitted, adding “I seriously doubt if anyone can.”
In such situations, implicit testing provides a far more powerful and reliable tool of determining voter sentiment.
The present study, conducted in collaboration with the Guardian involved a thousand respondents and combined our new and unique form implicit testing with a number of explicit questionnaires in order to find answers to the following:
- How positive do voters feel about the United Kingdom and the European Union?
- How strongly do they associate the UK with leaving or remaining in the EU?
- How do they prioritise the key political issues?
Over the next two weeks we will be publishing five further blogs each focusing on different findings from the study.
It is important to realise that one can only accurately predict what one cannot control. Weather forecasts are becoming increasingly accurate because their publication has no effect on the weather. The same cannot be said about polling data. This fact that, for example, a widely publicised poll that showed a significant increase or decrease in those supporting a particular position, would be very likely to influence voter decision making in the future.
This was what happened during the Scottish independence referendum after a well-publicised poll indicated an increased vote for the leave section. The government immediately made further promises and concessions, which, together with a surge of support for those in favour of the Union caused supporters of Independence to lose the vote.
In the next blog I will be describing what our research has revealed about the key characteristics of ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ together with the priority they assign to the referendum itself. Given the massive amount of discussion and media attention our finding may well surprise and shock you.
Dr David Lewis
Read more on this series