EU referendum: Remain appears to have gained ground in the polls, but the reality is more muddled

James Nickerson
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Remain appears to have taken a more steady lead in recent days (Source: Getty)

Polling data is flooding into the public debate on the UK's membership of the EU ahead of the referendum in June.

The latest poll by Ipsos MORI put Remain ahead by 18 percentage points, while YouGov's showed 44 per cent of respondents wanted Britain to stay in EU compared with 40 percent who wanted the country to leave.

Earlier this week, ORB put out a separate poll which put Remain on 55 per cent, against 40 per cent for Leave.

Among all respondents, 55 per cent now say they support Remain – an increase of four points since the previous ORB poll in April – and 40 per cent back Leave – a three-point decrease.

Read more: Polls at odds on outcome of June's vote

But also this week TNS released a poll that put Leave ahead on 41 per cent, against Remain's 38 per cent. On Monday ICM produced a phone poll which put Remain 10 points ahead, but the online poll showed Leave ahead.

In total, there's been 82 polls this year. Some 48 of those showed a lead for Remain, six were tied, and 28 showed a lead for Leave.

Remain seems to be ahead, but with such difference among the polls, are they of any use?

Matthew Goodwin, politics professor at the University of Kent, and associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, thinks that they are if you look at them together.

"While Remain appears to have gained a little ground in some recent polls the overall race remains close. In the authoritative poll of polls there are only two points between Remain and Leave," Goodwin said.

"Ultimately, your interpretation of who is ahead comes down to whether you believe the phone or online polls are the most accurate. The former give Remain a fairly comfortable lead. The latter suggest that it is a dead heat."

Looking at the online polls from this year, 25 have been in favour of Remain, while 27 have favoured Leave. Either way, leads are by a small margin. Six were tied.

Phone polls, as Goodwin suggests, paint a different picture. Of the 24 undertaken, 23 have shown a comprehensive lead for Remain, with just one marginally in favour of Leave.

Read more: Online polls got the London Mayoral race right – don’t ignore them for Brexit

Goodwin is joined by Sporting Index's Ed Fulton. He says that "polls can and do vary as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, and the markedly different results online and phone polls have returned so far may cause some to wonder what the true state of play is."

Fulton points, however, to how accurate online polling was in the London mayoral election. Both Opinium and YouGov were spot on in predicting a 57-43 win for Khan.

“But however varied the polls may be, our political spreadbetting markets indicate our traders haven’t changed their minds too much. They indicate a vote for Remain will prevail with 54.5 per cent of the vote to Leave’s 45.5 per cent, from a turnout of just 62.5 per cent of the electorate."

“The only way to truly measure which polling method – online or phone – is correct, is to wait for the result to be read out on 24 June.”

As a result of the misty picture with polling, some have turned their attention to bookies, such as Sporting Index.

Bookmakers are even more confident of a Remain vote. Ladbrokes, for example, are offering 2/9 on Remain, indicating a 77 per cent chance, while Leave has odds of 3/1, indicating a 23 per cent chance. That's shifted from 33 per cent from within one week.

William Hill, meanwhile, have cut their odds of Remain to 1/5, indicating an 83 per cent likelihood. And Betway's odds on Leave have been pushed out to 3/1, the longest since betting became available.

BetVictor and Betfred are both offering 7/2 on a Leave vote.

As alluded to by Fulton, turnout will be critical for both sides on the day, but perhaps more so for those backing Remain. If you are someone who dislikes the EU with a passion, you probably aren’t going to forget to vote.

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