Conservative rebels pushing for an in-or-out referendum on Europe are riding the tide of public opinion, according to a Guardian/ICM poll. Some 70% of voters want a vote on Britain’s EU membership, and by a substantial nine-point margin respondents say they would use it to vote for UK withdrawal.
Forty-nine per cent of voters would vote to get Britain out of Europe, as against just 40% who prefer to stay in.
There is a clear majority for staging a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe in each of the social classes and across the regions and nations of the UK. Men and women are similarly keen, as are supporters of all three main parties, although rather more Conservative (71%) than Labour voters (65%) are calling for a poll. Overall, just 23% of all voters say they would be against a vote that „could ask the public whether the UK should remain in the European Union or pull out instead“.
On the crunch question of which way they would vote, there are marked differences across the age range, and by party support. Where just 28% of the youngest voters aged 18-24 would vote to quit the EU, 63% of those aged 65+ would do the same.
An outright majority of Tory voters – some 56% – would vote to leave, as against 34% who would prefer to stay in. By contrast among Labour and Liberal Democrats, there are majorities for staying in Europe, although there are also sizeable minorities among both parties‘ supporters – of 38% and 44% respectively – who indicate that they would vote to get out.
As David Cameron stands up to make the case against staging a referendum, he will argue that regardless of the public’s feelings on Europe, the issue is not currently their most pressing priority. Past polling evidence bears that out, with just 1% of the electorate having told ICM in the runup to the last general election that Europe was the most important question in how they would cast their vote.
But Monday’s poll contains signs that the Euro-sceptical side of public opinion is firmer than the Euro-enthusiast element. The 40% who would vote to stay in split relatively equally, between 23% who say they would definitely vote to stay in and 18% who say they would only probably do so. Among the 49% who want to quit, by contrast, 34% describe their position as „definite“, more than twice as many as the 15% who say they would „probably“ vote to leave.
The 49%-40% split for pulling out of the EU represents a total turnaround in public opinion, as compared to a decade ago. When ICM asked a slightly differently worded question in May 2001, by 68% to 19% the public indicated Britain should remain a member, a huge 49% lead for the pro-Europeans. And the most Euro-sceptical segment of opinion has grown rapidly: where 34% of all respondents now say they would „definitely“ vote for pulling out, in 2001 just 13% said they were „strongly“ in favour of pulling out.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,003 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 21-23 October 2011. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.