Why economic fears are now scaring Leave voters away from Brexit

Picture: Getty Images
  • Economic fears about Brexit are starting to drive a wedge into support for going ahead with Brexit, polling expert Professor John Curtice has told Business Insider.
  • New polling led by Curtice for NatCen found there is now an eight-point lead for remaining in the EU.
  • The shift is being driven by a significant minority of Leave voters who are increasingly nervous about the impact of Brexit.
  • However, Curtice told BI that fears of crashing out without a deal do not appear to be cutting through with voters, with economic fears still the main factor turning voters away from Brexit.

LONDON – Fears of the negative impact of Brexit are pushing a growing chunk of Leave voters towards wanting to remain in the EU, leading polling expert John Curtice has told Business Insider.

Curtice, whose accurate exit polls have become a big part of election night coverage in the UK, told BI that a “substantial minority” of Leave voters are now turning towards backing Remain because of fears over the economic effects of a hard break with the EU.

His latest polling for Nat Cen Social Research, released earlier this week, found an 8-point lead had opened up among all British voters to remain in the EU.

Curtice said the one thing that had “jumped out” from this research was the extent to which views on the economic consequences of Brexit were driving that shift.

The survey found that 51% of voters expect the UK economy to be worse off as a result of Brexit, up from 39 per cent in June 2016.

That is significant because it was widely understood that Leave voters backed Brexit in spite of potentially negative economic consequences in 2016, and shows that a chunk of them who are increasingly nervous of the economic consequences are switching their support to Remain.

“The pessimism of Remain voters on the economic consequences of Brexit outweighs the optimism among Leave voters,” Curtice said.

“There is a substantial minority of Leave voters who are not quite sure of the economic consequences.”

No-deal fears are not cutting through

Professor John CurticeJane Barlow – WPA Pool / Getty ImagesProfessor John Curtice

Interestingly, Curtice believes that fears of a no-deal Brexit are not a major factor in the shift towards the British public wishing to remain in the EU.

In fact Curtice told BI that voters who back leaving the EU are largely unmoved by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit because they would largely blame any failure of negotiations on politicians such as Theresa May and Michel Barnier, rather than on Brexit itself.

While long-term support for Brexit among Leave voters does appear to be falling, this is mostly being driven by fear of the negative economic consequences of Brexit, rather than any fear of crashing out without a deal, Curtice said.

New polling led by Curtice for NatCen found that fewer than one in five (17%) of voters now expect a good Brexit deal, a figure which has fallen from 33% in February 2017.

But Curtice said that increase has not driven a significant uptick in the number of voters abandoning support for Brexit, because they would blame such an outcome on politicians, or blame “failure of Brexit to meet what they were hoping it would achieve.”

“The consequences of the Brexit process, for both Remain and Leave voters, depends on how people attribute blame,” he said.

“If they think that politicians are to blame including the EU, why should they change their mind? That’s [perceived to be] the fault of the European Union.”

“If there is no deal, it’s because the EU is [perceived to be] intransigent. It’s a question of who you blame.”

“Voters can blame the politicians, or the failure of Brexit to meet what they were hoping it would achieve.

Curtice added: “Whether or not we’re going to get a good or a bad deal is not as important [to voters] as considering whether or not Brexit is going to be economically good or bad.”

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