- Created: 12 May 2015
It's rather early days yet of course, but what might be the outcome of the UK referendum on continued membership of the European Union?
Needless to say, there are many variables that could pull the vote one way or another. It still has to be decided how the referendum question will be phrased and who will be eligible to vote (will the right to vote be extended to 16 and 17-year olds and to British expatriates?). Also, the tone of the debate will influence the result: will it actually be an informed debate about the pros and cons of EU membership, or just a dreary slanging match about immigration?
Another factor to keep in mind is that the EU just isn't a priority issue for most British people. A Eurobarometer survey from 2010-2011 found that 82 percent of British people either knew very little or nothing about the EU (there doesn't seem to be a more recent survey asking the same questions). That level of not knowing/not caring feels about right and could inform the vote, unless there is a Scottish independence referendum style awakening of political consciousness.
But with those caveats in place, perhaps a guesstimate of the outcome can be made using the 7 May UK election results. Although they won most seats and formed the government, the Conservatives only obtained 36.9 percent of the vote, followed by Labour (30.4 percent), UKIP (12.6 percent), the Liberal Democrats (7.9 percent), the Scottish National Party (4.7 percent) and the Greens (3.8 percent).
Broadly, these figures could be a proxy for voting intentions in the EU referendum. The same Eurobarometer survey from 2010-11 found that "EU sceptics were almost twice as likely as EU supporters to name the Conservative Party" as their party of choice, so let's assume the Conservative vote splits two to one in favour of leaving the EU.
For Labour, Eurobarometer found that people "who were consistently supportive of the EU were more than four times as likely as EU sceptics to choose the Labour Party," so let's assume a four to one split of Labour voters in favour of continued membership.
Other assumptions: UKIP voters will all vote to come out, while Lib Dem, SNP and Plaid Cymru voters will all vote to stay in. For the Greens, let's assume 75/25 in favour of continued EU membership. There is a current of Green thought that views the EU as a Bilderberg plot so it seems fair to assume that some Green voters would back an exit.
So: vote in favour of Britain coming out of the EU = (Conservative + Democratic Unionists + Ulster Unionists)/3 x 2 + UKIP + Greens/4 + (Labour + Social Democratic and Labour Party/5).
Vote against Britain coming out of the EU = (Conservative + Democratic Unionists + Ulster Unionists)/3 + (Greens x 0.75) + (Labour + Social Democratic and Labour Party x 0.8) + Lib Dems + SNP + Plaid Cymru.
From this I calculate (with some rounding up to account for the vote shares of very small parties) that... cue drumroll... 54.22 percent will vote for continued EU membership, and 45.78 percent for exit.
The vote to stay in could actually be larger, because of the inertia and fear factors (that the economy will collapse and the sky will fall in if the UK leaves). Assuming a 5 percent swing because of this would mean a 59.2 percent stay-in vote, and a 40.8 percent exit vote.
Come back in about two years to check the accuracy of the forecast.
By Stephen Gardner.