Professor Curtice back at Headland to untangle the EU polls

With just over a month to go before the EU referendum, Professor Curtice returned to Headland to give us his view on why Boris isn’t as important as you might think, why Labour voters are important and what we should look out for on the night.

“It looks like a heart patient who’s in trouble”

That’s Professor John Curtice’s view on the polls since the Electoral Commission announced the question for the vote on the 23rd June.

So much do the polls swing according to demographics: young, old, university-educated, Northern Irish or Scottish, Labour or UKIP, the outcome of the EU referendum is virtually impossible to call accurately.

It might feel like the Leave and Remain campaigns have been rumbling on for months ever since David Cameron announced there would be a vote.

And yet, neither side has managed to pull away from the other – Leave and Remain are consistently shown as being neck and neck.

Recent days have seen the Leave campaign’s ‘secret weapon’, Boris Johnson, become increasingly vociferous and headline-grabbing, but according to the Professor, the only effect Boris has had is to confuse Conservative voters, who have watched their party split down the middle.

When Cameron made his trip to Brussels in February to renegotiate membership, it was hoped that by replicating Harold Wilson’s trip in the seventies, he could unite the Conservatives and the country and therefore swing the vote to remain.

But Cameron’s trip failed to have the decisive impact he had hoped for and the referendum is closer than Number 10 ever intended.

As a result, the Conservatives are unable to communicate a clear message. Labour is lukewarm. Indeed, out of all the parties, and this will come as no surprise, it is UKIP who are the most united where the EU is concerned.

In fact, only 1 in 4 people who expect to vote to Remain voted Conservative at the last election.

This leaves Cameron in an odd position: trying to appeal to a vast swathe of the electorate who do not identify as Tories. As Corbyn continues to take a back seat where campaigning is concerned, Cameron has effectively become the Leader of the Opposition.

Other equally important groups, and this will come as a surprise to many, are the SNP and Sinn Fein. For Scottish and Northern Irish voters who want to see their countries become independent, remaining in the EU is imperative.

The framing of the debate north of the border is completely different. Europe is sold as the pathway to independence, with a nationalist aspiration to be independent members.

It’s entirely possible, that in a tight outcome, the SNP and Sinn Fein could decide whether we Leave or Remain.

Professor Curtice explained why there would be no BBC exit-poll after the vote – because it’s simply too complicated without a previous data set to work from. So, what clues should we look out for on the night?

Local authorities will declare their ballots one by one, which will give us an increasingly useful feel for which way it will go.

If a UKIP stronghold (like Clacton) comes out for EU membership, we can be confident that David Cameron and the Remain campaign have succeeded.

Likewise, if Oxford or Cambridge, with their typically young, well-educated population, come out as Leave, the UK will indeed be withdrawing from the European Union.

However, if Local Authorities declare the way we expect them to, it could be a long and agonising night for campaigners on both sides.