Project: Europe Programme

Visiting Senior Fellow, Europe Programme

Caitlin Milazzo, Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham

Public attitudes to the EU referendum, although still fluid, have tightened in recent months, and as of late 2015 there is a strong prospect that the eventual vote may be very close.

A supporter of the ‘Say No To The EU’ campaign hands out leaflets in Ramsgate, Kent, on 7 September 2015. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.A supporter of the ‘Say No To The EU’ campaign hands out leaflets in Ramsgate, Kent, on 7 September 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

Summary

  • Britain, currently on course for a referendum on its EU membership, has a long and entrenched tradition of Euroscepticism. Its voters have been consistently less likely than their continental neighbours to think positively about EU membership and the EU more generally.
  • While British attitudes towards EU membership have often been volatile, a significant proportion of the population has consistently expressed a desire for Britain to leave the EU or fundamentally reform the terms of its membership.
  • Our analysis of around 30,000 Britons reveals that, broadly, those who would vote to leave the EU tend to have left school before their 17th birthday, to have few or no advanced academic qualifications, to be over 55 years old, and to work in less secure, lower-income jobs. In contrast, those who want Britain to remain a member of the EU tend to be younger, to be more highly educated, and to have more financially secure and professional jobs.
  • These two groups think fundamentally differently about the EU and about the issues that feed into the debate on Europe. Those who are currently planning to vote to leave the EU are motivated mainly by their dissatisfaction with how, in their view, democracy is working at the EU level, and also by their strong concerns over immigration and its perceived effects on Britain’s economy, culture and welfare state.
  • In the context of the ongoing refugee crisis and the accompanying debate over immigration in Britain, it is likely that the salience of these concerns over immigration and the functioning of EU democracy will increase. The anti-EU ‘leave’ camp – or ‘outers’ – will need to mobilize these concerns at the ballot box, while for the pro-EU ‘remain’ camp – or ‘inners’ – much will depend on its ability to ease voters’ concerns over immigration and seemingly distant EU institutions.