Tracking public opinion on Brexit

This week a poll was released showing that just 42% of people think Britain was right to vote to leave the European Union. For some, this is evidence of ‘Bregret’, but others have taken this poll with a pinch of salt, considering past polling errors. So how far exactly has public opinion changed since last June?

Tom Williams
4 min readOct 15, 2017


Pre — Referendum

Just 3 weeks until the EU Referendum, polls showed a tight contest between remain and leave, though most gave leave a modest advantage. By the middle of June, this advantage was much more substantial, five polls released successively during this time showed leave leads of between 5 and 10 percentage points. Though by the day of the referendum polls had swung decisively towards remain — which was hypothesised to be an effect of a ‘pro-status quo swing’ — common during elections and referenda. It was this polling data that made so many people surprised to see that 52% of the population had voted for our exit from the EU.

Post — Referendum

Despite a fall in the value of Sterling and the threat of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, there was little evidence of widespread regret among leavers following the referendum. The country seemed optimistic about their leader Theresa May. Moreover, there was little change in support for the unapologetically pro — European Liberal Democrats who continued to poll in single digits in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

In August, brexiteers continued to stand by their decision, 46% of people said Britain was right to leave and only 42% said we made the wrong decision.

However, in the following months evidence began to mount that remainers were on the up and, were mobilising as a serious electoral force.

In the October by — election in Witney the Liberal Democrats saw their vote share increase four folds to over 30% and, the vote in Richmond Park at the beginning of December proved even more fruitful for the party who, against the odds, won 50% of votes and took the seat from Brexiteer Zac Goldsmith.

Importantly, the Lib Dem fightback did not seem isolated to the leafy suburbs of Richmond, in the aftermath of the by — election the party recorded their highest poll rating for years, 14%.

The result of the General Election was miles apart from what polls had predicted immediately after May’s election call on April 18th

Fast forward to Theresa May’s calling of an election and, the Lib Dems had maintained most of their momentum, and were projected to win around 10–12% of the vote. However, scandals surrounding their leader’s views on homosexuality as well as, the siphoning off of voters to Labour as Corbyn’s popularity increased meant that the Lib Dems eventually won just 7.6% of votes — a downgrade on their 2015 vote share.

Nevertheless, the election result gave remainers hope, a government which was pursuing a ‘hard Brexit’ had lost their majority, as far as they were concerned this was a mandate for a much ‘softer’ exit from the EU. And, regardless of whether anti-Brexit sentiment caused the government’s loss of its majority it is clear from this week’s YouGov poll that there has been a shift in public opinion against leave (just 42% think we made the right decision last June).

Does this show that remain would win a second referendum? Maybe, though polls like this do have a margin of error — meaning leave may still have majority support, however, it does show a direction of travel away from Brexit. The question is how many more people, if any, will turn against Brexit? More importantly, if opposition to Brexit increases significantly, to what extent does that change the government’s course and does it mean there could be an ‘exit from Brexit’?



Tom Williams

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