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Brexit referendum polls: Should we stay or should we go?

Jun 23, 2016

LONDON, England - The June 23 EU referendum is upon us, and the polls suggest the result could still go either way.

As the country prepares for the crucial vote on its future in, or out, of the European Union, polls suggest the debate is neck-and-neck.

Today, the final poll of the campaign shows a narrow lead for the Remain camp, according to the Evening Standard.

The Ipsos MORI survey shows 52 percent wanting to stay in the European Union, against 48 percent for a Brexit.

Fieldwork for Ipsos MORI’s survey of 1,592 people was carried out until 9pm last night, with the results still so close to be well within the margin of error.

Will there be an exit poll?

Technically, no. An exit poll is conducted on a large scale outside polling stations but broadcasters have no way of knowing how accurate an exit poll would be as the last result they have to compare it to is the 1974 referendum. However, pollsters YouGov will be running an on-the-day poll on June 23, the results of which will be announced at 10pm, once voting has closed.

This will be our last indication of which way the vote has swung until results are announced - although, due to inconsistencies in individual polls, no one poll can by wholly trusted.

A brutal debate, dominated by personal attacks and misleading claims, has seen Leave gradually make ground on the once-dominant Remain campaign.

It followed David Cameron's renegotiation for a "better deal" for Britain inside Europe, including an "emergency break" on migrants' access to benefits and a recognition that the UK is not committed to further political integration into the EU.

In the days up to the vote, Remain has made up some of its lost ground, gaining a slender lead. However, this is well into the margin of error between the two sides - and with one in 10 people still saying they're undecided, the referendum is too close to call.

The new polls suggest that trends in recent months remain unchanged as Britain votes in what has been dubbed the biggest decision the country will take for a generation.

Older voters are more likely to back Brexit, with almost twice as many people aged over 65 set to vote for leaving the EU than those under 35.

More voters think they will be worse off if it leaves the EU, according to polls, while Tory voters are evenly split between voting In and Out.

Opinium Research’s final poll before the referendum, which asked around 3,000 people for their views, put Leave on 45 per cent and Remain on 44 per cent.

Historical polling data shows the changes in support for the EU over the years.

In the early 1980s support for Europe was its lowest level but by the early 1990s it reached its peak.

The mid-1990s saw the gap between the "stay in" and "get out" camps narrow significantly and on occasion "Brexit" has been a more popular option.

Since 2014 support for staying in the European Union increased once again.

Support for Britain withdrawing from the EU fell to one of its all-time lowest levels in June 2015 but the gap has narrowed significantly since.

Until February, Remain held a consistent lead over the Leave campaign, retaining between 55 and 51 percent support in the poll of polls.

However, since then the Leave campaign has managed to gain more support, increasing their odds of winning. The campaign went into the final week of campaigning with a four percentage point lead.

EU referendum betting odds and predictions

A lot of people look at opinion polls and make predictions. But there is another way: ask people who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

Indeed, following the pollsters' mistakes in last year's General Election, many are claiming a "cloud of uncertainty" surrounding the results of online and telephone polls.

Some people believe that political betting markets can predict elections, relying on the wisdom of the crowd of punters to sort and weigh all the options and assign probabilities to the outcomes when betting. This way of predicting the result has always had Remain in the lead, but Leave's probability has been increasing in recent weeks.

Betfair's latest odds for the EU referendum are:

1/7 in favor of remaining in the EU
9/2 in favor of exiting the EU

What about undecided voters in the referendum?

There have been 150 referendum polls since the beginning of September 2015 and, across them all, an average of 14 per cent of people were undecided.

This block of voters could sway the referendum result one way or the other, and polls are suggesting that one in 10 people have yet to make up their minds - days before the vote.

Are the EU referendum polls wrong?

Giving how wrong the General Election polls were in 2015, it may come as no surprise that there is doubt over their ability to predict the current vote.

The polls where people answer questions on the phone suggest higher EU support than polls conducted on the internet. Since the start of September, phone polls suggest a nine percent lead for Remain, while online polls have it at just one per cent.

John Curtice, the Strathclyde University professor who oversaw last year’s accurate election exit poll, has said: "Some of the polls are definitely wrong".

Until the divergence between online and telephone polls is explained, "we are in a cloud of uncertainty and people should absolutely look at the polls skeptically."

He also put the apparent rise in popularity for Remain in May down to an increase of phone polls, but was less skeptical about the Leave gain closer to the 23 June deadline.

"In May people were saying Remain were making progress; they weren’t, there were just more phone polls.

"But after weeks and months of basically no change, it does look as though there has been at least some movement towards Leave in the wake of the advent of purdah.”

Our poll of polls seeks to account for this uncertainty by taking an average of the last six polls.

Brexit referendum polls: Should we stay or should we go?

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