Do Voters want ‘No Deal’?

Anthony B. Masters
Apr 6 · 5 min read

On Twitter, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (Conservative, North East Somerset) has shared an image which claims [edited for clarity]: “the country wants No Deal” and “No Deal is consistently the preferred option of the British public”. The post has been shared over 3,300 times.

This article will examine the polling questions cited in the image, and consider polling evidence on whether the British public wishes to leave the European Union without any deal (‘No Deal’).

In short

Three-way referendums: In a choice between remaining in the EU, leaving with the negotiated deal, or leaving without a deal, Remain consistently wins.

Selective: The highest figure — corresponding to a question choice between Remain versus No Deal — was selected from a poll of Conservative members.

Popularity: In questions on what to do next (with five options), about 3 in 10 people choose No Deal. The country does not appear to support No Deal.

The Three Figures

The image cites three different polling figures — one of which refers to the Conservative party membership. It is implausible to ask everyone: surveys are used to estimate opinion, and these estimates are subject to uncertainty.

First Figure: 76% of Conservative Party members chose No Deal

This figure comes from YouGov polling of self-reported Conservative members, commissioned by the ESRC Party Members Project. Conducted between 17th — 22nd December 2018, the poll asks the following question:

Imagine there was a new referendum on Brexit, with the options of Britain remaining in the European Union, or leaving the European Union without a deal. How would you vote?

The choice is between Remain and No Deal. In that question, 76% of party members answering the survey chose No Deal.

Other questions were also asked in the same survey. Hypothetical referendum questions were also asked for the negotiated deal (‘Deal’) versus No Deal (64% for No Deal), and a three-way referendum between Remain, Deal and No Deal (57% for No Deal).

The Conservative Party membership heavily voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum. (Source: YouGov/ESRC Party Members Project)

The image selected the highest of these three figures to represent the “preferred option” of Conservative party members.

Second figure: 45% prefer No Deal in a recent ComRes poll

Conducted on 2nd April 2019 and sponsored by Leave Means Leave, ComRes interviewed 1,009 GB adults via an internet panel. The figure being quoted is from an agree-disagree question in that survey:

Theresa May often said in Parliament that the UK would definitely leave the EU on 29th March. Some are blaming her for the Brexit delay until at least the 12th April, while others are blaming MPs more generally.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Instead of delaying Brexit, the UK should just leave on the agreed date to trade on WTO rules

Some people tend to answer ‘agree’ in these kinds of questions, due to their personality, trying to answer the survey quickly, or other reasons. (Survey researchers called this effect ‘acquiescence bias’.)

The question reminds respondents of the initial leaving date, and the statement puts forward the UK “should just leave” without “delaying”. The question does not provide a reason as to why the UK government or Parliament might wish to delay, or what the consequences are of trading “on WTO rules”.

Third figure: 44% prefer No Deal in a recent YouGov poll

On 31st March — 1st April 2019, YouGov conducted a poll of 2,098 GB adults via their internet panel. The question being referred to is:

And if Britain has not agreed a deal by April 12th and the European Union refused to grant a further extension, what do you think should happen?

The only options were to “leave the European Union without a deal”, “withdraw our application to leave and remain in the EU” (42%), and “don’t know”. In that scenario — where the negotiated deal has not been agreed and no extension is granted — No Deal and Remain have similar shares in public opinion.

Anthony Wells of YouGov has highlighted problems with citing this question as proof of a public desire for leaving without any deal.

From the same survey sample: 50% believed that No Deal was a bad outcome, and 26% said No Deal was their preferred outcome (in a question with four options).

When given four options, holding a new referendum with a changed result was the most preferred option. (Source: YouGov/Anthony Wells/Twitter)

How popular is No Deal?

As Prof Curtice highlights, there are two main strategies for judging the popularity of No Deal: putting No Deal against other potential options, and asking people directly about leaving the EU without any deal.

When asking people how they would vote in a hypothetical referendum between Deal, No Deal and Remain: No Deal is consistently placed second, with Remain winning.

In that referendum, no poll has shown a No Deal vote intention share exceeding 30% (before excluding people saying they don’t know). However, such a question was last asked by a British Polling Council member in January 2019.

No BPC member has shown a No Deal vote intention share of more than 30%. (Source: What UK Thinks EU)

YouGov and Survation have asked about referendum choice between Remain and No Deal. The Remain option is consistently more popular, with most readings for No Deal vote intention below 40%.

All polling readings for No Deal (versus Remain) have been between 35% and 41%. (Source: What UK Thinks EU)

Alternately, Opinium have asked people what they believe should happen next, after Parliament has rejected the negotiated withdrawal agreement. This is not the same as how they would vote in a referendum.

Opinium’s question has five options: No Deal, re-negotiate, a general election, a public vote between Deal and No Deal, and a public vote between Deal and Remain.

The two rising options suggest polarisation among a divided public. No Deal is increasingly the preferred option of 2016 Leave voters, and a Remain-Deal public vote is gaining greater backing among 2016 Remain voters.

The most popular option is estimated to be backed by 29% in the latest reading. (Source: What UK Thinks EU)

The second strategy is to ask people directly about leaving the EU without a deal.

YouGov’s question on whether people think No Deal is a good or bad outcome shows about half of the British electorate thinks it is bad outcome. This is broadly stable from seven different readings.

Direct questions of support and opposition are sparsely undertaken, under a variety of wordings. The latest question by Deltapoll finds that an estimated 45% are opposed to No Deal, with 38% in support.

Making conditions in the question wording can yield higher levels of support for No Deal, such as ComRes’s agree-disagree question on the basis that ‘the EU refuses to make more concessions’.

Increased polarisation in the electorate makes the MPs’ decisions even more difficult. Leave voters may want ‘No Deal’, but the country does not appear to.

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