I know, I’ve made a lot of comparisons between the current EU referendum campaigns and the ones fought prior to the AV referendum. Some might say I’m simply trying to graft one experience of nationwide referenda onto a completely different situation. I would respond by saying I really, really did expect this all to feel a lot less like the AV referendum than it has done, I truly did. But the parallels are uncanny. The big difference for me personally is that now I happen to be on the side that’s going to win as opposed to the one that will get stuffed. But that’s about it.
A good example of the overlaps between the two referendum situations is the polling on voting intention. I have had a few Brexit oriented folk tell me on social media outlets that I clearly jumped the gun when I talked about Obama’s speech being, as the Americans might put it, a slam dunk. That actually, the polls hadn’t really moved at all and everything appeared to still be on a knife’s edge. I should have made this clearer at the time: Obama’s intervention into the Brexit debate was like polonium poisoning – nothing appears to have happened at first, but the results of the murderous act will become more and more clear as time progresses, eventually hitting a point at which things begin to slide towards one, inescapable ending.
Here comes the AV comparison: a poll was taken by YouGov that was published on April 15th, 2011, one that has this startling look at where public opinion apparently stood less than three weeks out from the date of the referendum: AV YES 40% AV NO 41% DON’T KNOW 19%. I’ll summarise that for you: twenty days out from the AV referendum vote, the polls had Yes and No neck in neck, a knife’s edge finish supposedly clearly ahead. But saner heads knew, even on the Yes campaign at that exact moment, what was coming. I recall clearly when that poll was discussed in the Yes to AV campaign HQ: the younger, inexperienced members of staff figured we were in with a real chance; the older, more experienced members knew it was all over. I remember one of them saying to me – “It’ll be about 65-35 No, for sure”. Remarkably spot on in retrospect.
Most of the wiser heads on Yes to AV didn’t need the polls to tell them we were headed for a hiding anyhow. When every cogent voice in Westminster says something is a bad idea, while every lunatic comes out of the woodwork to support your cause, in a 50-50 plebiscite it is only going to go one way. And sure enough, it did.
So if I’m sure we’ll be seeing a repeat of history in short order, when will the polls actually turn? We’re only seven a half weeks out, so probably not for a bit. They’ll probably go definitely Remain’s way about two weeks to ten days out, so sometime between June 9th and June 13th. The next YouGov poll on from the April 15th, 2011 one was published four days later: it had YES 42% NO 58%. By that point, they had started pressuring I don’t knows to go one way or another – a move which began to give us the No margins that were correct in the end. I don’t knows, by this stage, are heavily likely to vote for the status quo. And there you have it.