When the Leave campaign began to focus all its guns on immigration, it looked to many of us as if they had given up. They couldn’t win the economic argument, so they shifted to betting everything on a last ditch effort built around a topic they had assiduously avoided to that point in order to at least get the result as close as possible.
But lo and behold, their strategy appears to have had an instant effect beyond what they were almost certainly hoping for. Leave have had a genuine poll bounce, whether the Remains like the means by which they have achieved it or not. But this doesn’t mean Leave are on the path to victory. One good week does not a campaign make. Nor does the size of the bounce itself.
In retrospect, the uptick in the polls should have been easy to predict. Immigration is a salient issue, and so pressing that button was bound to get some sort of a response. But at this point, the bounce isn’t enough for Leave. In referenda, things are stacked against the change option, meaning it needs to be about ten points up in order to ensure the campaigns are neck in neck when the time to vote arrives. In other words, if you are running the change campaign in a referendum, you want to be at least 55-45 in the polls when the day comes. A good case in point is the Scottish independence referendum. Although the 51-49 for Yes poll was almost certainly rogue, the two campaigns were legitimately polling neck in neck in the final week. In the end, the status quo ended up with a ten point victory.
The week ahead will be a very interesting one for the EU campaign in general. Remain need to reverse the losses of last week, while Leave need to cement and even try and build on their gains. They could have problems with this in the shape of Nigel Farage – he’s due to go on TV tomorrow evening and very possibly take a wrecking ball to their carefully crafted immigration strategy by going way over the top as usual. We’ve already had a taste of that with the charming “our women will be raped” talk over the weekend. Nigel can never work out that the stuff that works like magic for the 20% catchment of potential UKIP voters turns off sections of the swing voters Leave will need to win over.
Remainers have every right to feel a little worried after the last seven days, but they can take heart: it could represent the apex of Leave support, and a lead of two to four points isn’t enough for them to win it. Or then again, I could be completely wrong. In an age of Corbyn and Trump, are any of us safe in making these kinds of predictions? For the sake of the country, I have to hope some elements of the old order are still applicable. We’ll know more after Farage does his thing in the next few days.