U.K. voters have vacated the Brexit middle ground in favor of the extreme positions of either revoking Article 50 or pursuing a no-deal Brexit, according to exclusive polling for Politico.
The data, from four clusters of swing seats in England and Scotland, suggests that voters frustrated by the political impasse over Brexit and the failure to leave the EU in March have largely lost patience with attempts to find a deal. Support for a further delay to Brexit has collapsed and respondents are now breaking to the two extreme positions.
The results of the Politico-Hanbury tracker poll also suggest that the new prime minister will enter Downing Street with even less goodwill from Labour and Liberal Democrat voters — some of whose support will be needed if the party is to win a workable majority — than the incumbent Theresa May. In all four electoral battlegrounds, voters said either candidate for prime minister — Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt — would make them less likely to vote Conservative. Only Brexit Party voters could be enticed to back the Conservatives if the next prime minister is Boris Johnson.
One source of comfort for the Tories, though, is that both contenders are more popular than opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in each of the four regions.
With a general election looking potentially like the only way to break the Brexit stalemate, the poll — which included 3,066 respondents and was conducted between June 21 and July 15 — paints a picture of an increasingly polarized U.K. political landscape. Finding a compromise Brexit position looks harder than it did just a few months ago, making the task of uniting the country even more difficult for the new occupant of No. 10 Downing Street.
Get it done
Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, who will leave office next week, used a valedictory speech Wednesday to insist there would have to be some kind of compromise to bring the country back together.
“Some argue I should have taken the United Kingdom out of the European Union with no deal on the 29th of March. Some wanted a purer version of Brexit. Others to find a way of stopping it altogether. But most people across our country had a preference for getting it done with a deal. And I believe the strength of the deal I negotiated was that it delivered on the vote of the referendum to leave the European Union, while also responding to the concerns of those who had voted to remain,” she said.
But even if there was ever a time when the country would have accepted a Brexit compromise, the POLITICO-Hanbury poll suggests that time is now past.
Between 4 percent and 9 percent of voters would countenance a further delay to the Brexit process beyond October 31 in each of the four electoral battleground regions where the polling was conducted.
That is a huge turnaround from earlier in the year, when voters were prepared to support a short extension to the original Brexit deadline of March 29. In February a national POLITICO-Hanbury poll found that 47 percent supported an extension with 27 percent against, while support for no deal at the time was dropping.
An earlier poll back in November — before May struck the withdrawal deal with Brussels — showed that 47 percent backed a “compromise” with the EU, while 35 percent said they were prepared to leave without a deal.
The national sampling methodology in both the earlier polls was different, so directly comparing the result requires caution, but nonetheless, the new polling data suggests a massive shift in voters’ attitudes in just a few months.
Voters in the four electoral battleground regions sampled now appear starkly divided over how a future prime minister should resolve the current Brexit impasse. Both the front-runner Boris Johnson and underdog Jeremy Hunt have indicated a willingness to take the U.K. out of the EU without a deal. But this runs contrary to the wishes of large swathes of the electorate in Remain-voting parts of Scotland and London where 51 percent and 53 percent respectively now favor revoking Article 50 (the formal notification to leave the EU) and staying in the bloc.
That does not hold true in the Leave-voting regions polled, though. In the East Midlands, 48 percent of voters say the U.K. should leave the EU without a deal, if one has not been agreed by the October deadline, while 33 percent back “revoke and Remain.” In the North West of England, another region that voted to leave the EU in 2016, voters are almost evenly split, with 42 percent backing no deal, compared with 41 percent who want to revoke and Remain.
Close to half of voters in the East Midlands and the North West (46 percent and 45 percent respectively) said the Brexit delay beyond March 29 was unnecessary. That compares with 18 percent in Remain-voting London, where 33 percent say the seven month delay was too short.
Even worse for politicians trying to unite parts of the country that voted differently in the 2016 Brexit referendum, the data suggests the polarization between Leave and Remain-voting regions in the poll is becoming more pronounced.
While most voters have stuck to, or intensified the position on Brexit they held at the 2016 referendum, those voters who have switched sides seem to be influenced by the prevailing opinion in their region. In Remain-supporting Scotland and London, there are more Leave voters switching to the “revoke and Remain” position than there are Remain voters who now back a no-deal Brexit. That pattern is reversed in the two Leave-voting regions sampled, which suggests an intensification of the Brexit divide.
If the task of bringing the country together after years of Brexit strife looks harder than ever, the data suggests that the change of Tory leadership will not be a game-changer for the party’s electoral prospects.
Neither prospective leader looks able to appeal much beyond the Tory base although Johnson is much more attractive to Brexit Party supporters than Hunt. In London and the North West, the net likelihood (those more likely to support the Tories minus those less likely) among Brexit Party voters is 46 percent and 46 percent under Johnson. For Hunt, the equivalent figures are -39 percent and -40 percent, indicating that he would put off Brexit Party voters.
Because of the focused nature of the poll it does not provide a national figure for voting intentions. It is the second in a series POLITICO and Hanbury is publishing this year, tracking public opinion in blocks of neighboring constituencies throughout the country (you can read the results of the first one here). By creating clusters from constituencies with similar political and demographic features, the aim is to understand what is really happening in some of the key constituencies that will decide the next election.
POLITICO and Hanbury identified four clusters for the series: the central Scottish seats of Airdrie and Shotts, Motherwell and Wishaw, Dunfermline and West Fife, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Falkirk, Linlithgow and East Falkirk; the central London seats of Battersea, Putney, Kensington, Cities of London and Westminster, Chelsea and Fulham; in the North West, there’s Cumbria’s Morecambe and Lunesdale, Barrow and Furness, Workington, Copeland and Carlisle; and finally the East Midlands marginals of Mansfield, Bolsover, Broxtowe, Amber Valley, Ashfield, North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield.