Is Leave really ahead by 10 points?

In the last week or so of the EU referendum there has been some excitement about polling which suggests that Leave have noticeably taken the lead.

Recently, an ICM poll for the Guardian of 2000 people showing that 48% intended to back Leave, while only 43% would back Remain, while a poll conducted by YouGov suggested that 45% would vote Leave while 41% would vote Remain.

Most impressive of all, the latest poll by ORB for The Independent puts Leave ahead by 10 points – with 55% backing Leave, and 45% backing Remain.

It has been suggested that the apparent shift in favour of Leave is due to the fact that immigration has recently returned to the centre of political debate. The Leave Campaign’s suggestion of a post-Brexit Australian-style immigration policy has appealed to voters, offering the prospect of a controlled immigration policy where Britain no longer discriminates in favour of EU migrants – including foreign criminals whom it is forced to accept – over skilled workers from the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.  

However, the Leave Campaign’s response has been cautious. In response to the ICM poll it tweeted that it didn’t believe it – according to its data there was a 50-50 split.

Other polls make this out to be a far closer contest, with some of them putting Remain ahead. For example, in the latest poll from YouGov Remain is ahead by one point.

Professor John Curtice, a polling analyst from Strathclyde University, has just given a presentation on EU referendum polling in which he says that the polls have not been shifting decisively, but that they have in fact been “extraordinary stable” in recent months.

Professor Curtice suggests that ‘Remain’ will gain from voter’s tendency to vote for the status quo come polling day (although of some dispute the idea there is a vote for the status quo because the EU is always changing).

The Leave Campaign can take some comfort from the fact that its supporters are statistically more likely to vote because they have more older voters.

But one should be weary of the polls which put Leave ahead – particularly when they put them well ahead. Polls get things wrong, and people can still change their minds.

So whatever the polls say over the next 11 days, and whatever shifts allegedly take place, Leave cannot afford to be complacent.