Published in the loss-making Guardian today is a new ICM poll which claims that more than half of respondents would vote to leave the EU in a referendum. And, according to this result, we are told that "the public mood of Euroscepticism is hardening".
Specifically, the ICM poll finds 51 percent would vote "out", split between 36 percent who say they would "definitely vote for out and 15 percent who indicate that they would probably want to get out. This is against 40 percent "inners" split between 22 definites and 18 percent probables. That gives an overall advantage to the outers of 11 percent.
The Guardian compares this with a previous ICM poll, published in the autumn of 2011, which had 49 percent wanting out, against 40 of inners, giving a margin of 11 percent. By that measure, the paper records a "slight hardening" of opinion, putting anti-EU feeling in the majority.
However, when we look at the Observer and our analysis of 19 November 2012, we find that 56 percent of respondents would have "definitely" or "probably" voted to leave the EU in a referendum, compared with 30 percent who might have voted to remain. This was a 26 percent margin in favour of the "outers", which would seem to suggest that the majority for leaving the EU has more than halved in the space of just six weeks.
Considering that, earlier in the month, a YouGov gave a margin of 21 percent to the "outers", the indications are that anti-EU sentiment is weakening.
At least the current result is better than the other ICM poll cited by the current edition of the Guardian, this one from May 2001. When ICM asked a slightly differently worded question, the public indicated that it wanted Britain to remain a member of Europe by 68 to 19 percent. This poll had special factors, though, which made it unrepresentative.
Assessing the result published today, one must recall the July 2012 YouGov poll which had 48 percent wanting to pull out and 31 percent wanting to stay in the EU – a lead of exactly 17 percent. Then, of course, we had the poll published on 24 January 1975 giving 41 percent to the "outers", compared with 33 percent for those who wanted to stay in – against the 67.2 percent who voted to stay in a year later in the real referendum.
None of these polls though – and especially the more recent ones – have any real significance, as they do not reflect the reality of a referendum which will most probably offer a renegotiation option. As we know from the July YouGov, the 48 percent for "out" and 31 percent "in" turned into a 42-34 percent split in favour of staying in the EU if a renegotiated deal was offered.
But, even neglecting that, the figures which the Guardian gives us today offer no us no comfort. Not only are they misleading as to the trend of sentiment, the margin recorded is by no means sufficient to indicate that an "out" victory could be assured.
There is still a long way to go before we can be confident of a win.