Demography undermining the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum

Support for Remain was hightest among young voters and lowest amongst elderly in 2016. Young people coming onto the register and older voters dying is gradually changing the balance. Even if nothing else changes, these demographic changes will remove the majority for Leave towards the end of 2019. This erosion of the legitimacy of the 2016 vote is a strong argument for a People’s Vote.

Support for Remain was highest among young voters and lowest amongst the elderly in the 2016 referendum. Young people coming onto the register and older voters dying is gradually changing the balance. It will take only a few years to reverse the result. In among all the reasons for a People’s Vote, this erosion of the legitimacy of the 2016 vote is a powerful reason to ask voters again.

There’s been lots of discussion of whether the 2016 referendum result makes sense as “the will of the people”. Much of that has centred on lies from the Leave campaign, their apparent bending of election law and the possibility of Russian interference. But YouGov found that 71% of those under 24 who voted, voted for Remain, where among the over 65s that figure falls to 36%. The implication is that, even if no-one changes their mind and there’s no change in voter participation, Remain will be ahead of Leave by the end of 2019.

Writing soon after the referendum, David Howarth asked if it is reasonable for the elderly to bind the young like this.

In May 2018 The Express took up the story, and also naming serious concern over the long term legitimacy of the result.

The numbers

The poll in 2016 simply records the numbers voting Remain and Leave. Various organisations undertook polls soon after the referendum in which they asked people whether they voted, and if so, how. For the purposes of this post, I am drawing on a YouGov poll, offering some fine-grained data. I’m making four assumptions:

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The People’s Vote is not in the bag, alas

A People’s Vote is looking increasingly likely, but it’s outcome is not in the bag, especially if there are three options.

People’s Vote March, September 2018

There’s a warning in a comment from Gina Miller: “We discovered that a vast swathe of people who would vote for no deal across the country would do so because their perception is that no deal means remaining”.

As a strong supporter of full EU membership, the danger is that I seize on every opinion poll that suggests Remain would win in a People’s Vote. But the polls are still uncomfortably close: Remain is ahead almost everywhere, but not by nearly enough. The tracking at whatukthinks.org shows Remain on 36%, Leave on 33% and “don’t know” at 31%. That’s too close. Over at BrexitCentral numbers are being quoted that show Leave in a strong position. My twitter feed showed a BMG poll putting Remain at 52% and Leave at 40%, with the gap widening, but BMG also have a more fine-grained poll showing 51% against a second referendum, and “Canada Plus” as the preferred option for all age groups except those under 34.

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Major donation to The People’s Vote

Julian Dunkerton’s donation of £1Million to the People’s Vote campaign is a major boost and will fund some detailed polling work. But trying to find out what people now think has been dismissed by Brexiteers as subverting the will of the people. That speaks volumes for the motivation of the hardline Brexiteers.

Dunkerton’s donation is a major boost for The People’s Vote.

He said: “I will be paying for one of the most detailed polling exercises ever undertaken by a campaign so that more and more people have the confidence to demand the democratic right for their voice to be heard.”

In what now feels an almost-inevitable response, the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen claimed, that the People’s Vote campaign is not about democracy, and is instead an attempt to overturn the referendum.

A couple of things leap out from this.

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