This article first featured on The Times Red Box.
“In a 52%-48% referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the Remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”
So said Nigel Farage last week , in a claim designed to open up the possibility of a Referendum re-run if the result is not clear cut.
A 66% to 33% result would seem unlikely at this stage. But what are the chances of the vote swinging drastically towards remain?
The answer to this partly lies in the ‘Economy versus Immigration’ terrain upon which the In-Out battle has come to be fought. As the Fabians pointed out some time ago, the Brexiters have successfully conflated immigration with the EU. But they have also, in effect, ceded the economic ground to Remain.
Valid though the ‘Economy versus Immigration’ characterisation is, however, the thing which often gets missed within it is that people who are motivated by these two issues vote and think in very different ways.
The tool which really sums this up is Values Modes analysis – a psycho-graphic approach which segments the population into three groups:
- Socially liberal, post-materialist Pioneers, driven by ethics
- Individualist Prospectors, motivated by status
- Socially conservative Settlers, driven by belonging
As the table below shows, Pioneers – who tend to espouse universal, internationalist values – are traditionally the least amenable to Brexit. Immigration-averse Settlers, meanwhile, who are the group predominantly drawn to Ukip, are the most anti-EU. They are also, on the whole, the most exercised about the European question (37% see it as a top issue, compared with figures in the low or mid-twenties among the other two groups).
But as the table shows, it is among economically acquisitive Prospectors, who sit somewhere between the two, where the referendum will be won or lost.
|“On balance, our country’s membership of the EU is of detriment to our society”||20%||32%||51%|
For Settlers, identity and belonging linked to immigration looms large (as the chart below shows). They feel immigration erodes their cultural and national identity, and their opposition to the EU is felt at a visceral level. As Gillian Duffy of ‘Bigot-gate’ fame put it “I don’t want to be a European”.
Prospectors, meanwhile, vote first and foremost on the basis of their own economic interests. Many feel strongly about immigration, but more due to perceived wage competition than for cultural reasons. If they feel their economic interests are threatened by a Brexit then this will undoubtedly trump their views on immigration. Demographically, moreover, they often fit with Matthew Goodwin’s descriptions of the two Brexit swing-tribes.
But the key distinction between Settlers and Prospectors is not just why they vote but how. Settlers tend to be older and more tribal. Prospectors are almost the exact opposite. They are usually younger and more politically disengaged. And they are instrumental rather than expressive voters: if they feel their vote won’t make a difference – either because the election isn’t close or because the issues aren’t important – they won’t bother.
But, as our research for the recent Jon Cruddas’s inquiry into the 2015 Labour loss showed, when Prospectors do turn out, they can swing an election on mass. Whereas Settlers pick a side early and stick with it, Prospectors “leave it late”. The Settler base abandoned Labour many months before the general election, but it was the eleventh hour swing against Labour from Prospectors – foreseen by TCC’s Nick Pecorelli over a year beforehand – which really did for Ed Miliband and his party.
Prospectors, in general, are also busier. They are less likely to want to give their views to online polls than Settlers and Pioneers which is why we’ve found them under-represented in online polls (which as Peter Kellner suggests, disproportionately favour Ukip voters).
They’ll have been influenced by interventions like that of Barack Obama, who deployed a businesslike, commonsense Prospector idiom, based on queues and competition for business. But they won’t have reacted straight away; the message will have sunk in by osmosis.
Of course, you can never be certain with Prospectors. They are less likely to vote, for starters. But if they feel the referendum is close and their jobs and mortgages are at stake they may just come out en bloc. And if they do then don’t bet against a majority for Remain which will put Farage’s Brexit hopes to bed once and for good.
Daniel Jackson is Head of Research at The Campaign Company.