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50/50 Britain

Europe divides the country into two tribes like no other issue

Voter stereotypes are often wrong. Forget “Mondeo Man” and “Worcester Women”: there was—and still is—nothing special about them. On most issues, different groups vary less than might be imagined. On taxation, say, or the health service, or welfare reform, there is a large overlap in the views of Daily Mail and Guardian readers, young and old voters, university graduates and those with few qualifications—even Ukip supporters and Liberal Democrats.

Europe is different. A special analysis for Prospect of recent YouGov surveys uncovers unusually deep divisions in public attitudes. For once, the differences do match the stereotypes. There is a huge contrast between the kinds of people wanting Britain to stay in the European Union and those wanting Brexit.

A separate survey, conducted for Prospect, explores the roots of this division. It finds that voters on both sides of the debate agree that Britain’s economic problems are still severe. What divides them is what has caused these problems. But it is a measure of the downbeat mood of the nation as the referendum approaches that, given a choice of 14 EU countries in which to live, including the UK, most of us would pick one of the other 13.

Let’s start with the basic in-out numbers. YouGov questioned more than 16,000 people during the two weeks following the agreement between David Cameron and the rest of the EU heads of government on changes to Britain’s terms of membership. A sample this size allows us to look at sub-groups with some confidence. Overall, our sample splits 50-50 among those who take sides. We detected a modest shift from a slight majority for Brexit at the start of the fortnight to a slight lead in the second week for remaining in the EU. But, overall, neither side has a decisive advantage.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s April issue: Sam Tanenhaus profiles Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican Party Presidential nomination and asks if Trump makes it to the Oval Office, what would he do? Stephen Glover, examines what is happening at the Guardian as the newspaper looks to cut costs. Ferdinand Mount says Tony Blair transformed Britain but he should have cared more about the Labour Party. Also in this issue: Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI5, says that Brexit would not damage the UK’s security and Christopher de Bellaigue questions whether France’s clampdown on radicals is having the right effect. Plus Miranda France looks at the legacy of Don Quixote and the Duel asks: “Should the Church of England be disestablished”?