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Opinion Polls have been a poor predictor of UK votes in the past few years. Firstly the Scottish referendum, months of an ‘In’ vote leading the polls - to suddenly become neck-and-neck right before the vote, only for Scotland to vote to remain in the UK. Secondly the UK General Election, a too close to call build up in the polls, pointing to either a minority government or a stalemate, was wrong again as the Conservative party won a majority government.

Of course, it is not totally surprising that these opinion polls are such a poor predictor. Taking a roughly 1,000 person sample of those eligible to vote, should in theory yield a reasonably accurate result. But different methods of polling (on the street, online, by landline telephone etc) can elicit different responses, especially with ‘don’t knows’. However individual demographic groups have indicated differing patterns over voting intentions. Given some of the details published by pollsters, it is possible to build a picture of how different cohorts view the issue and may vote.

So, putting aside the issue that people may change their mind after being polled, perhaps a different way to approach the vote is to look at how the different demographics are viewing the issue, and how likely they are to turn out for the vote.

Age is a significant factor in the EU referendum. 

In the last General Election a much higher proportion of older people went to cast their votes.

So it seems the younger generation are more likely to be pro-EU than the older generation, and are less likely to be guaranteed turnouts for the vote.

Let’s take a look at what other variables might be in play come the voting day on June 23rd.

With the polls showing a continued lead for the leave campaign, there is always a risk of complacency among voters and the risk of a poor turnout given the perceived certainty. If the busy, younger, middle-ground of England don’t feel the urgency to vote, there could be the risk they aren’t committed enough to travel to a polling station when the sun is out and the smell of the BBQ is in the air.

Equally there could be a similar case made if the weather is torrential rain, the more elderly may choose to stay inside, particularly if polls continue to favour Bremain. Certainly of the two scenarios, the statistics show the older generation is more likely to make the effort in extreme weather conditions.

With some 135,000 people touted to attend the annual music festival, taking place during the June 23rd vote, there is a risk the pro-EU younger demographic might miss the vote. The event organisers have already stated the Electoral Commission has confirmed that it will not be possible to have a polling station at the Festival for the EU vote. Attendees would need to register to vote by post and submit their votes before the event, raising question marks on a group that already seem less committed to vote.


There’s also another event this summer that may take voter focus away from the EU issue…

Group stages for the international football tournament are being held between June 10th and June 22nd. The EU Referendum takes place on June 23rd, with the knockout stages beginning in St-Etienne on June 25th.

A good run from the England team may distract voters from turning out to the EU Referendum vote, particularly the younger travelling football fans making their way across the channel to watch the sporting spectacle. That said, polls so far have pointed to other UK countries being a lot more pro-EU than the English. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all more likely to vote Bremain according to the breakdown of the polls. Scotland are not in the competition, while Wales and Northern Ireland have an uphill battle in their groups.

Hence the focus could soon shift away from the competition for these nations early on in the Euro 2016 group stages.

Where you live in the UK is a likely indicator on how you will vote. Based on 16 polls the split in different parts of the UK can be shown below.

While surveys and polls with small samples are tending to be a poor predictor of the overall result in recent national votes, they can give helpful information on the demographic breakdown of potential voting patterns. Turnout and national engagement in the issue could be crucial elements on the day, along with external factors such as weather and conflicting events. The uncertainty of turnout, of the swing vote, and of the conviction to vote of each demographic, could all combine to make the EU Referendum result far from the foregone conclusion some polls may lead us to believe.