Thursday, 23 May 2013

UKIP voters demand referendum...on Eurovision

As the EU referendum debate has heated up in Britain over the past several months, the UK-based polling agency YouGov has conducted periodic surveys asking the voting public whether they want an in-out referendum, and how they would vote in it.

In this week's survey, they threw an additional query into the mix – asking the same question but replacing the ‘European Union' with the ‘Eurovision Song Contest'. The result is rather revealing.
The survey shows that if a referendum on Eurovision were held, the UK's voters would vote to leave the song contest, with only 29% voting to remain in it. Among UK Independence Party (UKIP) voters, only 13% would vote to remain in the contest.

32% of the survey's respondants said they want the government to hold an in-out referendum on Eurovision (44% said they were opposed, while 24% said they weren't sure). The majority of UKIP voters with an opinion said they want the UK to hold such a referendum.

Even the survey's traditional question on ‘renegotiated powers' with the EU is repeated for the new Eurovision section. YouGov asked, 
“Imagine the British government under David Cameron renegotiated the rules of the  Eurovision Song Contest and said that Britain's interests were now protected, and David Cameron recommended that Britain remain a participant in the Eurovision Song Contest under the new rules. Would you vote to remain?” 
The results barely change - the public would still vote to leave the contest. Perhaps this is a troubling omen for Cameron's idea that a repatriation of some powers could sway the public to remain in the EU.

The demographic patterns are roughly the same for both the EU and the Eurovision question. More people would turn up for a vote on the EU than would for a vote on Eurovision (5% abstention for the EU versus 26% for Eurovision), but the proportional split among people who would vote is roughly the same for each question (roughly 56% of people who would vote want to leave the EU/ESC, in both cases).

In both cases, the majority of people under 40 would vote to stay in the EU/ESC, while the majority of people over 40 would vote to leave. London is the region in which people are most likely to want to remain in both.

The results seem to echo a separate pan-European poll conducted by YouGov earlier this month, which found that Brits are the most cynical people in Europe toward Eurovision, being the most likely of any population to say that some countries suffer unfairly from political voting and don't have any real chance of winning the contest. Historically, surveys have consistently shown that Brits are the most hostile in Europe toward the EU.

Combining the EU and Eurovision questions in this week's poll may have just been a fun exercise for the folks over at YouGov. But to me the results reflect a depressing reality.

The EU and the Eurovision Song Contest have little in common with one another. There is no logical reason why the responses to theoretical referendum questions for both should be almost identical to each other. The similarity shows that this is much more about an emotional response to Europe than an analysis of the facts.

At it's heart, the yes-no question boils down to this – do you feel European? Those Brits who believe the UK is ‘part of Europe' want to remain in the EU, and are also more likely to want to remain in the song contest (even if they don't watch it).

But those who are predisposed to be distrustful or dismissive of the concept of ‘Europe' – whatever that means to them – are more likely to have a knee-jerk reaction against anything European. Older citizens, for instance, may have a more hostile attitude toward Europe because of lingering memories of the war, or because of a lack of adjustment to the idea of globalisation.

The lesson seems clear to me. Even if David Cameron is able to negotiate a new relationship for Britain with the EU (which is unlikely) it is doubtful that this would make a big difference in people's emotional response to the question. Even if a new arrangement is won, an EU referendum in the UK will inevitably be more about feeling than reason. And that is a dangerous way to determine the future of a country.

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