The date of the EU referendum in Britain has now been set after days of negotiation in Brussels. Opinion polling at this stage seems inconclusive, with the latest IPSOS Mori poll showing strong support for remaining the EU (at 54%) to a TNS poll conducted just a couple of days before showing a three point lead for the NO camp. The last referendum vote in 1975, confirming membership of the much more modest European Economic Community, was a resounding endorsement from the UK electorate for further European integration
The only real conclusion to be drawn from early polling is that there are still many voters on the fence and those that have picked a side could well be tempted to change their vote between now and June. Depending on turnout, the undecideds may be the decisive actors in the final result.
It is tempting to look at groups of people as being homogeneous but this rarely proves to be the case. In teaching first year politics students and asking them their views on both referendums as a concept and the Britain’s role in the EU in particular I have found that there are a wide variety of differing viewpoints. One might assume that younger adults, especially those who are interested in or studying politics might favour more referendums. However from observing class discussions it appears that many young politics students a wary of greater direct democracy for two reasons. Firstly there is the issue of voter education. Do the majority of voters, who are usually only politically engaged during general elections, have the information t hand to make an informed decision. Secondly are not just another layer of bureaucracy, expensive and dealing with issues politicians are elected and paid to decide themselves?
I think these views perhaps represent the students’ own concerns about levels of political education within the UK in general. “I don’t really understand enough about it?” is a common refrain They care about the outcome but feel that they do not know enough about the issue to make an informed decision yet. Greater engagement results in a higher turnout and this may be a once in a generation chance to affect the future of the UK. It is hoped that when the day comes young voters, who will have to live with the consequences of any constitutional change within the UK the longest, will have had the desire and the opportunity to sufficiently educate themselves about the consequences of the EU referendum.