Is Britain Headed for a Brexit?
Today, voters across the U.K. head to the polls to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union. With the final polls on June 20th within the margin of error, could Britain be heading for a Brexit?
If social media conversation reflects voting intentions, the answer could be yes.
Looking at the Brexit conversation across the U.K., slightly more than 51% of conversations are Leave-focused. Interestingly, this aligns nicely with Bloomberg’s Brexit Poll Tracker that is a rolling “poll of polls”. Both our conversational analysis and Bloomberg have Leave with a 1% lead (we exclude the equivalent of “don’t know” in our data because we look for people expressing an opinion on social media). The Economist, which uses a different methodology, has Remain with a 1% advantage.
However, this neck-and-neck national picture masks huge regional differences.
In London, the conversation is a mirror of the national debate. There, Remain holds a narrow 1% lead in social chatter. The conversation is similar in Scotland, where it splits evenly. This is surprising. In polling, Scotland is heavily pro-Remain and pro-EU — Remain is polling at 54% there — and the Scottish National Party, which dominates Westminster politics in Scotland, is steadfastly Remain.
On social media at least, the other constituent parts of the U.K. — England, Wales, and Northern Ireland — are decidedly pro-Leave. By comparison, the latest polls from The Economist have Wales on 51% Leave, the north on 43% Leave and 40% Remain, and the south on 44% Remain and 42% Leave.
This means that it appears that, on a more local level, social conversation is more pro-Leave than polling suggests is actually the case. But if social chatter is predictive, it means that the entire referendum could very well come down to turnout and differentials in Scotland and London.
Referendums are national, not local, affairs, and social conversation is not an opinion poll. Our analysis of social chatter does show building momentum on the Remain side, with Remain conversation up 69% in the last seven days. In the same timeframe, Leave only saw a 39% uptick. However, unlike opinion polls, which tightened slightly, we saw no movement in social conversation following the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox. It’s conventional wisdom that voters who make up their minds late in an election heavily break for the status quo. If true, this will clearly advantage the Remain side.
History offers little guidance. The U.K. has only held three U.K.-wide referendums. The first, in 1975, asked Britons if they wanted to stay in the European Community. Turnout was a good 64%, and the measure passed with about two-thirds of the vote. When the U.K. voted in 2011 on implementing the Alternative Vote, turnout was a dismal 42% and the measure failed.
So is Britain heading for a Brexit? Social chatter shows it looks that way, but that support for remain is surging going into polling day. And ultimately, the X’s marked on ballot papers are the only votes that count.