The City Listens - new research into the public's views on the EU

The UK public’s decision on staying or leaving the EU will be heavily influenced by economic factors and the views of businesses. According to a new report by TheCityUK, business leaders will be “instrumental” in informing the EU Debate.

The UK public’s decision on staying in or leaving the EU will be most swayed by economic factors, the views of businesses, and what will create most jobs according to a new survey from TheCityUK looking at the public’s opinion on the EU referendum.

With a little under four in ten (39%) of people thinking of opting-out and three in ten (33%) wanting to stay in, the “Euro Undecideds” will be the decisive middle ground where any referendum on Europe is won or lost.

The survey reports that people want to hear from Britain’s business leaders to help them make up their mind on Europe.  Those running firms will be more helpful to voters’ decision-making than party leaders and even friends and family.  Almost six in ten (57%) of all respondents cite the views of business leaders as being helpful  to them, with less than half ‘relying’ on Party leaders (48%), and friends and family ( 42%). Notably, amongst the “Euro Undecideds”, more (61%) say hearing from business leaders than from any other group would be helpful to them in reaching a decision on whether to stay or leave Europe.

Economic factors will have a major role in helping the public decide.  Fully 82 % said they will give ‘a lot’ of thought to the potential impact on the UK economy; more so than other factors such as immigration. Overall, people thought that British businesses’ access to customers in other European markets would be damaged (42%), rather than improved (9%).  People also believe that the number of businesses setting up in Britain would most likely decrease (35%) rather than increase (14%) if the UK was not part of the EU and had access to the Single Market. A fifth (22%) believe there would be fewer jobs for young people as a result of an exit.

People believe that on balance tourism, manufacturing, retail and financial services will all be damaged by an exit from the EU.  This is especially concerning as the total number of people employed in these sectors is close to 5 million and their contribution to GDP is 25.8%. Financial services alone contributed £65bn in tax to the Treasury in 2012.  Respondents thought that agriculture would benefit from an EU exit (a sector employing fewer than 500,000 people and providing only 0.7% contribution to GDP).

Those wanting to see the UK remain in the EU cite the economic benefits of remaining in the EU as most important, particularly investment from international firms as well as the increased influence that being in Europe gives the UK.  Meanwhile 44% of the population stated that being a member of the EU gives the UK ‘an economic boost’.  Those wanting to leave Europe give perceived EU interference, immigration and cost as the main reasons for withdrawal.

The survey found that taken together concerns about the UK economy, unemployment in general and youth unemployment in particular, are uppermost in the public’s mind.  With the economy and unemployment the most important issues for Britain at 74%, followed by the cost of living at 58%, immigration at 53% and hospitals and healthcare at 45%, it is clear that the economic argument has the potential to sway the decision.  In contrast the issue of Europe ranked only 7th with the public in the list of issues facing the country.

The survey also highlights key regional differences on the “In or Out” question.  Scottish respondents are the most strongly in favour of staying in Europe and this is the only part of the UK surveyed where more want to stay than leave.  At the opposite end of the scale, the South East (excluding London) was the most in favour of leaving Europe.

There is also an age and gender split.  Those aged between 18 and 34 are most keen to stay in Europe with the economic factors around jobs being the most important to them.  Those over the age of 55 are least convinced that staying in the EU is in our best interests.  

Commenting Chris Cummings stated: “This research clearly shows that the British public will let the facts do the talking.  The “Euro Undecideds” in particular, want to hear from business leaders, to help them understand the economic arguments and what withdrawal from the EU would mean to them and the economy.

“It is understandable that younger people see the UK’s future enhanced by continued membership of the EU as they have grown up taking for granted the right to work in other EU member states, travel freely across the continent and work with fellow Europeans.  They have a stake in the future and believe Britain’s influence in the EU offers them better economic prospects.

“Our findings demonstrate that in reaching a referendum decision, the public looks to business and not just party leaders as a key source of help and advice, including information on the pros and cons of our EU membership.  Business has a central role to play in supporting the public’s decision.”

The research, undertaken with over 2000 adults from across the UK was conducted by global research agency Millward Brown, part of the WPP group.