Much ado about the known outcome

Credits: Alamy

Credits: Alamy

Emotions are running so high that the upcoming referendum is being called “the biggest political decision of our lives” (The Sun), “the biggest political decision in a generation” (LabourList) and “an existential choice” (Prime Minister David Cameron). The potential exit is also being associated with the “destruction of Western political civilisation” (President of the European Council Donald Tusk). Finally, there are few who doubt that it is the fierce campaign itself, with its atmosphere of mutual accusations and exposures, which played the most important role in the tragic murder of UK MP Jo Cox.

The feeling of bitter confrontation is also fuelled by the opinion polls published nearly every day. For over the course a year now, supporters and opponents of leaving the European Union edge ahead temporarily, and the battle not infrequently rages for percentage points within a margin of error.

Meanwhile, it was only the lazy who failed to spot the articles on how the referendum will serve as a trial for British survey companies. A year ago, during general elections, their opinion polls were failures. Consequently, a public inquiry was held which established that the reason was banal and had to do with unrepresentative samples.

Here, for example, the Wall Street Journal writes about the problems with the surveys in the run-up to the referendum. The Financial Times does so here. And here is Bloomberg. The common thread running through these articles is the impossibility of coming to a clear understanding of how far one can trust public opinion polls and, accordingly, lose the feeling of uncertainty.

The question arises here of whether or not there are other methods for assessing and predicting the referendum’s outcome. Undoubtedly, there are. However, we should immediately recognise that they are considered marginal in comparison with mainstream sociology and are present only in blogs. For instance, a survey of assessments and methodologies may be found in the Financial Times blog. Alternative assessments speaking of unconditional victory for status quo supporters have been present in the authoritative blogs Number Cruncher Politics and Elections Etc since at least May.

However, there is at least one more method which, in the given situation, seems rather more convincing than the sociologists’ feeble attempts. It appeals to the commonly known marketing techniques and the traditionally deep connection British politicians have with their constituencies. This is the analysis of the behaviour of public opinion leaders as expressed in open letters as well as the positions of members of parliament and government.

This method shows that no matter how much is said about the intense struggle and however much the feeling of uncertainty escalates, in reality the outcome has long been known. It is hard to believe that a peasants’ revolt  – as one of the Eurosceptics’ leaders, Nigel Farage, called his campaign – can stop the establishment, mobilising everyone for victory.

Although public officials are formally prohibited from using their positions in the campaign, it is impossible not to notice the role played by the state machine in initiating collective letters, including in the budgetary sphere. Here the trade unions have supported remaining in the EU. Here the police have done so. Here – the doctors, cultural heavyweights (including Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley) and university leaders.  If this is somehow not enough, there are also Nobel laureates and all 20 clubs in the English football Premier League. Furthermore, this is not taking into account the less grandiose appeals, for example, from historians, economists and former politicians.

Finally, the alignment in parliament is similarly far from advantageous for those advocating exiting the EU. It is known that, up through the present moment, nearly 500 of 650 MPs are inclined to support membership in the European Union. In the government, there are four times as many pro-European ministers than the number of their opponents.

Thus, judging from all the might of the resources employed and the way the forces line up, how can there be any doubt?

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