It’s all in the question

Ever since the UK government unveiled the question it intends to ask in a referendum on the EU constitution opinion polls which use that question have shown a marked swing in favour of the Treaty.

Indeed the latest poll from ICM (via Anthony Wells) shows the difference the question makes.

First ICM asked half their panel the proposed question, which is “Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty establishing a constitution for the European Union?”. The result was a tie.

Yes – 39%
No – 39%

Then it asked a a more general question: “If there was a referendum tomorrow, would you vote for Britain to sign up to the EU Constitution or not?”. The results are more in keeping with what the polls have shown for a long time, a “no” majority.

Yes – 26%
No – 54%

Not surprisingly the “no” camp (for whom the poll was conducted) are crying foul about the question, saying for instance that by using the word “approve” it makes people want to vote “yes”. For example see this piece by Michael Gove ( and note that he is not just a Times’ journalist but also a very Euro-sceptic Tory candidate in the forthcoming election).

I’m not so sure. When the question was unveiled there were very few complaints and it remains hard to seriously argue the first question is not the more accurate one than the second ICM asked, which is about the only other type we’ve seen opinion polls asking. Perhaps the British are more pro-European than we thought. In any case it has certainly reinvigorated the “yes” camp, knocked the confidence of the “no” camp and brought life to a previously rather one-sided debate.