Interesting observations from Lord Ashcroft’s final focus groups:
The closeness of the race is “the reason I can’t make my mind up. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I really want to get it right.” Still, most people were determined to do their democratic duty: “It means I’m more likely to try and make a decision. If one side was running away with it, I might let it pass me by;” “I usually think, if you haven’t got an opinion, don’t bother. But this is pretty big.” (Not everyone was so resolute: “My mum always said if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. I’ve lived by that.”
A few were optimistic for the final week. The campaigns needed to be “more focused and have actual facts instead of throwing mud around” and “I think that will happen now that Leave is ahead. Before they thought they could just blag their way through.” Most were less hopeful.
Having breached the bounds of credibility so early in the campaign – war and economic catastrophe on the one hand, and on the other an inundation of potentially dangerous immigrants as new members join (“Turkey is next in line, and Siberia;” “I had a leaflet and it just had a map of Europe and highlighted how close Iraq and Syria were. They are both as bad as each other”) – neither side had anywhere left to go. Few in our groups had much faith that the truth was out there, or at least that they were going to get to hear it: “It’s only going to get worse.”
Interesting contrast between affluent Bromley and St Austell in Cornwall…
The Bromley groups were mostly happy with the Leave campaign’s assurance that projects receiving EU funding would be protected in the event of Brexit, and welcomed the idea that the money would be distributed from Britain rather than Brussels: “Why should the EU get to decide what we spend it on?” “If we’ll have enough money to pay these grants then it doesn’t matter either way, does it?”
This was not quite the view in Cornwall: “The European Social Fund and Objective One funding have paid for an enormous amount of things. Objective One funding has put high speed internet in the St Austell area. I benefit from that, I’ve got fibre-optic.” “There is a huge development down the road being funded by the EU.” Wouldn’t you get the same funding from Westminster if Britain were to leave? “I don’t know that we would. We get the dregs. We’re a bit of a forgotten county. We’re just seen as a holiday place.”
The Totnes Question – how will you feel if you wake up next Friday and the country has voted for Brexit – turned out to be a revealing one for our wavering voters. More often than not, it was a sobering thought: “Nervous”, “anxious”, “apprehensive”, even “alone”; “I just wonder what is going to happen next. If that does happen there will be five or six years of change.”
But some said their apprehension would be tinged with excitement, and even surprised themselves with their answer to the opposite question – how they would feel on hearing Remain had won?
“I’ve just realised I would be disappointed. And before that I had no idea what I was going to do;” “I’d be a bit more anxious. Part of me thinks we’d be better outside. I find a new challenge quite exciting. If we hadn’t got that, I’d think, ‘have we made a mistake?’ ”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty