Back to the polls. I’ve dwelt awhile on Europe’s own polling about Europe. It was the subject of last Thursday’s To The Point post, as well as Tuesday’s and now today’s. This isn’t me going against what I’ve said before, and softening on opinion polls; these numbers should always be treated with a degree of dubiousness. It’s just that the Eurobarometer is one of the few places where European countries’ views can be directly compared to each other, and over fairly long periods too.
Our image of the EU. In any case, I’ll keep this even shorter than usual. The above graph shows the UK’s responses to one of the Eurobarometer’s questions: “In general, does the EU conjure up for you a very positive, fairly positive, neutral, fairly negative or very negative image?” It collapses together the positive and negative responses for simplicity’s sake, but here are the full numbers from the latest survey: very positive, 4 per cent; fairly positive, 26 per cent; neutral, 36 per cent; fairly negative, 22 per cent; and very negative, 9 per cent.
Neutrality on top. What stands out to me is the, erm, intensity of our neutrality. “Neutral” is the most popular response in the latest survey, but it also the most consistent across many surveys. Whereas negative and positive sentiments have fluctuated quite wildly (mostly, it seems, in response to the Euro crisis), the neutral line has stayed within the same ten percentage point range for 12 years.
Not just in the UK. This is generally true of other countries too. Across the entire European Union, the average score for “neutral” in the latest survey was 38 per cent, compared to 37 per cent for “positive”, and 23 per cent for “negative”. Even the Greeks, who now surpass us for Eurospecticism in many ways, are given to neutrality more than anything else. Their score was 40 per cent.
There’s neutrality and neutrality. But neutrality takes many forms. Is this the neutrality that suggests we’re fundamentally fine with how things are? Is it the neutrality that suggests we’ve never really bought into the whole European project? Or can it be conditioned into one of these, or something even firmer, during the referendum campaign? This is where the opinion polls have few answers. Only the referendum result will tell in the end.