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The public are watching Brexit, and their minds can change

Crunch moments in the Brexit process are becoming more frequent and more momentous, and the public are taking notice. New polling by Populus shows that Brexit gained a greater share of attention last month than at any other point this year.

Every week Populus conducts a poll to find out which news story, political or otherwise, the public have paid most attention to. July’s results show Brexit is capturing people’s attentions.

In the week that the government narrowly won its customs bill vote in the Commons, 31 per cent of the public said that Brexit was the news story that they had paid most attention to — the highest percentage since December. Google search interest in Brexit hit its highest point for more than twelve months.

The public at large tune in to politics only at crucial moments and on this occasion damage was done. Opinion polls, static for so long, showed a small but clear fall in Conservative support after Chequers, to the benefit of Labour and Ukip.

The share of attention for Brexit was assisted by England’s World Cup semi-final knockout. Interest in the tournament plummeted when only France and Croatia remained.

Another political story was boosted by this. Donald Trump’s visit to Britain was the most noticed story for a further 24 per cent in the same week that Brexit topped the Populus poll.

The share of attention that each received is a tale of two demographics. Those aged 18-24 were around twice as likely to have mentioned Donald Trump than Brexit, while for those aged 65 or over the reverse was true.

It is rare for politics to command this much attention, especially compared with heart-rending human interest stories such as the Thailand cave rescue and the wildfires in Greece.

In the weeks and months running up to March 29 2019, the occasions on which the country tunes in to politics will probably come thicker and faster. And with them, so too will the potential for attitudes towards Brexit and the government to be swiftly recast.

Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of at least 2,000 British adults aged 18 and over each week, and asked what news story they had noticed the most. The question was open-ended and participants could name any story.

Originally published by Times Red Box on 1 August 2018.


Will Clothier

Will is a Senior Research Executive at Populus where he has delivered stakeholder research projects for household names across a range of sectors including sport, telecoms, culture, food, and leisure – advising clients on the views of politicians, journalists, and industry leaders. Recent stakeholder clients include the Premier League and BT.

He researches public opinion quantitatively and qualitatively for political organisations, government departments, and businesses. Recently he has analysed public attitudes towards ‘populist’ economic policies post-Brexit, and the political attitudes of voters in different parts of the country. He works within Populus’s Reputation and Strategy division, having joined the company as a Research Executive. He graduated from Durham University with a first class degree in English Literature and holds the Market Research Society Advanced Certificate with a double merit.

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