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29 October 2013

EU referendum question should be changed to avoid confusion, says Electoral Commission

The Commission warns that the proposed question could lead to misunderstanding as some voters do not know whether the UK is already a member.

By George Eaton

If politicians are sometimes guilty of underestimating the public’s knowledge, they are also often guilty of overestimating it. It is the latter fault that the Electoral Commission has identified in its response to the EU referendum question proposed in Tory MP James Wharton’s EU Referendum Bill (which has the support of the Conservative leadership). It warns that the current question – ‘Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?’ – could create confusion since “a few people did not know whether or not the UK is currently a member of the EU”.

It added that the question could be changed to ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?’ but that this would leave “some element of perceived bias” (since it guides voters towards a particular answer). As an alternative, it proposed ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’, noting that “research participants found this the most neutral of all the versions tested.”

Wharton has responded by saying that his “initial reaction” is that there is “no need” to change the question but that he “will reflect”. With so much at stake (assuming that there is eventually a referendum), expect the argument to continue.

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