The EU referendum voting intentions among business leaders are much more evenly divided than many previously thought, according to a YouGov survey conducted on behalf of management consultancy Clarus Consulting.
The survey of 618 business leaders, carried out between 4-8 April, found that 49 per cent were in favour of remaining in the EU while 40 per cent favoured leaving – with 11 per cent as yet undecided.
A string of other business surveys have found a clear business majority for remaining in the EU – with anything from 60 per cent to 80 per cent backing remaining – and often only small percentages actively in favour of leaving.
But this new YouGov survey suggests that it is not so clear-cut. Even amongst the respondents from large businesses, the split was only 53 per cent remain, 37 per cent leave and seven per cent undecided.
Zak Meziane, partner at Clarus Consulting, commented: “Business, and particularly big business, is often portrayed as being strongly ‘Remain’. But our survey suggests that, across the spread of businesses, it’s actually a close-run thing.”
It’s personal, business leaders say
One of the most unexpected findings in the survey was that 70 per cent of respondents said their vote will primarily be influenced by personal rather than business considerations, clearly indicating that it is as individuals that each campaign has the best chance of influencing them.
This was a consistent view regardless of business size: 73 per cent of respondents from small businesses said it will mainly be a personal decision, 71 per cent from medium sized businesses, and 67 per cent from large companies.
The weight of personal considerations seems to be more of a lever in the ‘Leave’ camp, with 81 per cent of those intending to vote ‘Leave’ saying it is the most important factor for them. This dropped to 64 per cent of those intending to vote ‘Remain’.
The fact that the vote is not simply a matter of business logic can arguably be further deduced from the finding that only 20 per cent of total respondents believe leaving the EU would be positive for their business – and yet 40 per cent intend to vote ‘Leave’. Of those intending to vote ‘Leave’, only 42 per cent said that it would be have a positive impact on their business (though 44 per cent said it would have ‘no impact’ either positive or negative).
Information needed – but will it make any difference?
Despite all the Referendum noise, 38% of respondents said they still don’t feel they have the information they need to make their vote. This rose to 43% of respondents from small businesses.
Meziane added: “One of the major issues for businesses appears to be a lack of information – with nearly four in ten respondents saying they still don’t feel they have enough information on which to base their vote. This is perhaps pushing executives towards making a personal/emotional decision rather than basing it on business factors.
“However, the survey uncovered that only 24% of those who say they don’t have enough information are still undecided about which way to vote. So, is more information the solution or are people already entrenched in their views?”
Business impact: positive, negative, neutral?
Overall, 40% of respondents said Brexit would have a negative impact on their business (14 per cent extremely negative), while only 20 per cent said it would have a positive impact (10 per cent extremely positive).
The most commonly cited negative effect was an “extended period of uncertainty and volatility” (34 per cent) followed by a “loss of business/revenue to EU companies” (19 per cent); while the most commonly cited positive effect was a “reduction in red tape/bureaucracy and overheads” (47 per cent) followed by a “focus on doing more business with other parts of the world” (17 per cent).
However, a third of respondents (32 per cent) said that if Brexit came to pass it would have ‘no impact’ on their business.
In this instance, size matters. Over half (51 per cent) of respondents from large companies said the effect of leaving the EU would be negative on their business, compared to only 30 per cent of respondents from small businesses. 44 per cent of small business respondents said that leaving the EU would have ‘no impact’ on them.
Meanwhile, eight per cent of respondents said that their business had still not estimated the impact of a possible Brexit on their organisation.