Mark Croft

Published: June 2016

Mark Croft

EU referendum: on a knife edge amongst business vote, survey shows

Our new survey of business decision makers shows just how close voting intention is for the upcoming EU referendum. We uncover some fascinating facts about what’s influencing business leaders, the confusion many feel in making an informed vote and our view about how the campaigns could better make their case.

‘Remain’ lead is narrow, regardless of company size

Our newly commissioned survey of business decision makers by YouGov shows that EU referendum voting intention amongst business leaders is far more even than many previous business surveys have found. The April survey of 618 business leaders, representing GB businesses of all sizes, found that just 49% were in favour of remaining in the EU while 40% favoured leaving – with 11% as yet undecided.

We were fascinated to find that even amongst the respondents from large businesses, the split was only 53% remain, 37% leave and 7% undecided. This is despite a string of other survey’s finding a clear business majority for remaining in the EU – with anything up to 80% backing remaining. Zak Meziane, one of our partners, 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.” For more information about voting intention try the battle of the Brexit trackers with FT.com Brexit Poll and Economist Brexit Poll.

Plenty of “sound and fury” – but not the information that’s needed

Despite all the Referendum ‘noise’, 38% of respondents said they still don’t feel they have the information needed to make their vote. This rose to 43% of respondents from small businesses. Even the EU fact checker services, developed by many major media companies, to examine the claims of both sides are not being read by the broader business community.

Zak Meziane commented: “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.
So how are business leaders actually making up their minds?

It’s personal, business leaders say

One of the most unexpected survey findings was that a clear majority, 70% of respondents, said their vote will be primarily influenced by personal rather than business considerations. This was a consistent view regardless of company size: 73% of respondents from small businesses said it will mainly be a personal decision, 71% from medium sized businesses, and 67% from large companies.

Is this national vote appealing to personal politics, personal links with Europe, or are debates and voting intention amongst families and friends exerting more influence for business people than expected? There are clearly inconsistencies. Our survey found that just 20% of total respondents believed leaving the EU would be positive for their business – and yet 40% intend to vote ‘Leave’.

The impact of Brexit? – Larger companies more gloomy

Overall, a sizeable minority (40%) of business leaders said Brexit would have a negative impact on their company. Interestingly, despite the scare stories a third of respondents felt it would have ‘no impact’ on their business.

Those who say a negative impact predicated an “extended period of uncertainty and volatility” (34%) followed by a “loss of business/revenue to EU companies” (19%). the most commonly cited positive effect was a “reduction in red tape/bureaucracy and overheads” (47%).  However, there were definitely differences based on company size. Over half (51%) of large companies, compared 30% of respondents from small businesses, saw the impact of Brexit as negative. This supports a recent finding of British unicorns, private companies with a valuation above $1bn.

Time to change direction?

We think it could be time for a re-think regarding the narrative for business. Mark Croft, managing partner of Clarus Consulting , commented: “With just over a month to go, there is time for the picture to change. But both campaigns need to make the business case in a more persuasive and compelling way – or go all out on the personal/emotional arguments instead.”

We want to know more

We hope you’ve found the post thought provoking. We were certainly intrigued to bust some current EU referendum myths about business voting intention and to discover that business leaders are voting from a personal perspective.

We’re intrigued. So we’re going to set up some depth qualitative interviews with a range of business leaders to discover more. We’ll let you know what they said shortly. If you’d like to comment, take part in our research, or know about our change programmes the feeling is mutual. Please get in touch using the contact form on this website.

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