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BCC EU Survey: Business vote tightens as referendum campaign heads to the finish line

Posted: 12th May 2016
  • Final BCC pre-referendum survey shows that, with less than 50 days to go, a majority of businesspeople surveyed (54%) say they will vote for the UK to Remain in the European Union
  • Voting intentions have tightened amongst the businesspeople surveyed – with Leave now polling seven points higher (37%) than in the BCC’s February survey
  • Previous survey in February had Remain on 60%, Leave with 30%, and 10% don’t know
  • The vast majority – nearly 90% – of those businesspeople surveyed by the neutral business organization are now unlikely to change their vote

Nearly 90% of the senior businesspeople polled in a major new British Chambers of Commerce survey say they are unlikely to change how they will vote before the June 23rd referendum. The BCC’s detailed findings indicate that 54.1% of businesspeople polled would vote to Remain, down from 60% in February 2016, and 37% would vote to Leave – up from 30% on the BCC’s previous survey.

The data on voting intentions also shows some divisions based on size and export interests. Those trading with other EU markets express the strongest support for ‘Remain’, with the strongest levels of support for ‘Leave’ among those that do not. Businesspeople representing large firms are significantly more likely to vote ‘Remain’ than those in micro businesses. The findings, from an April 2016 survey of over 2,200 leading businesspeople, also show that individuals are now strongly committed to their voting preferences. Just 0.3% of respondents said they were uncommitted, and only 10.8% said they could change their mind.

Commenting on the results, Dr Adam Marshall, BCC Acting Director General, said:

“As the EU referendum campaign enters the final straight, the race for the business vote has clearly tightened.

“Although a clear majority of the businesspeople we surveyed continue to express a preference to remain in the European Union, the gap between Remain and Leave has narrowed significantly in recent weeks.

“While only a minority of businesspeople report that the referendum campaign has had a material impact on their firms to date, much larger numbers say they expect significant impacts in the aftermath of the vote.

“Whichever outcome prevails, Westminster must shift its attention back to the economy on June 24 without delay. Growth is softening, and Westminster’s referendum ‘tunnel vision’ over the past year has meant that far too many key economic issues have been given short shrift or delayed altogether.”

Key findings in the survey:

Voting intentions: exporters (sellers to other countries) vs. non-exporters

April 2016 Both (n=2231) Exporter (n=1506) Non-exporter (n=682)
Vote to remain 54.1 59.5 42.8
Vote to leave 37 32.8 46.4
Wouldn’t vote 0.6 0.6 0.6
Don’t know 8.2 7.1 10.2

Voting intentions: exporters by export destination

 April 2016 All (n=2231) Sell to EU only (n=497) Sell to ROTW only (n=88)* Sell to both  (n=921) Non-exporter (n=682)
Vote to remain 54.1 62.1 46.7 59.3 42.8
Vote to leave 37 30.7 50.1 32.3 46.4
Wouldn’t vote 0.6 1.7 0.5 0.1 0.6
Don’t know 8.2 5.5 2.8 8.3 10.2

Voting intentions: by business size (number of employees)

 April 2016 All (n=2064) Micro 0-9 (n=1055) Small 10-49 (n=495) Medium 50-249 (n=286) Large 250+ (n=170)
Vote to remain 54.1 47.5 53.7 69.2 67.7
Vote to leave 37 42.1 37.6 24.8 28.6
Wouldn’t vote 0.6 0.7 0.1 0 0
Don’t know 8.2 9.7 8.5 5.9 3.7

NB – Differences in respondents occurred where businesspeople either did not specify size or export orientation, or did not answer the question.

*Figure should be treated with caution due to sample size.


  • The majority of business leaders report that the referendum has had no impact to date on various aspects of their business, from orders and sales (71.3%), recruitment (87.1%), and investment (79.6%), to total costs (80.3%)
  • If the UK were to leave the EU, 35.9% currently expect this would have a negative impact on their overall growth strategy (down slightly from 39% in February’s survey), 36.3% feel this would have no impact (unchanged from previous survey), while 15.9% believe it would have a positive impact (largely unchanged)
  • Asked for the first time about the impact of remaining a member of the EU, 12.8% currently expect this to have a negative impact on their overall growth strategy. Almost half (49.4%) feel it would have no impact, while nearly a third (30.1%) believe it would have a positive impact.


  • 54.1% – a majority – of business leaders would vote to stay in the European Union, should the vote take place tomorrow. 37% would vote to leave.
  • This is a narrowing from the previous survey in February, which showed a 60-30-10 split in favour of Remain.
  • 88.9% of those surveyed are committed and unlikely to change their mind – just 10.8% could change their mind, while 0.3% are uncommitted.


This survey was conducted online between April 5th and 14th 2016, and received 2,231 responses. Chamber members across the country were invited to participate in the survey. The data at the national level has been weighted to reflect the proportion of businesses in each of the UK’s regions and nationally, in line with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Business Population Estimates for 2015.

Firms were asked in the April 2016 survey whether they ‘sold’ rather than ‘exported’ – to better take into account exposure to international markets through warehouse sales, or supply chains.

Electoral Commission compliance

The BCC has adopted a strictly neutral position in the EU referendum debate, and has not registered as a campaign organization for either side with the Electoral Commission. The survey questions were carefully designed specifically to reflect the BCC’s neutral position and to avoid eliciting responses favourable to either outcome. The survey questionnaire was submitted for scrutiny to the Electoral Commission.

Make up of businesses in survey:

1825 (82.0%) – Private UK company

71       (3.2%) – Public company

74       (3.3%) – Part of an international business group

11       (0.5%) – Foreign-owned business

74       (3.3%) – UK subsidiary of a foreign company

40       (1.8%) – Social Enterprise

126     (5.7%) – Other

4         (0.2%) – Unsure

Results of February survey

The BCC previously conducted an online survey between January 25th and February 4th 2016 and received 2,133 responses. The results are below.

Voting intentions: exporters (sellers to other countries) vs. non-exporters

 February 2016 Both (n=2064) Exporter (n=1120) Non-exporter (n=894)
Vote to remain 59.5 63.7 53.3
Vote to leave 30.1 29.9 34.8
Wouldn’t vote 1 1.4 0.6
Don’t know 9.4 8 11.3

Voting intentions: exporters by export destination

February 2016 All (n=2064) Exporters to EU only (n=221) Exporters to ROTW only (n=118) Exporters to both  (n=781) Don’t export (n=894)
Vote to remain 59.5 76.3 30.7 65.1 53.3
Vote to leave 30.1 15.1 57 25.7 34.8
Wouldn’t vote 1 1 4.9 1 0.6
Don’t know 9.4 7.5 7.4 8.3 11.3

Voting intentions: by business size (number of employees)

February 2016 All (n=2064) Micro 0-9 (n=1066) Small 10-49 (n=504) Medium 50-249 (n=282) Large 250+ (n=185)
Vote to remain 59.5 53.9 59.7 68.6 74.7
Vote to leave 30.1 33.5 31.4 22.8 19.8
Wouldn’t vote 1 1.2 0.9 0.5 1.3
Don’t know 9.4 11.4 8.1 8.2 4.2

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) sits at the heart of a powerful network of 52 Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK, representing thousands of businesses of all sizes and within all sectors. For more information visit:

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