Guest contributor Nicholas Whyte shares his guide to referendum night

22 June 2016 - by Anna Mercer

Director of APCO Brussels Office and leading expert on Northern Ireland elections and electoral systems, Nicholas Whyte gives the low down on the time the referendum results will be in, and critically, what way constituencies across the UK are expected to vote.

The results of the UK referendum on EU membership will be declared in 399 different counting areas on the night of June 23-24. (Some sources say 382, but votes in Northern Ireland will be counted in the 18 different constituencies). Here is APCO’s guide to inform those of you watching closely as the individual results come through.

Referendum Timeline ThumbnailIt’s difficult to predict what will happen on the night, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. One part is relatively easy – the local returning officers have all given estimates of the time when they expect to finish counting, so we know that the race for the first declaration will be between Sunderland in the northeast of England, Foyle in the northwest of Northern Ireland, and the City of London and its near neighbour Wandsworth. Sunderland is likely to vote LEAVE, the other three REMAIN.

It’s much more difficult to anticipate where the votes will be strongest for each side. We’ve looked at two different academic models of the geography of Eurosceptic and Europhile sentiment across England, Scotland and Wales, by Chris Hanretty at the University of East Anglia (here), and Ron Johnston, Kelvyn Jones and David Manley at the University of Bristol (here and here). Their results are broadly similar, with some intriguing differences – for instance, a much stronger Remain vote is expected in Scotland by Hanretty than by Johnston and his colleagues.

We’re not in a position to judge between their methodologies, so we have simply taken the average between the two studies for each area. Hanretty did not cover the Scillies or Anglesey, so for them we have just taken Johnston’s numbers. Neither team tried to estimate the results in Northern Ireland or Gibraltar, so we have made our own estimates there, based on opinion polls and our own local knowledge.

We have classified each area into likely 50%-55%, 55%-60% and 60%+ vote shares for the winning side – adjusted to fit the hypothetical situation that the overall result in the UK is a 50/50 dead heat. Of course, it won’t be. But using our chart you can mark up the results as they come in, and get an early feeling for which side is doing better than predicted, and therefore whether the UK is likely to REMAIN or LEAVE.

The first results of the evening will generally be from pro- REMAIN areas. Salford, due to declare at 1.30 may be an indicator of how the night as a whole will progress – both academic studies put it near the centre of the range of national opinion. If LEAVE is ahead in the national total at that stage, it’s likely to stay in the lead to the end. By 3 am UK time, a third of all results will be in, and the vote shares for each side should be pretty close to the final outcome. If the margin is still narrow at that stage, prepare for a very long night indeed.

Visit EU Referendum Guide to download the APCO guide. 

This piece was first published on on 22 June 2016.