LONDON The campaign to keep Britain in the European Union has taken an 18 percentage point lead over the "Out" campaign ahead of a June 23 referendum, its widest in three months, a telephone opinion poll by Ipsos MORI showed on Wednesday.
Sterling climbed to a three-week high on the news, which adds to signs that the "Remain" campaign may be starting to pull ahead after weeks of warnings from the British government and international bodies about the economic cost of leaving the EU.
In a poll commissioned by the Evening Standard newspaper, Ipsos MORI found 55 percent of those surveyed supported staying in the EU while 37 percent wanted to leave and 8 percent were undecided.
A month ago the same poll showed a 10-point lead for "Remain", while opinion polls from other firms - which typically show more evenly split opinion - have also started to show a bigger lead for "In".
"It's clear that there is a move to 'Remain'. Equally, we need to wait to see if that's an ongoing trend," said Ipsos MORI's head of political research, Gideon Skinner.
Odds on gambling website Betfair priced in a 76 percent chance of a "Remain" vote, up from 73 percent on Monday.
Earlier on Tuesday The Times newspaper reported an online poll by YouGov showing 44 percent of people wanted to stay in the EU and 40 percent wanted to leave, although the mixed picture was highlighted by a separate online poll from TNS which showed its first lead for "Leave" since February.
Almost all British opinion polls failed to predict Prime Minister David Cameron's outright victory in last year's national election, and the referendum poses extra challenges in finding representative samples of voters.
Telephone polls, which some observers class as more reliable than online ones, have shown larger leads for 'Remain'.
Skinner said the increased lead for "Remain" in Ipsos MORI's poll was down to some Conservative supporters who had previously opposed membership switching to the "In" camp.
"'Remain' has been boosted by a Conservative swing, but they are also more likely to change their mind, so in this volatile election, with voters divided over the short and long-term impacts of their decision, nothing can be taken for granted," Skinner said, adding Cameron's campaigning may have swayed them.
The poll showed 49 percent of people thought Brexit would be bad for the economy over the next five years, compared with 26 percent who thought it would be good. Over the next 20 years, however, there was a small lead among those who thought it would help the economy - something a majority of economists doubt.
Skinner said economic arguments tended to cut little ice with people who wanted to leave the EU, adding that they were more focused on immigration and the EU's perceived threat to British sovereignty.
Ipsos MORI conducted interviews with 1,002 adults between May 14 and May 16.
(Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Gareth Jones)
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Updated Date: May 19, 2016 00:32 AM