The first opinion-poll results on President Obama’s intervention in the Brexit debate since he left London for Germany and the EU summit have now been published. They show two things of interest: a small movement toward the Leave campaign, and a clear majority of voters who disapproved of the president’s intervention.
Of four polls, all four shifted toward Leave, by between one and four percentage points. That still left Remain ahead in two polls, and Leave in the other two (but by smaller numbers, in or close to the margin of error). Probably the fairest interpretation is that Remain is slightly ahead but Leave is closing a small gap and that Obama helped to close it further.
Disapproval of Obama’s intervention is far clearer, however. Majorities of 55 and 60 percent were critical. This popular response was expressed in a cartoon of Obama seated opposite the Queen at a Palace dining table, saying airily, “She’ll have the fish” — as the Queen winces and the butler staggers back in horror.
But Obama is popular in Britain, and this reaction was not very harsh. It seems to have focused on his arrogance in telling the Brits that if they left the EU and wanted a separate U.S.-U.K. trade deal, they would have to go to the back of “the queue.” That word is a Britishism that commentators immediately cited as evidence that the speech had been written in Downing Street. It wasn’t personal arrogance so much as calculated pressure from both governments.
That episode illustrates one of the oddest elements in this referendum campaign. Though it’s quite common in modern politics (see Trump, passim) for outsiders and dissidents to denounce the overwhelming influence of “elites” or “establishments,” this is a rare occasion when the elites and establishments boast about it themselves.