David Cameron has run into trouble for warning Tory backbenchers not to make up their minds on whether to campaign for Leave or Remain “because of what your constituency association might say”. The reaction to his remarks was swift and damning, particularly from those who want out, all of whom assume, to quote venerable Thatcherite veteran Norman Tebbit, that “activist Tories are deeply Eurosceptic”.
It’s an easy assumption to make, but it’s wrong. For one thing the Tory grassroots, like Tory MPs, have by no means made up their minds which way to vote in the referendum. For another, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between those who actually turn up and do things for the party at election time and those who don’t.
As part of our project on UK party membership in the 21st Century (PMP), we surveyed nearly 1200 grassroots members of the Conservative Party just after last year’s general election. As well as asking them how they thought they would vote when it came to the European referendum, we also asked them what they’d done for the party during the election campaign.