The Psychology & Sociology of Brexit

Sociology

Despite the 2:1 majority vote to remain in 1975,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_European_Communities_membership_referendum,_1975

according to 2 Sociologists  James Dennison and Noah Carl

The ultimate causes of Brexit: history, culture, and geography

“the UK has been the least well-integrated EU member state, and so the closer the EU was moving toward political union, the more likely Brexit was becoming.”

People in the UK were the least likely member state citizens to identify themselves as “European”.  They are amongst the most distrustful of the EU, and the least likely to live in other EU counties.

The UK trades less with other EU countries than most other EU members trade with each other, and has less investment to, or from, most of the other EU countries than they have with each other.

They claim that the reasons for this are:

o “Britain is the only allied European power not to have been occupied during the Second World War.”  But, unoccupied neutral European powers now inside the EU include: Spain, Portugal, and Sweden.  Of these only the Iberian pair suffer from Euroscepticism, due perhaps to the Eurozone economic problems.

o Geography – the UK is relatively isolated (checking other EU islands for myself, Cyprus comes out with similar figures, but curiously not Eire)

o The English legal tradition.  This is completely different from the Code Napoleon basis of most of the continent.  However, I must point out that Scotland has a hybrid system closer to the European ones.

o An established national church.  This would not apply to secular France, but they do not mention that other smaller EU members also have national churches.  I’m not convinced this difference from continental Europe is relevant here.

Their conclusion: “Britain is the least well-integrated EU member state” and “as the EU moved closer toward political union, the UK’s fundamentally less European character meant that Brexit was increasingly likely”.  Obviously (as the authors admit) other factors provided the immediate trigger for Brexit.

Psychology

There is an underlying variable behind the apparent statistics on what sort of people voted for Brexit, in my previous posting.  According to Eric Kaufmann (Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College):

It’s NOT the economy, stupid: Brexit as a story of personal values

the underlying variable is authoritarianism.  “For me, what really stands out about [the British Election Study 2015] is the importance of support for the death penalty [in predicting Brexit voting intention].”  It outweighs all demographic data and party loyalties.  “… 71 percent of those most in favour of the death penalty indicated in 2015 that they would vote to leave the EU.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36803544

According to Stian Westlake, Head of Research at the think tank Nesta “If you look at attitudes to questions such as, ‘Do you think criminals should be publicly whipped?’ or ‘Are you in favour of the death penalty?’ – those things are much better predictors [of Brexit voting intention], and you get over 70% accuracy,”.

As Ben Shimshon of Britain Thinks (which advises businesses and political parties on how to communicate with the public), broadly agrees with Westlake. What united Leave voters in focus groups in the run-up to the referendum, he says, was support for a whole set of “traditional” values.

“They tended to value things like order, stability and safety against things like openness, modernity and other social-liberal values that were more popular among Remain voters. Often it’s about harking back to the past – sometimes a feeling that they don’t belong to the present.”

Which previous demographic findings does this explain?  Young people are generally less authoritarian, and were thus less likely to vote for Brexit.  The same applies to people with experience of higher education, who were also much less likely to vote for Brexit.  Authoritarians may tend to be concerned about national identity, and less accepting of transnational bodies like the EU.  They may also be more prone to “aggression towards sanctioned targeted minority groups”.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarian_personality#Current_reinterpretations

According to Lord Ashcroft Polls

How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why

“By large majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the EU; those who saw them as a force for ill voted by even larger majorities to leave.”  These too seems consistent with underlying authoritarianism.

According to “30 years of British Social Attitudes self-reported racial prejudice data”

https://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/338779/selfreported-racial-prejudice-datafinal.pdf

there has always been much more low-level racial predjudice in the UK than I would ever have imagined.  This is apparently similar in other EU countries.

http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/146-EB2005-summary.pdf

The EU referendum was like turning over a stone.  Some very unpleasant things were revealed lurking underneath.

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