Both Leavers and Remainers are almost equally ignorant about the workings of the EU. Dorothy Bishop (University of Oxford) looks at research into how cognitive biases influence people’s opinions of the Union, and questions whether, given how little voters knew, the referendum was valid.
As a Remainer, I am baffled as to what Brexiteers want. If you ask them, as I sometimes do on Twitter, they mostly give you slogans such as “taking back control”. I’m more interested in specifics, i.e. what things do people think will be better for them if we leave. It is clear that things that matter to me – the economy, the health service, scientific research, my own freedom of movement in Europe – will be damaged by Brexit. I would put up with that if there was some compensating factor that would benefit other people, but I’m not convinced there is. In fact, all the indications are that people who voted to leave will suffer the negatives of Brexit just as much as those who voted to remain.
But are people who want to leave really so illogical? Brexit and its complexities is a long way from my expertise. I’ve tried to educate myself so that I can understand the debates about different options, but I’m aware that, despite being highly educated, I don’t know much about the EU. I recently decided that, as someone who is interested in evidence, I should take a look at some of the surveys on this topic. We all suffer from confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out, process and remember just that information that agrees with our preconceptions, so I wanted to approach this as dispassionately as I could. The UK in a Changing Europe project is a useful starting place. They are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and appear to be even-handed. I have barely begun to scratch the surface of the content of their website, but I found their report Brexit and Public Opinion 2019 provides a useful and readable summary of recent academic research.
One paper summarised in the Brexit and Public Opinion 2019 report caught my attention in particular. Carl, Richards and Heath (2019) reported results from a survey of over 3000 people selected to be broadly representative of the British population, who were asked 15 questions about the EU. Overall, there was barely any difference between Leave and Remain voters in the accuracy of answers. The authors noted that results counteracted a common belief, put forward by some prominent commentators – that Leave voters had, on average, a weaker understanding of what they voted for than Remain voters. Interestingly, Carl et al did confirm, as other surveys had done, that those voting Leave were less well-educated than Remain voters, and indeed, in their study, the Leaver voters did less well on a test of probabilistic reasoning. But this was largely unrelated to their responses to the EU survey. The one factor that did differentiate Leave and Remain voters was how they responded to a subset of questions that were deemed ‘ideologically convenient’ for their position: I have replotted the data below. As an aside, I ‘m not entirely convinced by the categorisation of certain items as ideologically convenient – shown in the figure with £ and € symbols – but that is a minor point.
|Responses to survey items from Carl et al (2019) Table 1. Items marked £ were regarded as ideologically convenient for Brexit voters; those marked € as convenient for Remain voters|
I took a rather different message away from the survey, however. I have to start by saying that I was rather disappointed when I read the survey items, because they didn’t focus on implications of EU membership for individuals. I would have liked to see items probing knowledge of how leaving the EU might affect trade, immigration and travel, and relations between England and the rest of the UK. The survey questions rather tested factual knowledge about the EU, which could be scored using a simple Yes/No response format. It would have been perhaps more relevant, when seeking evidence for validity of the referendum, to assess how accurately people estimated the costs and benefits of EU membership.
With that caveat, the most striking thing to me was how poorly people did on the survey, regardless of whether they voted Leave or Remain. There were 15 two-choice questions. If people were just guessing at random, they would be expected to score on average 7.5, with 95% of people scoring between 4 and 11. Carl et al plotted the distribution of scores (Figure 2) and noted that the average score was only 8.8, not much higher than what would be expected if people were just guessing. Only 11.2% of Leave voters and 13.1% of Remain voters scored 12 or more. However, the item-level responses indicate that people weren’t just guessing, because there were systematic differences from item to item. On some items, people did better than chance. But, as Carl et al noted, there were four items where people performed below chance. Three of these items had been designated as “ideologically convenient” for the Remain position, and one as convenient for the Leave position.
|Figure 1 from Carl et al (2019). Distributions of observed scores and scores expected under guessing.|
Carl et al cited a book by Jason Brennan, Against Democracy, which argues that “political decisions are presumed to be unjust if they are made incompetently, or in bad faith, or by a generally incompetent decision-making body”. I haven’t read the book yet, but that seems a reasonable point.
However, having introduced us to Brennan’s argument, Carl et al explained:
“Although our study did not seek to determine whether voters overall were sufficiently well informed to satisfy Brennan’s (2016) ‘competence principle’, it did seek to determine whether there was a significant disparity in knowledge between Leave and Remain voters, something which – if present – could also be considered grounds for questioning the legitimacy of the referendum result.”
My view is that, while Carl et al may not have set out to test the competence principle, their study nevertheless provided evidence highly relevant to the principle – evidence that challenges the validity of the referendum. If one accepts the EU questionnaire as an indicator of competence, then both Leave and Remain voters are severely lacking. Not only do they show a woeful ignorance of the EU, in some respects they show evidence of systematic misunderstanding. 72% of Leave voters and 50% of Remain voters endorsed the statement that “More than ten per cent of British government spending goes to the EU.” (Item M in Figure 1). According to the Europa.eu website, the correct figure is 0.28%. So the majority of people think that we send the EU at least 36 times more money than is the case. The lack of overall difference between Leave and Remain voters is of interest, but the levels of ignorance or systematic misunderstanding on key issues is striking in both groups. I don’t exclude myself from this generalisation: I scored only 10 out of 15 in the survey, and there were some lucky guesses among my answers.
I have previously made a suggestion that seems in line with Jason Brennan’s ideas – that if we were to have another referendum, people should have first to pass a simple quiz to demonstrate that they have a basic understanding of what they are voting for. The results of Carl et al suggest, however, that this would disenfranchise most of the population. Given how ignorant we are about the EU, it does seem remarkable that we are now in a position where we have a deeply polarised population, with people self-identifying as Brexit or Remain voters more strongly than they identify with political parties (Evans & Shaffner, 2019).
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. It is reposted from the BishopBlog.
Dorothy Bishop is a Professor of Neurodevelopmental Psychology at the University of Oxford.
quite simple. people who have to go out and work in manufacturing, or service industries see their pay reduced by foreign competition prepared to work for much less, same in manufacturing- more competition, fewer jobs, lower pay. property rentals and purchasing increasing due to demand. Crime soaring because a ‘fit for purpose immigration system cannot be applied within the “4 pillers of the EU’ free movement of people- thus, criminal gangs, murderers, Drug dealers, rapists and paedophiles are free to move to the UK ( this is reflected on a weekly basis in the newspapers, and court reports) having a criminal record does not stop you , or can you be stopped from migrating to the UK. Once again, the average person in the street who is litterate can read about this, and see the effects on daily life. waiting lists for council accommodation extended to a decade or more, and priority is given to those with the most children- thus a eastern european with 12 children is immediatly housed in priority over locals who have maybe been 5-10 years on the waiting list. schools and hospitals packed out with extended waiting lists for even the most basic services.
Its all there, and plain to see for the average person ( who has a right to vote for what are their concerns)
having lived and worked in Europe for 23 years , i never found any problem for moving , or migrating if you have the skill set that is in demand- they expect that when emigrating, in the UK we would expect it too.
I could move to Germany and live next week- but i would have to find a job, and learn to speak german to near native level and have comparable skills to be hired above the locals.
this is normal.
only ‘freeloaders’ slackers and sliders with a sense of entitlement would expect otherwise.
No quite sure what you are getting at Jason. Yes, you can read all this in some UK newspapers but few tell you that this boils down the to UK not enforcing the obligations on EU citizens “For stays of over three months: EU citizens and their family members — if not working — must have sufficient resources and sickness insurance to ensure that they do not become a burden on the social services of the host Member State during their stay. Union citizens do not need residence permits, although Member States may require them to register with the authorities.” and “Union citizens or members of their family may be expelled from the host Member State on grounds of public policy, public security or public health”. In essence UK governments have put in place a system that respects the rights of EU citizens but does not enforce their obligations to the UK. This is a choice the UK government has made, though they have not communicated that to the UK population.
– taking back control in its first instance would mean taking back control of the borders, who comes, stays and who has to leave. its the cornerstone of a working country- just like a functional and fit for purpose banking system is, just like a working police force is.
a good example ( and one that should be implemented in the UK post brexit) is the 1958 Australian migration act.
to emigrate to Australia, you must not have more than 1 years jail, and full medical bill of health for all people and family members emigrating- at a default of this, the whole family unit is rejected.
-A job to go to on the ‘skills in demand” list that cannot be sourced locally.
-a visa that is job sector specific-no farmworkers becoming car mechanics, thus skewing the employment sector.
– a ‘must be of good health and character’ clause, thus eliminating and unsuitable elements from the mix (welfare receipiants, bed blockers, convicted criminals , those with medical issues that will be a burden on the taxpayers)
-any persons in beach of ‘health and character’ requirements whilst in the UK, is deported, no if’s but’s maybe’s or ECHR overturning this, and held in detention until this enacted.
– no recours to the public purse until several years fully working, taxpaying in permanent employment.
these are basics and what is required, and what is expected.
This is how Australia works.
Criminal elements, and undesirables have known for decades that the UK is a ‘soft touch’ on migration and working, and this is reflected in the media and in general, it is not just made up..
people have seen in the last few years the negative impact that the EU has had on the UK, and voted accordingly.
“If you ask them, as I sometimes do on Twitter, they mostly give you slogans such as “taking back control”. I’m more interested in specifics, i.e. what things do people think will be better for them if we leave.” While the article author may not be interested in “taking back control”, I think others may be. Imagine if you had been in India in the 1930s and asked a random member of the Congress Party what they would have to gain from Indian independence, then I think the answers you would have got might not have been much more specific. People are entitled to have national aspirations above reducing the price of potatoes.
I think one must recognise “take back control” as a reasonable aspiration but, of course, it must be weighed against the various negative consequences. And then of course there is the question whether the UK would have more or less control inside or outside the EU. Those are legitimate questions, but you can’t just dismiss “take back control” out of hand.
You are missing very, very vital points and if you cannot see it, then you must be part of it or myopic. The EU is all part of the UN/Globalist/NWO agenda to effectively destroy the economies of the West (including Australia & NZ) by mass immigration (work in progress), to destroy our identify, our religion and way of life (all work in progress) and to even out the living standards between the “civilised world” and the “Third World.”. The ultimate aim is the One-World-Government in which we serfs will serve the ‘elite.” But first the West must collapse. They will do it by the Climate Change hoax, the feminisation of men, the miscegenation of the population, the loss of democracy, ignoring the Referendum as though it was of no consequence, Common Purpose which has pervaded all levels of British institutions, the spreading of drugs, curtailment of freedoms, banning of dissension, BBC/Channel 4 propaganda …. and much more. In effect, the EU is the prototype for the so-called NWO. It’s as plain as the nose on your face to many of us. We see the past and how the Common Market morphed into the EEC, thence to the EU and its dreams of superstate glory. We see the present and we can easily extrapolate to the future. The EU is the Pipe Piper of Hamlin and only the brainwashed cannot see it. Get ready for a lower standard of living, years of strife and living in a dictatorship. Don’t say you weren’t warned. All the evidence is in plain view.
@GeoffG: you forgot to mention that the New World Order is all a plot by the Jesuits and that Jean-Claude Juncker is really an alien lizard. The truth is out there!
Yours is the bog-standard (and stupid) reply by those who are blind to events. But you’ll get it in the end, by which time it will be far too late. Jesuits? Lizards? I think you need help.
@GeoffG: you need to wake up and smell the coffee. Since you have recognised that almost all the world’s climate scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to “effectively destroy the economies of the West” and bring about a “One-World-Government” by promoting “the Climate Change hoax”, it should be obvious to you that some external force with mysterious powers, such as alien lizards or Jesuits, must be at the back of it. You’ll laugh out of the other side of your face when you are being fed to a giant alien lizard by the Black Jesuit.
But I mustn’t reveal too much, because otherwise the Cthulhu will get me.
2016: “We respect the result of the referendum.”
2017: We will respect the will of the people, 89% of the seats in the house of commons were won by MP’s standing on a manifesto of leaving the EU.
2017: Theresa May, I am determined to deliver Brexit. I will get a good deal for the UK that delivers on the referendum result. I will not compromise on any of the red lines, the UK will leave the customs union, the single market, the UK will leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ and no deal is better than a bad deal.
2018: All main political parties agree that the referendum result must be implemented, to not do so would be catastrophic for democracy.
2018: The UK will leave the EU on 29th of March 2019, with or without a deal.
2018: The withdrawal agreement delivers on the referendum.
2018: Parliament is in agreement, the withdrawal agreement is a terrible deal, it does not deliver on the referendum.
2019: May withholds the Attorney General’s legal advice on the withdrawal agreement.
2019: Parliament rejects the withdrawal agreement again.
2019: The UK will leave the EU on the 29th of March.
2019: May exposed as a liar, who is misleading Parliament and the County.
2019: May attempts to force the cabinet to back her at Chequers, with anyone refusing immediately being sacked from the cabinet and immediate loss of ministerial transport, meaning that they will have to make their own way home from the middle of nowhere.
2019: May starts to U-turn on her red lines.
2019: Parliament rejects the withdrawal agreement again.
2019: May asks the EU for a short one off extension.
2019: Video emerges of the EU mocking the UK and bragging about how the withdrawal agreement was made deliberately bad so as to aid the Remainer MP’s to reverse Brett.
2019: The media reports on how Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and a group of cross party MP’s have been advising the EU on how to derail Brexit.
2019: May resigns, but not before extending the one off extension and signing the UK up to EU Defence initiatives, without parliamentary approval.
2019: The speaker of the House of Commons breaks his oath of neutrality and proactively and against parliamentary protocol aids remain MP’s in their plot.
2019: MPs who had previously stated that they would honour the result of the referendum, start talking about people’s vote, under the excuse of Parliamentary deadlock.
2019: MPs are now openly campaigning against their election promises.
2019: Conservative MPs defy the government and side with Tony Blair’s group of anti independence elites.
2019: Despite the fact that the new PMs policy of leaving with or without a deal on the 31st of October appears to finally be making the EU start to negotiate properly, the anti-democracy forces seize control of Parliament, and despite the fact that the EU has not offered a deal, pass a motion that the government cannot leave the EU without a deal.
2019: Despite 2 years of telling anyone who will listen that they want an election to settle the matter, when given the opportunity Labour turn it down.
2019: Jo Swinson the leader of whatever the opposite of Liberal Democrats is, throws off any pretence and despite campaigning for a referendum and voting in a referendum, says that even if a second referendum returned the same result, her party would revoke article 50.
2019: After decades of trampling on the Constitution of the UK, a course of action that will return sovereignty to the UK is declared unconstitutional.
Its has always been about stalling, and finally when we get a PM who is serious about democracy and independence, the elites use their wealth and position to go to the Supreme Court. You can’t blame the judges, they were never going to be able to find for the government, that was how Blair set the whole thing up.
The blame lies firmly on one man, he has vandalised the constitution, amassed a huge network of like minded people, in positions of power and influence called common purpose. It is effectively a shadow government capable of stopping the elected government of the United Kingdom from delivering on its mandate.
This is the real scandal, that a rejected political philosophy, the third way, is being forced upon the UK, after it has been rejected. Such is his power that despite faking intelligence reports that were used to brief Parliament and then used to start a war which has destabilised the middle east, seen genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, caused the last multicultural secular Arab nation to descend into chaos, is directly responsible for terrorist attacks all over the UK and Europe, has sent millions of moderate, educated, Westernised Muslims straight into the arms of extremists preachers, enacted legislation that has removed our Constitutional freedoms, despite this and being the beneficiary of despots, dictators and criminals, receiving vast sums of very dodgy money has still not been made to answer for any of it. The only time it was anywhere near a court his friend and Lord Chief Justice, who not only owed his position to Blair, but was also the person who helped him create the Supreme Court, ruled that he should not face any legal action.
But Boris Johnson broke the law, please do you take us for idiots?
The referendum was a request by the electorate’s representatives in parliament for some strategic direction.
Every household received a briefing leaflet from the government on the matter in question, the pros and cons of eu membership.
The vote then directed the government to leave.
9 regions voted to leave, 3 voted to remain
410 parliamentary constituencies voted to leave, 240 voted to remain.
Of those, 249 conservative constituencies voted to leave, 81 voted to remain, 148 labour constituencies voted lo leave, 84 voted to remain.
The referendum result was further confirmed by the 2017 general election when 80% of the electorate voted for leave manifestos in 2017.
498 members of parliament voted to invoke article 50, 114 voted against.
The parliament accordingly enacted the eu withdrawal bill.
All the rest is simple vapouring, semantics.
And that is the problem. If people do not know about it, popular control cannot be exerted and there can be no democracy. Democracy can only exist where government is accountable and that cannot happen where people do not know what is going on. This whole argument effectively says if we value democracy, we cannot be controlled by an institution we do not know about.