Causes of the vote in favour of Brexit

The result of the United Kingdom European Union Referendum of 2016 was a victory for the "Leave" campaign, amassing a total of 51.9% of the vote.[1] This meant that the outcome was in favour of Brexit. Consequently, UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 on 29 March 2017, starting the process of British withdrawal from the European Union.[2]

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The result provoked considerable debate as to the factors that contributed to the victory, with various theories and explanations being put forth. This page provides an overview of the different claims being made.[3][4]


On the day of the referendum Lord Ashcroft's polling team questioned 12,369 people who had completed voting.[5] This poll produced data that showed that 'Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the European Union was "the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK". ("in the UK." meaning: "by the UK." logically implying: "on behalf of 66 million UK citizens not 508 million EU residents.") The sense that EU membership took decision making further away from 'the people' in favour of domination by regulatory bodies – in particular the European Commission, seen as the supposed key decision-taking body, is said to have been a strong motivating factor for leave voters wanting to end or reverse the process of EU influence in the UK.[6]

Immediately prior to the vote, Ipsos MORI data showed that Europe was the third most highly ranked problem by Britons who were asked to name the most important issues facing the country, with 32% of respondents naming it as an issue.[7]


Lord Ashcroft's election day poll of 12,369 voters also discovered that 'One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving "offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders."'[5] The UK allows free movement of citizens of other member states of the European Union because it has access to the European Single Market. In 2015, net immigration to the UK from other EU countries was approximately 172,000, compared to 191,000 from non-EU countries.[8]

Immediately prior to the referendum, data from Ipsos-Mori showed that immigration/migration was the most cited issue when Britons were asked 'What do you see as the most/other important issue facing Britain today?', with 48% of respondents mentioning it when surveyed.[9]

In the decade before the Brexit referendum there was a significant increase in migration from EU countries, as outlined by the Migration Observatory: 'Inflows of EU nationals migrating to the UK stood at 268,000 in 2014, up from 201,000 in 2013. EU inflows were mainly flat for the 1991–2003 period, averaging close to 61,000 per year.'[10]

According to The Economist, areas that saw increases of over 200% in foreign-born population between 2001 and 2014 saw a majority of voters back leave in 94% of cases.[11] The Economist concluded 'High numbers of migrants don't bother Britons; high rates of change do.' Consistent with that notion, research suggests that areas that saw significant influx of migration from Eastern Europe following the accession of 12 mainly Eastern European countries to the European Union in 2004 saw significant growth in support for UKIP and more likely to vote to leave the European Union.[12] Academic research investigating differences in Brexit vote among local authorities concluded that the Brexit vote was bigger in areas that had seen a large rise in the proportion of immigrants between 2004 and 2011.[13]

Goodwin and Milazzo say that "in areas where there were previously few migrants, increases in immigration will have a more noticeable effect – and will be more likely to influence political behaviour" whereas ethnically diverse areas will perceive additional immigration as having little effect.[14] They go on to explain that the non-British population of Boston in Lincolnshire became 16 times larger between 2005 and 2015, rising from 1,000 to 16,000.[14] Boston also had the highest vote in favour of 'leave' in the UK, at just over 75% in favour of leaving the EU, which they believe is due to the effects of immigration seeming sudden and intense.[14] They also argue that their data suggests that if Boston had experienced the UK average level of demographic change then the vote in favour of 'leave' would have been reduced by nearly 15% and they even suggest that areas such as West Lancashire may have had a majority for 'remain' if residents had experienced the average rate of demographic change.[14]

Furthermore, immigration has long been a contentious issue in Britain, with scepticism over the inherent value of immigration going back to well before the UK joined even the EEC in 1973 (which would later be incorporated into the EU in 1993). Britain had faced a surge in immigration in the post war period due to the influx of people arriving from former British colonies (immigration rules had been relaxed as a way of increasing the labour supply after the war).[15] By the mid to late 1960s, there was concern from some people that the new immigrant population were arriving in excessively large numbers and were not integrating into British society sufficiently well. This concern is most widely recognised in former British MP Enoch Powell's famous Rivers of Blood speech made in 1968, in which he warns of the dangers of mass immigration. Powell's subsequent surge in popularity is often seen as a contributing factor in the Conservative party's surprise victory in the 1970 general election. Powell was influential on prominent Brexiteer Nigel Farage, who lists the politician as one of his political heroes.[16]

Demographic and cultural factors

Age of voters

It has been argued that the result was caused by differential voting patterns among younger and older people. According to Opinium, 64% of eligible people aged 18–24 voted, whereas 90% of eligible individuals over 65 voted.[17] It is argued that older voters were more likely to vote 'leave' due to having experienced life in the UK prior to 1973, when the UK joined the European Economic Community which later became the EU, and this memory as well as any potential nostalgia may have influenced their decision.[18] It is also argued that national identity is another reason older people voted Leave. Additionally, it is argued that some older people view immigration as a threat to national identity and culture, which is speculated to be why older people were more in favour of Leave than Remain.[19] Furthermore, polls by Ipsos-Mori, YouGov and Lord Ashcroft all assert that 70–75% of under 25s voted 'remain'.[20] Therefore, it has been argued that a higher turnout of older people and a lower turnout of younger people affected the overall result of the referendum as the older generation was more in favour of 'leave' than the 'remain' favouring younger voters. Additionally according to YouGov, only 54% of 25–49 year olds voted 'remain', whilst 60% of 50–64 year olds and 64% of over 65s voted 'leave' meaning that the support for 'remain' was not as strong outside the youngest demographic.[21] Also, YouGov found that around 87% of under-25s in 2018 would now vote to stay in the EU. [22]

Education level

Multiple sources have found a correlation between having a higher level of education and voting 'remain', as well as a correlation between having lower educational level and voting 'leave'. YouGov found that, among those who voted in the referendum, 68% of voters with a university degree voted 'remain', whereas 70% of voters educated only to GCSE level or lower voted 'leave'.[21] Similarly, Curtice reports that "university graduates voted by around three to one in favour of Remain, whereas nearly four in five of those without any educational qualifications voted to Leave".[23]

It is proposed that those with higher education and higher occupational skills are more likely to value the economic benefits of globalisation, the Single Market and European membership, and so would be more inclined to vote 'remain'.[23] Additionally, studies have shown that those with lower educational qualifications are more likely to be socially conservative and feel that European membership brings about constant and dramatic change to the UK, which would be an incentive to vote 'leave'.[23]

The 'order versus openness' divide

Academic Eric Kaufmann notes the relatively strong positive correlation between a voter's support for the death penalty and their choice to vote 'leave'.[4] He says that this highlights a social division that he calls 'order versus openness'. He further argues that 'The order-openness divide is emerging as the key political cleavage, overshadowing the left-right economic dimension'.[4]

This also links with educational factors, those who are educated to a lower level, generally, feel left behind by globalisation and ‘favour a ‘drawbridge up’ policy of less European integration, closed borders and fewer migrants, whereas the latter group are in favour of greater openness and international cooperation.’[24]

It is argued that data from the British Election Study suggests that support for the death penalty is an example of how valuing 'order' over 'openness' could have affected voting behaviour in the referendum.[25] Those who valued 'order' were more likely to support the death penalty and vote 'leave' than those who were 'pro-remain' and against the death penalty, which are stances considered to value 'openness' more.[25]

The 'left behind'

Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford coined the term 'The Left Behind' to refer to 'older, white, socially conservative voters in more economically marginal neighbourhoods'.[26] Analysing data the day after the Referendum, Ford concluded that 'Such voters had turned against a political class they saw as dominated by socially liberal university graduates with values fundamentally opposed to theirs, on identity, Europe – and particularly immigration.' This was described in as "if you've got money, you vote in... if you haven't got money, you vote out".[27] In looser terms, these groups' wider dissatisfaction with the major political parties also had a significant impact on the vote – with a particular focus placed on Labour's decline in support in the working class heartlands where it saw a significant number of votes lost to UKIP and the Conservatives in 2015.[28] This was exemplifiied in 2019 when Labour lost several more seats to the Conservatives in their traditional heartlands, including seats such as Burnley who hadn't had a Tory MP for more than a decade.[29]

Many other academics have also suggested the link between voting 'leave' and a rejection of neoliberalism and globalisation and the sense of economic insecurity that some members of society have felt as a result of these economic processes. Bateman suggests that today's globalised world has contributed to the feeling of fast-paced changes in society and the economy, leading to the sense of being 'left behind', which she argues motivated some voters to vote 'leave'.[30] In a similar manner to the arguments of Goodwin, Ford and Bateman it has also been suggested that both economically and socially 'left behind' groups "are united by a general sense of insecurity, pessimism and marginalisation", increasingly feeling as though liberalised society as well as the UK and European establishments do not represent their interests or share their concerns.[31]

The left-behind hypothesis is furthered using data on the EU referendum result across electoral wards level as well as across local authorities, suggesting that especially areas with high degrees of social deprivation and low educational attainment strongly voted in favour of leaving the EU.[32][13]

Since the result of the 2016 referendum, it is argued that euroscepticism has only increased, treating the notion as a consequence of the 'left behind' as opposed to a cause.[33]

Furthermore, the Brexit referendum is seen to have been a reaction against the austerity measures and the fact that people are living in poverty despite being in employment. More specifically, Brexit has also managed to further divide between those living in London and other cities that are in a strong economic position and those who live in small towns or the countryside where most votes to leave the EU were recorded.[34] Similarly, support for UKIP was propped up because of austerity, and the EU referendum could have resulted in a remain victory if it wasn't for the austerity programme that was implemented. Calculations suggest leave support could well have been 6 percentage points lower. Consequently, the overall picture suggests that those affected by reforms in welfare, showed greater support for UKIP, and therefore voted Leave in 2016.[35]

Nevertheless, what is most striking economically, is that most people thought that Brexit would be bad for the economy and their own finances. However, they thought it would ensure lower immigration levels and the ability to claim back national sovereignty, even though most were not wary of the repercussions or did not think it would make any difference at all.[36]

Britons felt less integrated with the EU than other European citizens

Academics James Dennison and Noah Carl argue that "the most important phenomenon to be explained vis-à-vis the referendum result in our view is that a sizable Eurosceptic faction has remained extant in Britain over the last four decades".[37] Using data from the Eurobarometer survey they showed that fewer Britons considered themselves European than any other EU nationality. Furthermore, they show that British trading patterns, capital flows and emigration patterns were the least Europeanised of any EU member state.

John Curtice says that if voters "felt that membership of the EU undermined Britain's distinctive identity were more likely to vote for Leave" and goes on to report that the same was true for voters "with a weak sense of European identity".[23] Such research implies that how attached voters felt to either Britain or to the EU influenced their decision, voting in favour of whichever identity they felt more strongly attached to.

Furthermore, in terms of integration, Britain had developed a reputation of being "an awkward partner" in Europe. Britain's reluctance to integrate itself with Europe was reaffirmed by the position it was in following the conclusion of the Second World War. Its distinct sense of 'otherness' was reinforced by the fact that it was one of the only European states not to be occupied during the war. Its empire, while exhausted, remained intact, and senior civil servants still regarded Britain as a major global power. A Foreign Office assessment following the war's end noted that "Great Britain must be regarded as world power of the second rank and not merely as a unit in a federated Europe".[38] Once Britain joined the EEC, this reluctance towards integration was seen further. The UK had the most opt-outs of any member state, and along with Ireland was the only member to acquire an opt-out of the Schengen Area agreement. It has notable opt-outs from the European monetary union, and individual pieces of European legislation regarding Justice and Home Affairs.[39] It has been suggested that Britain's reservations about European integration, as well as its unique historical position within Europe and stance of remaining less integrated than other EU states, laid the groundwork for the potential that Britain would decide to exit the bloc.[40]

Identity and change

The widening of the north-south divide and the increased concentration of wealth held by (usually London based) financial and educated elites, is also thought to have played a role in the referendum outcome.[41] De-industrialisation in Northern England left many feeling economically left behind and forgotten about compared to the South East in particular, a feeling intensified by the globalisation associated with EU membership.[41] It is believed that this feeling of change happening elsewhere in the country whilst there was economic stagnation in the North was an incentive for many to vote 'leave' and indeed much of Northern England voted strongly in favour of Brexit.[42] A more nuanced analysis shows that a North-South division is too simplistic, as many great northern cities (Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, York) voted 'remain' whereas many small towns and rural areas in the South voted 'leave'.

Feeling as though the UK has been rapidly changing and feeling negatively towards that change is considered to have been a reason that many voters backed 'leave'. Goodwin and Milazzo report that identity and preventing a loss of national identity as a result of national change, were highly important to many leave voters.[14] Furthermore, they found that among those who felt that during the preceding ten years Britain had gotten ‘a lot worse’ the average Leave vote was 73%, compared to 40% among those who felt the country had gotten ‘a lot better’.[14]

Additionally, it is thought that the rise in liberal social movements and an increase in social change played a role in leading some voters to vote 'leave' as a rejection of such change. Bateman explains that polls conducted by Lord Ashcroft showed that "of those who think that feminism, the internet and the Green Movement are bad for us, respectively 74%, 71% and 78% are Leave voters".[41]

English national identity

The World Economic Forum 2017 acknowledged in its Global Risks Report that "the Brexit and President-elect Trump victories featured (...) appeals to sovereignty rooted in national identity and pride" and that it would "be challenging to find political narratives and policies that can repair decades-long cultural fault-lines".[43]

English Nationalism played a key role in shaping the result of the referendum. As the largest constituent country within the United Kingdom, England provided the largest share of 'Leave' voters, 15,188,406 to 'Remain's' 13,266,996, and saw the largest margin of victory for 'Leave' at 53.4% to 46.6%.[44] Scotland and Northern Ireland, on the other hand, produced 'Remain' supporting majorities, whilst Wales produced a slim 'Leave' majority. Some academics have argued that "England's choice for Brexit was driven disproportionately by those prioritising the English national identity", and that English nationalism is a "cluster point" for other attitudes and concerns, such as "hostility to European integration, the sense of absence of political voice, concern about immigration, and support for parties of the right".[45]


There were some advocates of Brexit who saw leaving the EU as an economic opportunity for Britain. This was in contradiction to the Remain campaign's warnings of economic damage as a result of Brexit and differed slightly from voters feeling economically left behind by EU membership. Those who saw economic opportunity tended to be sympathetic towards free market and free trade ideas, viewing the regulatory nature of the EU as imposing on personal market freedom.[41] Proponents of free trade post-Brexit hope to strike trade deals with nations outside of the EU, away from EU regulations, believing this will boost Britain as a market, benefit the economy and lead to less government expenditure in GDP.[41] Politicians such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have become associated with this point of view.[41]

Additionally, the 2008 financial crash and the Eurozone crisis of late 2009 may have encouraged others to want to move the UK's economy further away from Europe's increasingly integrated economy as a means of protecting it.[40]

According to a 2019 study in the American Economic Review, austerity reforms introduced in 2010 may have contributed to a Leave victory in the Brexit referendum by raising political dissatisfaction.[46]

Anti-establishment populism

The idea of voting in favour of Brexit was seen by many as a way to protest against the Establishment and the elite who were seen to have ignored "the will of the people" for too long.[6] The result of the referendum was branded as such by Nigel Farage, who claimed it to be a victory against "big merchant banks" and "big politics".[6] Many voters saw the referendum itself as an example of power being given back to the citizens to make decisions and not the elites, with many voters harbouring discontent for these elites and the power they hold.[6] For some voters, voting 'leave' defied the Establishment that was seen to be pro-Remain.[47] The populist nature of the referendum was an incentive for many to take the opportunity they felt they had to have their voices heard over those of the elite and vote 'leave'.[citation needed]

It has been argued that anti-politics played a part in the referendum. Marsh argues that ‘the distrust of the political elite’ is an important feature of anti-politics.[48] Furthermore, Marsh relates this to populism, stating that the ‘distrust in the political elite was particularly evident in the campaign’.[49] According to Jennings and Lodge, David Cameron made arguably a futile attempt to reduce the impact that anti-politics was having on British politics by calling the referendum, which ultimately did not succeed.[50] Iaknis et al. conduct a survey which shows how the vote to leave the European Union was influenced by nativism and anti-establishmentarianism.[51] This survey gives an indication as to how anti-politics influenced the Brexit vote. Baldini et al. discuss how during the 2015 and 2017 general elections, voters were more likely to change their vote, which was then linked to the rise of anti-politics.[52]

Role and influence of politicians

Decision to call referendum

The referendum was first announced by then-Prime Minister David Cameron on 23 January 2013. Cameron announced that he would attempt to re-negotiate Britain's terms with the EU before holding an in-out referendum no later than two years after the next general election – should he still be Prime Minister.[53] This was seen as a move to appease Eurosceptics within his own party as well as an attempt to regain voters who had been switching allegiance to UKIP since the previous election. Upon the Conservatives surprise majority victory in the 2015 general election, Cameron upheld his pledge and announced the date for the referendum to be 23 June 2016.[54]

Effect on voters

Boris Johnson and cabinet minister Michael Gove becoming leading figures in the Leave Campaign is a factor considered to have given the pro-Brexit side a wider appeal and greater credibility.[23] Johnson is believed to have been heavily influential during the campaign, with polling results revealing that the public trusted the words of Boris Johnson on Brexit more than any other politician, including David Cameron.[23]

In regard to the Labour Party, there was some perceived ambiguity as to the party's stance with only 52% of voters believing Labour MPs were in favour of Remain, according to polling.[23] In actuality it is thought that as many as 96% of Labour MPs backed remain.[citation needed] Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is known to have been a longtime eurosceptic, having voted against staying in the Common Market.[23] Furthermore, the chair of the official Leave campaign was Labour MP Gisela Stuart. It is thought that the perceived lack of clear direction from the party may have played a role in some Labour voters backing 'leave' despite most of its MPs backing 'remain'.[23]

Establishment euroscepticism

Despite many perceiving the Establishment as being pro-Remain, the British Establishment has historically contained a significant eurosceptic fraction that has cut across both the Labour and Conservative parties. It is thought that the existence of such euroscepticism within Britain's elite has helped ensure that eurosceptic thoughts, voices, opinions and sometimes policies have had somewhat of a platform, consequently influencing public opinion.[23] During the 2016 EU referendum campaign, 45% of Conservative MPs were in favour of leaving the European Union - a considerable amount which held significant influence over public opinion.[23] Historical examples of euroscepticism within the Labour party include the 1975 referendum on European membership, the position and influence of Tony Benn and Hugh Gaitskell's famous 1962 speech in which he said joining the EEC would be "the end of a thousand years of history".[55]

Presentational factors during the campaign

Information interpretation

A "Vote Leave" poster in Omagh saying "We send the EU £50 million every day. Let's spend it on our NHS instead."

Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law at the University of Liverpool, in a viral video of one of his lectures prior to the referendum, described the Leave campaign as peddling "dishonesty on an industrial scale".[56][57]

Perhaps the most commonly criticised claim by the Leave campaign was that voting to leave the EU would allow for increased spending on the NHS of £350m a week.[58][59] Vote Leave claimed that the UK sends £350 million to the EU every week.[60] The Office for National Statistics, quoting analysis from the European Commission, states the UK's actual net average annual contribution to the EU budget, taken from a five-year average from 2014 to 2018, when its annual rebate and public and private sector receipts are excluded, is £7.7 bn.[61] Divided by 52, this equates to £150 million per week.

Sir John Major claimed that Vote Leave had deliberately misled voters by using the gross contribution to the EU before the automatically deducted UK Rebate.[62] The gross contribution is the amount the UK would pay under the standard formula before any discounts and rebates. The UK currently gets a 40% discount from the gross contribution which was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s (worth about £144 million) plus various agricultural, economic development and scientific research 'rebates' (worth approximately a further £96 million).[63]

Elements of the Leave campaign have been identified as exemplifying "post-truth politics", in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion rather than the details of policy or objective factual analysis.[64][65][66]

This potentially deliberate attempt to mislead the public finds relevance with Hobolt's theory, that campaigns prey on voters' insecurities. Individuals with low education levels will be less likely to be able to separate factual and false information, thus forming the existential link between educational and campaigning factors. This makes voting behaviour hard to analyse because it uses the incorrect assumption that all citizens vote rationally and have the ability to critique policy. [67]

Branding and wording choices

It has been argued that the 'Leave' brand was stronger and more effective than the 'Remain' brand. According to Mike Hind, a marketing professional, "The Britain Stronger In Europe brand was stillborn. On the basis of preparation, presentation and messaging, it deserved the kicking it got."[68] Additionally behavioural practitioner Warren Hatter argues that 'Leave' as a word places a lower cognitive load on observers than 'Remain a member of'.[69]

Prospect theory

Economics writer Chris Dillow has argued that, among other factors, Prospect Theory may explain the surprising willingness of many voters to take a path widely viewed as the more risky of two (change vs status quo). In his words Prospect Theory 'Tells us that people who feel they've lost want to gamble to break even. This is why they back longshots on the last race of the day or why they hold onto badly performing stocks. People who had lost out from globalization, or felt discomforted by immigration, voted Leave because they felt they had little to lose from doing so.'[70]

Vote Leave analysis

Dominic Cummings, Campaign Director of Vote Leave wrote in The Spectator in January 2017 on "how the Brexit referendum was won".[71]

He wrote: "Leave won because 1) three big forces [the immigration crisis, the 2008 financial crisis and the euro crisis] created conditions in which the contest was competitive, AND 2) Vote Leave exploited the situation imperfectly but effectively, AND 3) Cameron/Osborne made big mistakes. If just one of these had been different, it is very likely IN would have won."

"Pundits and MPs kept saying ‘why isn’t Leave arguing about the economy and living standards’. They did not realise that for millions of people, £350m/NHS was about the economy and living standards – that's why it was so effective. It was clearly the most effective argument not only with the crucial swing fifth but with almost every demographic. Even with UKIP voters it was level-pegging with immigration. Would we have won without immigration? No. Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No."

"If Boris, Gove, and Gisela had not supported us and picked up the baseball bat marked 'Turkey/NHS/£350 million' with five weeks to go, then 650,000 votes might have been lost."

Shortcomings of the Remain campaign

Whilst the Leave side may have made good tactical decisions during the campaign, part of its success came from the Remain campaign failing to provide convincing enough counter arguments or arguments of their own. A lot of the Remain's campaign was built around spreading the notion that Brexit would weaken Britain, yet Curtice notes that the campaign offered little explanation as to "how the UK economy might be strengthened further by continued EU membership".[23] He goes on to argue that the Leave campaign were offering such explanations, exemplified by the claim that £350 million a week could be spent on the NHS, regardless of whether or not this was a valid claim.[23]

One analysis of the Remain campaign has concluded that the campaign did little to counter Vote Leave's arguments surrounding immigration, an area that was considered one of Leave's biggest pulling factors in attracting voters.[23] Furthermore, the official leaflet supplied by the government to make the case for remaining in the EU failed to address the issue of sovereignty, which was another area that Vote Leave was gaining a lot of support.[23] In addition, the remain campaign focused very heavily on the 'risk' posed by Brexit, but analysis in the time since shows this may have been a mistake. Analysis carried out by Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Godwin and Paul Whiteley, appears to show that those who had an unfavourable view of immigration and felt that too much decision making had been taken away from the UK government, were much more likely to minimise the risk of Brexit, partially because they perceived they had little to lose.[72]

Policy decisions

Decision not to impose tougher migration restrictions

It has been claimed that the role of migration as a key factor in driving voting behaviour at the referendum originates from the relatively high levels of net migration into the UK in the last decade.[73] In particular it is claimed that the decision not to impose restrictions on EU migrants after the addition of the 'A8' (Eastern European) countries to the EU in 2004[10] (at a time when other European countries did impose such restrictions) contributed to a spike in migration levels that underpins contemporary voter attitudes.

European Migrant Crisis

U.S. President Donald Trump stated that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open her country's borders for more than a million refugees and illegal immigrants was a "catastrophic mistake" and "the final straw that broke the camel's back", allowing the Leave campaign to win.[74][75][76]

Furthermore, Nigel Farage and long-term Eurosceptic party UKIP used images from the refugee crisis during their campaign to increase the anxiety about immigration that the crisis caused, prompting criticism from some "Leave" and "Remain" supporters.[77][78] Leading Leave campaigner Michael Gove said that it was "the wrong thing to do", whilst then-Chancellor George Osborne of the Remain side stated that the poster "had echoes of literature used in the 1930s" in Germany.[78]

The role of the media

The Guardian journalist Jane Martinson noted that many of the UK's biggest selling newspapers, The Sun and the Daily Mail in particular, but also including The Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, have been Eurosceptic for many years.[79] The implication of this[according to whom?] is that the political stance of the print media could have shaped the public's opinion before the referendum.[citation needed]

The BBC was also criticised by many remain-supporting pundits for false balance which helped give the leave campaign credibility.[80] Leading up to and during the EU referendum campaign, Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and The Sun were all pro-Leave. Curtice argues that as these were "more popular" newspapers, their support not only provided credibility to the Leave campaign but also meant that there would be "sympathetic coverage" for its pro-Brexit arguments.[23]

Seaton explains that long-term anti-EU reporting, demonisation of foreign nationals and the working class in mainstream media could have made the public more susceptible to pro-Brexit arguments, as well as having "shaped the debate".[81] Seaton also comments on the effect of social media on the referendum, which played a much more prominent role in the campaign and the vote than in previous votes in the UK. Seaton argues that social media was highly influential in shaping voters' opinions as social media enables users to "get more of what you like" whilst being able to "avoid exposure to what you disagree with" on a platform that is "driven by popularity".[81]

Another element of media which has yet to be mentioned is the role of social media which arguably was the most effective platform. Media democracy is the way journalists were more concerned by the entertainment factor of news content, rather than being informative. Some accused printed media of being too "politically correct", whereas the same limitations were not shared by social media.[82]

Twitter was the most utilised social media platform and the campaigns were led through the use of 'hashtags'. Llewellyn and Cram conducted a study that involved tallying how often certain 'hashtags' were used and concluded by noting that overall there were more ‘leave’ hashtags than ‘stay’ even though ‘stay’ equated to the largest percentage.[83] This referendum also saw the intense use of 'twitter bots'. Gorodnichenko et al. analysed two types of social media agents – real (human users and bots) and social bots (composed of algorithm). Social media platforms such as Twitter supported ideas such as ‘echo chambers’ and therefore enhanced ideological segmentation and made information more fragmented to separate rather than unite people. In turn Twitter became known as the best platform for spreading 'fake news'.[84] On the other hand, others claim that the sentiment results always indicated a likely 'Leave' result but it is not pinned down to bots or any dark loitering propaganda systems, instead it was lack of ‘remainers online mobility’ that caused the outcome. On the day of the referendum, ‘remain’ activity reached an all-time high of 38.5% on Twitter, but also Instagram came into play almost as much as Twitter did but due to it being a less direct platform, was not as noticed.[85]

See also


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