There's something about the post-Brexit autopsies that I'm not entirely happy with. It's the failure to distinguish between the margin and the infra-margin.
As Gary Bennett reminds us, we must avoid a common logical error here. Just because the uneducated disproportionately voted Leave does not mean that Leave voters were mostly uneducated.
Also, as Ben Chu points out, mono-causal explanations raise questions:
If the issue is a post-crash squeeze on incomes, why did young people, who have suffered disproportionately since the 2008 financial crash, apparently vote heavily in favour of continued EU membership while a majority of the over-50s, whose incomes have held up relatively well, vote against?
However, I want to focus on another problem. It's that we knew months ago that older, poorer and less educated people were anti-EU. And yet Brexit came as a surprise – to betting markets, financial markets and not least to David Cameron.
This paradox warns us that whilst the conditions for a big anti-EU vote were in place – we knew for months that some 40% of voters supported Brexit – what remains unexplained is the surprise.
To put this another way, longstanding anti-EU sentiment was infra-marginal. The question is: what happened at the margin to tip the balance in favour of Brexit?
The answer here, I suspect, lies in the Vote Leave campaign itself. It succeeded in mobilizing latent discontent in a way that neither Labour not UKIP managed in the 2015 general election: only 3.9m voted UKIP but 17.4m voted Leave. It did so in four ways:
- "Take control" was, as Will Davies says, "a piece of political genius. It worked on every level between the macroeconomic and the psychoanalytic." It spoke to communities which had long left neglected by mainstream politicians.
- In not providing any sort of precise plan for Brexit, Vote Leave exploited wishful thinking and the tendency of people to take risks when they feel they have lost, by allowing voters to read into Brexit what they wanted: free marketeers saw it as a road to an open economy; Lexiters as a way of snubbing neoliberalism and anti-immigrationists as a way of closing borders. Thus was an incompatible coalition created.
- It exploited the distrust of experts, and so neutralized economists' warnings that Brexit would make us poorer. It was helped in this regard by inequality. Not only did this create adistance between experts and lay-people, but we also know that inequality causes distrust.
What I'm trying to do here is reconcile two different perspectives. On the one hand, Eric says "culture and personality, not material circumstances, separate Leave and Remain voters. This is not a class conflict so much as a values divide." And Rick says "the left-behind who voted for Brexit last week were left behind a long time ago." These are statements about the infra-margin. But when I say that austerity and inequality – as cleverly exploited by Vote Leave - contributed to the Brexit vote, I'm claiming these things mattered at the margin.
There's something else. Vote Leave was surely one of the most successful political campaigns in history. It was also dishonest and anti-intellectual. That both these claims are true is one of the most troubling features of modern politics.
-- via my feedly newsfeed