Brexit – who cares? Part 2

The CDSM series of British Values Surveys measures the responses of the British population to a wide range of standard questions asked in survey after survey, establishing a time-series to aid understanding in the dynamics of cultural values change.

Among these hundreds of questions with multipoint scales we also pose topical questions of the day.

One of these topical questions was posed in our latest survey in November 2015 – seven months before the 2016 June referendum.

Respondents were shown two statements and asked to pick which statement most nearly represented their view.

a) On balance, the UK’s membership of the EU is of
    benefit to society.

b) On balance, the UK’s membership of the EU is of
    detriment to society.

Responses were on a 6-point sliding scale between the two options, so half the scale expressed varying degrees of agreement and the others half varying degrees of disagreement.

This provided a benchmark figure from which the debate about the referendum could be framed, and the efforts of both sides could be judged in relation to their campaigning platforms.

The strategy and tactics of these opposing camps can now be judged not only on whether they are winning or losing but also which camp needs to change thoughts and behaviours (the option with the lower numbers) and which camp needs to reinforce thoughts and behaviours (the option with the higher numbers).

The responses were fairly evenly split:

Membership is a benefit     43%
Membership is a detriment  57%

This might look like a big difference - but on a 'winner takes all basis' needing only 50.1% to win the 'benefit' side only needs 7% of the population to shift for it to win the referendum and stay in the EU. Looked at another way, the 'detriment side' can only afford to lose about 12% of its support if it is to win the referendum and exit the EU.

At the time this survey question was posed there was little passion or emotion around this political question. It was something that few people saw as important to them, or important enough to arouse strong emotions either way.

Remember, this base data is not about voting intentions, it is an opinion on an issue. A core objective of both campaigns is to organize and mobilize their supporters to vote in June.

As noted in part one of this series, a low turnout by people with high involvement with, and strong emotions about, the issue can sway an election. Higher turnouts are usually caused by more people with high involvement with the issues in question turning out to vote on the day.

When the issues have created cultural debate – not necessarily the same as political debate – the majority of voters are likely to support the campaign that offers a clear statement of something they are thinking anyway.

One of the main objectives of the Remain campaign is to sway at least 12% of those who support the Leave campaign to change their views by offering a clear statement of an orientation already in the potential voter’s mind, but in their background thinking - the subconscious thoughts that can lead to cognitive dissonance and openness to new ideas.

A prime objective of the Leave campaign is to reinforce the beliefs of its supporters – that the EU is a detriment to UK society and that is better to leave. As noted, based on CDSM data the Brexit camp can afford to lose the argument to some extent - lose up to 12% of its supporters from the November 2015 base and still post a winning margin.

The strategy and tactics of the two campaigns are very likely to be very different.

If we look beyond the numbers and begin an exploration of the values sets of the two groups of supporters we will see that the issue, while not highly engaging in November, has the potential to become highly emotional and engaging once the campaigns roll out.

The values systems of those who think EU membership is a benefit and those who think it is a detriment are both cohesive in the sense that support is rational within a values system – but the values systems are very different.

The issue engages some deeply held beliefs around the contradictory CDSM Attributes Power and Universalism. The data strongly suggests the issue stimulates pre-existing beliefs that produce fear and anger within the minds of those who believe the EU is a detriment – the Brexiters - and messages engaging this fear and anger are those most likely to be heard.

The same data also suggests that Remain supporters will not be receptive to appeals that stimulate fear and anger – and in fact are very likely to be appalled by some of the argumentation.

The types of messages that will reinforce Remain's support - engage and mobilize its supporters - are likely to be denied, disputed or generally disregarded by Leave supporters. If both campaigns only appeal to their supporters, the Brexiter's campaign will win – even of up it loses up to 12% of its base by June.

The Leave campaign will look and feel very different than the more challenging objectives of the Remain campaign, which has yet to solidify its appeal in the minds of supporters – to raise the level of engagement and emotion around the issue yet simultaneously appeal to non-supporters to shift their views.

Let's take a look at the differences in the values systems of Remain supporters and Brexiters.

The first map might be presented as the hard core of the Remain supporters – those who strongly agree that the EU is of benefit to UK society. Their votes in June will very probably be assured even if the campaign doesn’t particularly inspire them. They may even vote to remain if the campaign has been a complete disaster. They will vote based on deep conviction.

The Pioneers (index 145) are 45% more likely than the whole population to support the Remain campaign - and within the Pioneers, the leading edge Transcenders (index 225) are two and quarter times more likely to be believe that the UK should stay in the EU. But their support alone is not nearly enough to win in June.

It is their potential to influence others that the Remain campaign should be aware of and work to support. This is a values set that tends to have a wide range of friends within a wide range of networks – and they often influence these networks with their approval or disapproval on issues about which others have few or 'soft' opinions. In values terms their influence on peer-to-peer communication has a wider impact than that of those within the Leave group of supporters. This insight will be expanded later.

The second map looks at 'all' those who believe the EU is a benefit to the UK. The range of values is wider but still coherent – it still hangs together. This range of supporters, which includes strong supporters to lukewarm supporters, largely have similar beliefs and their values sets tend to accept and reject the same things. This is a big constituency (43% of the adult population) and a good base upon which to build an exciting and inspiring future-based campaign.

What is not likely to inspire them is a narrow focus on economics and defending what already exists.

They know the fiddles and fudges politicians of all parties have worked within ‘Europe’. They get angry and discouraged when politicians within EU councils and endless committees seem to be unaccountable to electorates and interest groups. But they also believe many issues can be resolved through more cooperation and less confrontation and know that if reform is to come it is better to be on the inside than on the outside of the decision-making process.

This values set is very different from those who believe that the UK’s membership of the EU is a detriment. Let’s look at the hard core Leavers first.

The first map shows the concentrated values of the hard core of Leave supporters. This contains approximately the same number of people as the hard core of Remain support (13% and 11%).

Settlers (index 204) are twice as likely than the whole population to support the Leave campaign and, within the Settlers, the Roots Values Mode vastly over indexes (278) as does Brave New World (248). But the Settlers are the smallest Values Group in the UK (24.4%) and their support alone is not nearly enough to win in June. They need others, with different values sets, to agree with them that the EU is a detriment to UK society. There are indeed others with a similar view – but different values perspectives – who do support them.

Let's take a look at 'all' those who are of the opinion that the EU is a detriment – the natural target for Leave appeals. This large group (57%) of the adult population contains more of the Prospectors (index 111) who are 11% more likely to tend towards 'detriment' than the group as a whole. Within Prospectors, the Golden Dreamer Values Mode indexes even higher at 127. The 'all' supporters of this orientation to the EU tend to be more downmarket and older – which more nearly matches a UKIP voter profile than it does a Green Party profile. No surprise there.

The Leave campaign has an in-built majority favouring the view that the EU is detrimental to the UK. Their objective should be one of organizing and mobilizing these people on election day.

Without the party machines that come into force in local and general elections the referendum voter turnout is likely to be closer to local or European votes in non-General Election years. However, as Scotland showed, arguments for and against in a Remain or Leave referendum can produce high engagement and emotion – if platforms of appeal can be built that are relevant to each position. The Leave campaign MUST be different from the Remain campaign – especially in appeals to values sets.

Hunter S. Thompson’s classic 'Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail' first set the meme that could be a winning strategy, and guide the tactics, of the Leave campaign.

Settler Leave supporters have a deep-set fear of what the UK's membership brings with it – immigrants and an end to 'the British way of life'. This will be explored in later articles.

Prospector Leave supporters have a loathing and simmering anger at the loss of sovereignty and the imposition of 'European' laws on the UK. They feel their power to control their own lives (and the lives of others) is usurped by 'Brussels' - and in this state of mind they have a tendency to dehumanize rivals so that rational, intellectual disagreements turn into emotion-driven loathing quite quickly.

This combination of fear and loathing is clearly exhibited in right wing political attitudes and behaviours in other parts of Europe and will likely come into play before June.

Do not be surprised if the Leave campaign begins to look and sound more like an American Tea Party rally - or even more radical, a rolling out of a Trump-like anti-immigration platform, with the UK portrayed as both a victim of forces greater than itself and the voice of the Common Man who just wants to put the Great back into Great Britain. These are both calls to action for Settlers and Prospectors and no amount of 'reasoned economic' argument and talk of how wonderful the EU 'really is' will resonate and/or beat this type of positioning.

The values orientation of the supporters of the two positions are diametrically opposed – a source of high cultural friction if the positions become culturally situated rather than politically situated – and provides potential to change the political landscape, again, before the next General Election.