Project

Brexit Attitudes

Goal: In the referendum on 23 June 2016 voters gave the British government a mandate for Britain to be the first country to ever leave the EU. Yet, the options of ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ do not give clear guidance as to what kind of Brexit people want or will accept. At the heart of this research project is a question of huge political importance: which negotiation outcomes will be considered legitimate by the British public?

The negotiations ahead involve an array of complex policy questions, including the much debated trade-off over whether the government should prioritise controlling the inflow of EU immigrants or preferential trade agreements with the EU. But there are many other policy choices that relate to EU budget contributions, EU subsidies, financial services, jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and so on. None of these featured on the referendum ballot, nor are they issues that most people gave much thought to in advance of the referendum. This project therefore aims to shed light on the question of what the Prime Minister’s repeated dictum – ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ – actually means to ordinary people. What expectations do voters, both Leavers and Remainers, have of Brexit, what process do they want the negotiations to take and ultimately what outcome do they want?

Our aim is to thus gather new information on people’s views about the Brexit negotiations, but also shed light on what types of social and political cues shape these opinions. We focus on three crucial questions: What, Why and With What Consequence.

- What do people expect of Brexit, what process do they want the negotiations to take and what are their preferred outcomes?
- Why, and how, do people arrive at positions on these complex policy issues?
- What are the consequences of these expectations and preferences for the negotiation positions of policy-makers and the legitimacy of the Brexit outcome?

Date: 1 April 2017

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Project log

Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
Partisanship is a powerful driver of economic perceptions. Yet we know less about whether other political divisions may lead to similar evaluative biases. In this paper, we explore how the salient divide between “Remainers” and “Leavers” in the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum has given rise to biased economic perceptions. In line with the cognitive dissonance framework, we argue that salient non-partisan divisions can change economic perceptions by triggering processes of self- and in-group justification. Using both nationally-representative observational and experimental survey data, we demonstrate that the perceptions of the economy are shaped by the Brexit divide and that these biases are exacerbated when respondents are reminded of Brexit. These findings indicate that perceptual biases are not always rooted in partisanship, but can be triggered by other political divisions.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
How do votes in direct democratic ballots translate into policy preferences about future outcomes and affect the perceived legitimacy of those outcomes? This article examines these questions in the context of sovereignty referendums: specifically, the 2016 referendum on British membership of the European Union (EU). While the referendum result gave the British government a mandate for Britain leaving the EU, it did not provide any firm guidance as to the kind of Brexit that voters would prefer and consider legitimate. To examine the perceived desirability and legitimacy of different Brexit outcomes, we conducted a nationally representative conjoint experiment measuring attitudes towards different possible negotiation outcomes. Our findings show that ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ voters were highly divided over what they wanted from Brexit on salient negotiation issues, but also that most voters did not regard any possible outcome as legitimate.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
As political competition is becoming increasingly multi-dimensional in Europe, voters often face the challenge of choosing which issues matter most to them. The European integration issue presents a particular difficulty for voters, since it is not closely aligned to the left-right dimension. We test the impact of the EU issue in the first parliamentary election following the UK's divisive Brexit referendum. We argue that while the EU issue was salient to voters, EU issue voting was inhibited by the indistinct and ambiguous positions adopted by the two major parties. To examine this, we combine an analysis of British Election Study data from the 2017 General Election with a conjoint experiment that allows us to present voters with a range of choices on both dimensions. Our findings show that the EU dimension has the potential to become a cross-cutting dimension that rivals the left-right dimension in British electoral politics, but this crucially depends on party competition.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
A well-functioning democracy requires a degree of mutual respect and a willingness to talk across political divides. Yet numerous studies have shown that many electorates are polarized along partisan lines, with animosity towards the partisan out-group. In this article, we further develop the idea of affective polarization, not by partisanship, but instead by identification with opinion-based groups. Examining social identities formed during Britain’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership, we use surveys and experiments to measure the intensity of partisan and Brexit-related affective polarization. The results show that Brexit identities are prevalent, felt to be personally important, and cut across traditional party lines. These identities generate affective polarization as intense as that of partisanship in terms of stereotyping, prejudice, and various evaluative biases, convincingly demonstrating that affective polarization can emerge from identities beyond partisanship.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
Conjoint analysis is a common tool for studying political preferences. The method disentangles patterns in respondents' favorability toward complex, multidimensional objects, such as candidates or policies. Most conjoints rely upon a fully randomized design to generate average marginal component effects (AMCEs). These measure the degree to which a given value of a conjoint profile feature increases, or decreases, respondents' support for the overall profile relative to a baseline, averaging across all respondents and other features. While the AMCE has a clear causal interpretation (about the effect of features), most published conjoint analyses also use AMCEs to describe levels of favorability. This often means comparing AM-CEs among respondent subgroups. We show that using conditional AMCEs to describe the degree of subgroup agreement can be misleading as regression interactions are sensitive to the reference category used in the analysis. This leads to inferences about subgroup differences in preferences that have arbitrary sign, size, and significance. We demonstrate the problem using examples drawn from published articles and provide suggestions for improved reporting and interpretation using marginal means and an omnibus F-test. Given the accelerating use of these designs in political science, we offer advice for best practice in analysis and presentation of results.
Sara B. Hobolt
added an update
Brief summary of our work on emerging Brexit identities here on pp. 18-20:
 
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
The outcome of the British referendum on EU membership sent shockwaves through Europe. While Britain is an outlier when it comes to the strength of Euroscepticism, the anti-immigration and anti-establishment sentiments that produced the referendum outcome are gaining strength across Europe. Analysing campaign and survey data, this article shows that the divide between winners and losers of globalization was a key driver of the vote. Favouring British EU exit, or ‘Brexit’, was particularly common among less educated, poorer and older voters, and those who expressed concerns about immigration and multi-culturalism. While there is no evidence of a short-term contagion effect with similar membership referendums in other countries, the Brexit vote nonetheless poses a serious challenge to the political establishment across Europe.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a project goal
In the referendum on 23 June 2016 voters gave the British government a mandate for Britain to be the first country to ever leave the EU. Yet, the options of ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ do not give clear guidance as to what kind of Brexit people want or will accept. At the heart of this research project is a question of huge political importance: which negotiation outcomes will be considered legitimate by the British public?
The negotiations ahead involve an array of complex policy questions, including the much debated trade-off over whether the government should prioritise controlling the inflow of EU immigrants or preferential trade agreements with the EU. But there are many other policy choices that relate to EU budget contributions, EU subsidies, financial services, jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and so on. None of these featured on the referendum ballot, nor are they issues that most people gave much thought to in advance of the referendum. This project therefore aims to shed light on the question of what the Prime Minister’s repeated dictum – ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ – actually means to ordinary people. What expectations do voters, both Leavers and Remainers, have of Brexit, what process do they want the negotiations to take and ultimately what outcome do they want?
Our aim is to thus gather new information on people’s views about the Brexit negotiations, but also shed light on what types of social and political cues shape these opinions. We focus on three crucial questions: What, Why and With What Consequence.
- What do people expect of Brexit, what process do they want the negotiations to take and what are their preferred outcomes?
- Why, and how, do people arrive at positions on these complex policy issues?
- What are the consequences of these expectations and preferences for the negotiation positions of policy-makers and the legitimacy of the Brexit outcome?