Is the EU referendum actually a great conspiracy?

(Sorry to anyone bored by the great/hideous Brexit referendum – this is the last post on the topic, well, at least until the event actually happens 🙂 )

Today is the day!  All us UK citizens can cast our direct-democracy vote as to whether the UK should remain in the EU, or say goodbye. It’s been a long, torrid, at times revolting, journey in terms of output from the campaigners, politicians and media. “It is as though the sewers have burst”, said Nick Cohen in the Observer, somewhat accurately. But the vote is today and it’ll therefore all be over soon.

Or will it? Yougov have surveyed on many, many EU referendumy topics. One of the latest included questioning respondents on various conspiracy-esque statements about the result of the referendum. I don’t use the word “conspiracy” in a necessarily derogatory tone – some perceived “conspiracies” turn out to be true, although many do not.

Anyway, here were the statements offered up to the public to pronounce on whether they thought they were probably true, probably false or don’t know.

  • There are plans for further EU integration and enlargement that the EU are deliberately not announcing till after the referendum
  • The BBC & ITN are not commissioning an exit poll in order to allow the vote to be fixed without anyone telling
  • MI5 is working with the UK government to try and stop Britain leaving the EU
  • It is likely that the EU referendum will be rigged

I have listed them in my perception of order of seriousness, although several are open to interpretation regarding the scope and intentionality they imply. The first just relates to the timing of announcing EU events, the last implies the literal undermining of the entire democratic process, implying a pointless referendum beholden to corrupt, criminal actors.

But what did the respondents think of these? Did anyone seriously think that MI5 spies are secretly influencing the result? (*) That the whole referendum is a fraudulent scam?

(*) Well, it’s not quite MI5, but when the Conservative peer Baroness Warsi recently changed her view from Leave to Remain, there were people suggesting she was a  secret Remain campaign plant all this time. Amongst other far more horrific diatribes that I am reluctant to reproduce on this site.

Well, it turns out the answer is yes, a fair amount of people do agree with these statements. Please click through and interact with the visualisation below in order to see the proportion of people agreeing with each statement, with the ability to break it down by age, gender, social grade, region, which political party they voted for in the 2015 general election, and – perhaps most interestingly -how they reported that they intend to vote for in the EU referendum itself: leave vs remain.

EU referendum conspiracy theory poll2

 

A few things I noticed:

There’s a sizeable amount of people that agree with every one of those statements. That’s not to say that they are the same single cohort of people in each case, as the data is too high level to determine that, but every statement has at least 15% of people in favour. There’s not one statement that over half the surveyed people thought was probably false. Not one.

To take perhaps the most dramatic one – nearly a third of the surveyed population think that it’s likely that the EU referendum will be rigged. If this implies “direct” rigging i.e. fiddling with the results, then this is quite a terrifying indictment on our view of the legitimacy of our democratic process.

Sidenote: There does seem to be a movement to “bring your own pen” to the voting stations today, under the premise than the pencils that poll booths traditionally offer leave marks on the ballot papers that could be easily erased and replaced. Although this seems like one of the most annoying and time consuming ways I could imagine of fixing an election result! If you’re going to believe in an over-arching conspiracy here, then I suspect MI5 could have far more efficient methods…

When splitting by demographics and behaviour, clear differences emerge. Flicking through the interactive version will show you the full details not represented in the below text – but in summary, for most statements:

  • A fairly similar proportion of females and males believe they are true. But for those that don’t, females are more likely to say they don’t know whereas males are more likely to go for probably false.
  • Those of social grades ABC1 are generally less likely to think any of the statements are probably true than C2DE, and more likely to think they’re probably false.
  • There is a strong difference in the beliefs of the voters based on whether they’re likely to vote for Leave or Remain. Without exception, the Leavers are more likely to think the statements are probably true than the Remainers.  The proportion of Leavers who think the referendum is likely rigged is over four times the proportion of Remainers.

    EU referendum conspiracy theory poll

  • Digging down deeper into (the somewhat correlated, but not fully so) variable of which political party they supported in the 2015 election, there is one hugely obvious outlier. Those who voted UKIP are way more likely to agree with the statements than others, particularly regarding whether the EU referendum will be rigged. A majority, nearly two thirds, of UKIP voters believe this to be true, in comparison to between 14 and 23% of voters for other parties.

So, what does this mean?

Well, it shows a distinct lack of faith in the system set up for this referendum and trust in the “powers that be” – which is perhaps somewhat understandable, considering the ways the various campaigns have been run.

At first glance, the sheer level of disbelief in the overall integrity of the system seems a notable unhealthy sign of the times though – although I would like to see similar stats taken over previous years in order to determine whether the figure of 28% believing the referendum will be rigged is “normal” for every year. If so, it could certainly explain the non-amazing turnout the UK generally sees in elections.

…except that there’s a curious interaction regarding voting intention, political party and turnout. In a previous post here, we saw that UKIP supporters are one of the subsections of society that appear to be most likely to say that they will turn up and participate in the referendum. However, this is also the segment that is by far the most sceptical of the result being legitimate. UKIP was likely also one of the driving forces that led towards the referendum being called in the first place: if there was no visible block of desire to leave the EU, an issue that UKIP was originally set up to dedicate itself to, then there would have been no reason for a referendum.

That’s not to say other political parties don’t have members with anti-EU views in them, who are individually in places where they might be expected to have a higher influence in political shenanigans than the average UKIP candidate. Two of the highest profile Leave campaigners, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, are both high-up members of the Conservative party.

But, simplistically, the people who most demanded the referendum and are most likely to go and vote in it also seem to be the people who are least likely to believe its results. Are we seeing a political form of Pascal’s wager?!

It would also suggest that no matter what the result is, the debate will be far from over. Particularly if the result goes to remain, it seems like nearly half of those voting to leave may feel that it has been rigged (of course people are likely forgive rigging more if it produces the answer they want). And even if it goes to Leave, one in ten Remainers are seemingly sceptical of its legitimacy already, which is a sizeable number of people who, even without the psychology surrounding losing a vote to those with different beliefs, believe that the entire system is invalid.

So recently we have learned:

Hey, it’s almost as if it isn’t really the time or place for such a consequential question about the future of the UK to be determined in this manner. Is it too late to call the whole thing off? (answer: yes, I guess it is).

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One thought on “Is the EU referendum actually a great conspiracy?

  1. Thanks for sharing. Just read an article where it stated that people are actually looking for confirmation to match their gut feelings/opinion. Your poll results confirm this. With (mainstream) media and a lot of other influencers not being very clear or fact-based, the decision will be difficult if you did not research upfront. I am rather euro-sceptic (was not always btw) myself but also did a lot of research on both sides and arguments, and I must admit: it is still hard to make a substantiated choice. Maybe it is comforting to keep in mind that whatever the result will be, it definitely woke up a lot of people and hopefully the EP as well. I believe that’s a positive result and can be the base for more in-depth debates. UK has a ‘choice’, a lot of other EU countries want a similar referendum, but can’t have it.
    Well, I’m not to vote since I’m Dutch. Hang on and good luck the last couple of hours!

    Like

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