There has been much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair about the UK voting in a referendum to leave the EU. There have been some analyses of the demographics of the vote that looked at how each of the over 300 local authorities voted and comparing that with the demographics of that area. The analysis suggests that those voting to leave were more likely to be older, less formally educated, have lower incomes, and live in areas that had smaller population densities and fewer foreign-born and unmarried people.
Kevin Drum provides a chart that breaks it down by age and shows that the desire to remain in the UK was strongest among the youngest voting age group and declined steadily with rising age, but the rate at which they voted went the other way. It is quite striking.
But figuring out who voted which way is easier than why they voted the way they did and there have been quite a lot of facile analyses in the media that places the blame on the British people being too stupid to understand the consequences of their actions and they have gleefully seized on anecdotal reports of people regretting their vote to leave. While it may well be true that some people simply wanted to register a protest vote under the assumption that they would lose, this kind of ‘explanation’ that resorts to blaming the voter is often more a sign of the arrogance of the elites in the political, business, and media worlds, that they alone know what is best and that the ignorant rabble is clueless and driven by fear, xenophobia, racism, and bigotry.
While fear, xenophobia, racism, and bigotry are always present and such deplorable factors undoubtedly played a role in the vote (there are reports of increased racist attacks following the vote), such impulses are unfortunately present in all of us at all times and we have to recognize that certain external conditions are more conducive than others to those feelings coming to the surface and becoming more openly manifest. ‘Explanations’ that simply split the population into the good and the bad, sensible and foolish, merely serve to deflect attention away from the culpability of the same elites in creating the conditions that had helped the growth of such deplorable attitudes.
The US Green Party’s Jill Stein issued a excellent statement that had as good and succinct an analysis of the Brexit vote as you will find anywhere and that is presented below in its entirety.
The Brexit vote reflects the rejection of neoliberalism by economically stressed voters saying no to the neoliberal agenda of austerity, corporate free trade and globalization that serves the economic elite.
The Brexit vote also reflects the deplorable and dangerous anti-immigrant, anti-Moslem, anti-refugee anger that neoliberalism generates. Economically stressed voters are vulnerable to demagoguery, and have been lulled into blaming immigrants for the economic crisis caused in fact by the economic elite.
In reality, immigrants are themselves refugees from neoliberal militarism and economic domination – and have been forced to flee their homelands in search of safety and economic survival.
The only answer to this crisis is truly progressive policies – fair trade agreements, economic equality and security including the right to a job at living wages, health care and education as human rights, the cancellation of student debt, and respect for the needs and rights of immigrants. We must honor diversity and stop causing the immigration crisis through predatory economic and military policies of neoliberalism.
In order to achieve progressive policies that can address the growing crisis, we must also demand real democracy, both in the EU and the US. Only then can we begin to create an America and a world that works for all of us, that puts people, planet and peace over profit.
Glenn Greenwald has a good round up of media reactions, both the good ones and those that reflect elite sneering of the rabble and why the elite media has only itself to blame for becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Media reaction to the Brexit vote falls into two general categories: (1) earnest, candid attempts to understand what motivated voters to make this choice, even if that means indicting one’s own establishment circles, and (2) petulant, self-serving, simple-minded attacks on disobedient pro-leave voters for being primitive, xenophobic bigots (and stupid to boot), all to evade any reckoning with their own responsibility. Virtually every reaction that falls into the former category emphasizes the profound failures of Western establishment factions; these institutions have spawned pervasive misery and inequality, only to spew condescending scorn at their victims when they object.
But a major factor is that many people recognize that establishment journalists are an integral part of the very institutions and corrupted elite circles that are authors of their plight. Rather than being people who mediate or inform these political conflicts, journalists are agents of the forces that are oppressing them. And when journalists react to their anger and suffering by telling them that it’s invalid and merely the byproduct of their stupidity and primitive resentments, that only reinforces the perception that journalists are their enemy, thus rendering journalistic opinion increasingly irrelevant.
This obviously has consequence for how we understand what is going on in the US with the rise of Donald Trump and the resonance of his message, such as it is, that also involves fear, xenophobia, racism, and bigotry with an extra dose of misogyny thrown in for good measure. The political and media establishment are now worried about what his rise means for the establishment political structure without closely examining their own role in facilitating that same rise.
Not wishing to be facile, but does the seismic shock of the Brexit result in any way cause you to adjust your estimate of the likelihood of a Trump victory?
Danny Butts says
(2) petulant, self-serving, simple-minded attacks on disobedient pro-leave voters for being primitive, xenophobic bigots (and stupid to boot), all to evade any reckoning with their own responsibility.
couldnt put it better myself.
I have seen the claim that the best predictor for a ‘Leave’ vote is supporting the death penalty, which is used as a proxy for authoritarianism. That death penalty supporters voted ‘Leave’ even if they were from demographics that tended to vote ‘Remain’, whereas people who object to the death penalty voted ‘Remain’ even if they were from demographic groups that tended to vote ‘Leave’.
The 36% turnout for the youngest cohort does not bode well for anything ‘progressive”. The analysis of such a turnout should be at the top of any list of reasons for the failure of the Remain campaign. And this is the cohort that will suffer the effects of Brexit the most while those in favor of Brexit will be effected the least.
These demographic trends are also indicators of increasing conservatism, and I’m not surprised to see heavy overlap with the nationalist / isolationist / authoritarian Leave vote. They are natural bedfellows.
This is the general trend in politics: increasing age is associated not only with conservatism, but also interest in political involvement. It is partly why baby boomers are still a dominant political force, as despite being outnumbered, the oldies have always had a much higher turnout at the booths.
Kevin Terrell says
The young have known nothing but the U.K. in the E.U.
While those older remember a time without either.
Perhaps fear of change drove the young vote.
Perhaps misty-eyed nostalgia drove the old vote?
Kevin Terrell says
I suspect Stein and Greenwald are trying to fit the Leave victory into a leftist narrative.
They would have us believe economic and social status concerns drove the Leave vote.
What we witnessed was a rejection of multiculturalism and the pending destruction of an ethnic group.
If immigration to the U.K.
doesn’t diminish, I look for Britain to become another Fiji.
Tribal loyalty plain and simple.
Kevin Terrell says
“Perhaps misty-eyed nostalgia drove the old vote?”
Perhaps,or maybe the wisdom that comes with experience.
@ 8,9 Kevin Terrell
Good point. Experience has certainly shown the wisdom of quests for ethnic purity.
Oh, wait. I forgot. It’s actually the exact fucking opposite.
I think you’re all over-thinking it, and I think the result came about because the electorate didn’t.
Kevin Terrell says
“Good point. Experience has certainly shown the wisdom of quests for ethnic purity.
Oh, wait. I forgot. It’s actually the exact fucking opposite.”
What experience has shown is diversity leads to divisiveness.
Divisiveness leads to conflict.
Conflict leads to dead people.
It took centuries for the various peoples of Great Britain to build a common identity and to stop their internecine warfare,even among people who were racially indistinguishable.
The Left has stupidly started the whole process over again.
Europe’s future is a dark age
of communal conflict as new identities are formed and fights over territory and power start yet again.
The existing States are likely to be destroyed after first becoming among the most repressive societies on earth as they try to hold their diverse populations together.
The future belongs to the largely ethnically homogeneous societies of East Asia.
Mano Singham says
Although you state:
as if it were self-evidently true, you need to provide justification for the first proposition.
In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Stephen Pinker looks at the available data over time and concludes that the risk of dying by violence has been steadily declining and is now at the lowest point it has ever been. I reviewed his book here and you can read it for more details.
According to your logic, that would mean that we have less diversity now than in the past.
John Morales says
In short, “What experience has shown is diversity leads to divisiveness” is a facile lesson.
Heh. Ethnic homogeneity is rather hard to find in reality.
(Are you aware of China’s Great Leap Forward? Korea?)
Kevin Terrell says
“According to your logic, that would mean that we have less diversity now than in the past.”
I do believe we have less diversity now than in the past.
The growth of the power of the state, which Dr.Pinker identifies as a major contributing factor to the decline in violence, has been accompanied by suppression of minority ethnic or regionally distinctive groups,and their assimilation to the dominant ethnic group.
Assimilation that makes no change in the factors that are seen as crucial to the dominant ethnic groups identity (language, religion, racial characteristics etc.)
are normally accepted by the dominant group.
Assimilation that threatens to alter these is generally resisted.
Whites in Europe for whom racial traits are integral to being French, English, German etc.are likely to resist what they see as their assimilation to a new identity.
Mano Singham says
Surely you cannot be arguing that with the massively increased movement of people across the world that we now have, we have less diversity than in the past? What is the measure you are using to arrive at this conclusion?
The growth in the power of the state is not argued by Pinker to be a major factor in the reduction of violence. Rather it is the expanding circle of sympathy, the very thing that arises when people get to know one another because they know them better, i.e. when diversity increases. I will quote from my review:
Kevin Terrell says
“Surely you cannot be arguing that with the massively increased movement of people across the world that we now have, we have less diversity than in the past? ”
Yes, the ethnic diversity of the world has been declining for millennia,the modern state and the industrial revolution have simply accelerated the process.
Ethnogenesis occurs in two ways fission, one ethnic group separating into two or more, and fusion, two or more ethnic groups coming together as a new people.
Fusion has been the predominant mode of ethnogenesis for most of recorded history.
Fusion of small groups into larger groups,often involuntary ,has steadily decreased diversity at national levels,at least until fairly recently.
This has shrank the social distance between different groups and expanded “the circle of sympathy” but humanity has paid a high price for this in terms of worldwide diversity,for example over 40 languages have gone extinct in the 21st century alone.
Still,the largely ethnically homogeneous societies of Western Europe and East Asia, all of them the product of fusions of similar peoples, are the least violent in the world.
Ethnic heterogeneity, particularly when there is no clearly dominant (in numbers)
ethnic group,are usually less stable, poorer, and more violent.