EU Referendum Summary

EU Ref Blog Summary

EU Referendum – Summary

Brexit

In the aftermath of the EU referendum much ink has been spilled in an attempt to explain the outcome and why people voted as they did.

In the month leading up to the referendum we conducted a study, in collaboration with the Guardian, that explored the subconscious ‘feelings’ that drove voters’ decision making. By feelings, we mean the information that has been embedded into the subconscious over time that subsequently informs our decision-making.

So what did the data show and how does it relate to the actual result?

Based on the research we conducted in February 2016, before the campaign got into full swing we, like other research companies were surprised by the final outcome suggesting a small majority in favour of the Remain campaign, and I will suggest some of the reasons for this error in a moment. But let me start by looking at what we got right.

  • Among those most in favour of Brexit (for further details see Blog 2) 74% prioritised immigration above all other issues (See blog 3 for further details)
  • At the other end of the scale, our data clearly suggested that feelings about the EU were most positive in Scotland (Remain 61%), London (Remain 95%), and Northern Ireland (Remain 99%)  (See blog 2 for more detail)
  • Our data also clearly showed a significant increase in ‘Leave’ voters according to age with half (49%) of 18 – 24 year olds feeling strongly we should remain in the EU compared with around a quarter (24%) of those aged between 50 and 60. (See blog 2 for more details)


Last but not least, our findings indicated that the feelings of those who were still undecided at the time of testing (Feb 16) were aligned closer to those who were in either of the two ‘out’ groups (Weak
out and Strong out).

We found that a latent mistrust of the EU lurked in many people’s subconscious, but at the time of testing was of insufficient power to override conscious doubts about the future outside of the EU. This might have tipped the balance towards voting leave at the last minute. When decision making becomes overly complex people tend to rely  on their ‘gut’ feelings.

Brexit-pic

Basing our prediction on the data collected in February, we expected that Britain would remain in the EU. Clearly, implicit attitudes change during campaigning and more so than we predicted.

As explained in Blog 1, we can only ever accurately estimate outcomes over which we have no control. It is possible to make increasingly precise weather forecasts, since their publication exerts absolutely no effect on the outcome. The same cannot, of course, be said about public opinion polls whose widespread dissemination can and does significantly influence voter intentions.

A second possible reason is that people who wanted out were more strongly motivated to actually go out and vote. Data shows that only around a third of younger voters actually did so on the day and, of course, no one knows how non-voters would have voted.

Since the methods we employed have never before been used to capture people’s implicit attitudes and motivation towards complex and abstract concepts like EU membership, we probably need even finer tuned tools to do so.

All in all, however, we believe the detailed results are a powerful demonstration of both the accuracy and the potential of this radically new approach to market research.

Written by Insa-Annett Tiaden & Dr David Lewis-Hodgson

 

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Why Feelings Hold the Key to the EU Referendum Outcome

EU Ref Blog 5

Why Feelings Hold the Key to the EU Referendum Outcome

Blog 5 – EU Referendum

Ballot PaperIn this blog I summarise the main findings of the research we conducted with The Guardian that looked at  voters’ intentions during the EU Referendum,

What do we mean by ‘feelings’?

Psychologists’ categorise modes of thought in two ways:

Implicit (System 1) thinking is non-conscious and error prone but able to rapidly integrate numerous types of interacting information.
Explicit (System 2) is conscious and more accurate, but only capable of handling a few items of information at a time. ‘Feelings’ arise on the ‘fringes’ of conscious and non-conscious thought and play a crucial role in our decision-making.

The basis for this type of research relies upon the fact that ‘feelings’ offer a mental shortcut that draws upon information and emotion that has been ‘absorbed’ into the subconscious. This information does not exist in isolation, but rather pieces of information are connected with other pieces of information in our memory.

People generally take time to process new information and work out how they ‘feel’ about it. Over time these ‘feelings’ become increasingly automatic, allowing the individual to devote less energy into re-evaluating what is already firmly established and connected in their minds.
Come 23rd June, we believe a significant percentage will be voting to remain or leave not on a deep understanding of the economic and social issues involved but on whether they feel staying or leaving is, in some way, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
This study set out to measure both the direction (i.e. positive or negative) and strength of these feelings.

Here is a summary of what we found.

  • Those strongly in favour of Brexit consistently prioritised Immigration over all other issues, suggesting this is the real issue driving strong negative feelings.
  • Undecided voters have, on average, marginally positive subconscious associations with the EU.
  • The feelings of floating voters are closer to those who say they will vote to leave than those who say they will vote to remain.
    With the exception of UKIP, supporters of each mainstream party are more likely to have positive feelings about the EU with Lib Dem supporters being the most positive.
  • Britons aged 30-49 are most likely to have positive feelings about the EU with men being marginally more positive than women.
  • Feelings about the EU are most positive in Scotland and least positive in the South East and East Midlands.
  • Positivity tends to increase with education; those with a post-graduate degree are, by some distance, most likely to have positive feelings about with the EU.
  • Those employed either full or part time, have more positive feelings than do the unemployed, students, retired or the self-employed.
  • Those with the highest levels of knowledge about the EU are the least likely to have positive feeling.

Based on this research conducted  at the beginning of the campaign we expect there to be a 57% Remain vote. We think that people’s implicit attitudes to Europe may waver but are unlikely to change dramatically but we are very soon about to find out.

If you would like to receive a FREE copy of our report,  just e-mail mail@themindlab.co.uk

 

Read more on this series

Blog 1 – What Voters REALLY Feel about the EU Referendum

Blog 2 – Who’s In and Who’s Out – Attitudes based on Demographics

Blog 3 – A Matter of Priorities – What Matters to Voters

Blog 4 – How Both BS Susceptibility and EU Knowledge Influence Voters’ Priorities



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How Both BS Susceptibility and EU Knowledge Influence Voters’ Priorities

EU Ref Blog 4

How Both BS Susceptibility and EU Knowledge Influence Voters’ Priorities

EU Referendum – Blog 4

Do you consider the following statements ‘Profound’ or ‘Meaningless’?

EU Bullsht

  • ‘Culture illuminates the door of excellence’

  • ‘Death is reborn in the light of observations’

  • ‘Evolution opens descriptions of phenomena’

  • ‘Freedom is the ground of innumerable experience

Statements like these formed the ‘Bullsh*t Susceptibility Scale’ (BSS) in a EU Referendum study we conducted in collaboration with the Guardian. Designed to sound, at least at first reading as deep and wise, they were in fact pretension nonsense. 1000 participants were invited to move a slider to indicate, on a 1 to 7 Likert scale, the extent to which they found them insightful. Their scores were then categorised as Low, Medium, High or Very High.

In a second quiz we tested voters’ knowledge of the EU by posing such questions as:

  • 1. Who is Wolfgang Schäuble?
  • 2. What is the name of the treaty that was responsible for the creation of the EU?
  • 3. What is the Schengen area?

What we wanted to see the extent to which scores on these tests influenced the priorities each of the five voter groups (Strong In; Weak In; Undecided; Strong Out; Weak Out) we identified. (See my earlier blog for a full description of these groups) attached to key social issues. The results are shown in Tables 1 and 2 below.

Table 1 – Bull Susceptibility Scale (BSS)

Blog 4 Table 1

As with charts shown in my previous blogs, the deeper the green, the stronger the priority, the deeper the red, the weaker.
If we consider the NHS, the issue that generated the strongest positive associations we see that a low BSS score significantly increased the time this issue was prioritised compared to those with a high Score (71% vs. 59%). In other words people who are more thoughtful rank it as having greater important than the more susceptible to statements that seem insightful while being anything but.
A similar, although smaller, difference was found on the issue that generated the strongest negative feelings – Europe. Here voters with low or medium BSS scores prioritised it somewhat less frequently (28% & 27%) than those with a High or Very High score (30% % 32%).
Let’s now examine the extent to which knowledge of the EU affects priorities. Once again scores were placed on one of four categories. Low indicates poor knowledge and Very high a strong performance.

Table 2 – Issue Priority vs EU Knowledge
Blog 4 - Table 2

Here we can see that more knowledgeable voters prioritised economy higher (green bars)  significantly more often than did low knowledge voters (51% vs. 39%). Similarly knowledge about the EU made them substantially less negative about Immigration and somewhat less negative about Europe.
When we examined the response time we found that the more knowledgeable voters’ were more reflective and less automatic in their answers. Table 3 shows the amount of time (in milliseconds) taken to answer – the longer the time the more thoughtful the response.

Table 3 – Decision Conviction vs Bull Susceptibility
Blog 4 - Table 3

Noticeable in the above is the fact that more knowledgeable voters take time to consider their options whereas the less knowledgeable ones make more rapid and automatic judgements.
Over the past four blogs I have explored some of the key issues about the EU referendum identified by our research. In my fifth and final blog I will summarise these findings and also provide a link to the Power Point PDF that shows all the results.

 

Read more on this series

Blog 1 – What Voters REALLY Feel about the EU Referendum

Blog 2 – Who’s In and Who’s Out – Attitudes based on Demographics

Blog 3 – A Matter of Priorities – What Matters to Voters


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A Matter of Priorities

 EU Ref Blog 3

A Matter of Priorities

EU Referendum – Blog 3

Image Of Hands On The Background Of The European Flag. Make A ChGiven the acres of newsprint and thousands of hours of broadcasting devoted to the EU Referendum, one might suppose Europe to be high on the list of voters’ priorities. Our research indicates otherwise. While there are undoubtedly some for whom the decision to remain or leave is the highest priority, a majority place it fairly low down on the issues that concern them.

This part of the study, in collaboration with the Guardian, determined implicitly the priority of ten key issues  for our 1,000 participants . These areas of concern, included the NHS, Immigration, Crime, Education, Low Pay and Europe. The results were analysed by the five voter categories I described in my previous EU blog. These are: Strongly In; Weakly In; Undecided; Weakly Out and Strongly Out.

Findings

The Tables below show both the percentage of times an issue was prioritised and the feelings they generated. Red indicates negative and green positive feelings, the darker the colour the stronger the sentiment aroused.

As Table 1 below shows, the NHS was prioritised a greater percentage of times by all except Strongly Out voters for whom it came a close second to Immigration (74% vs. 71%).  The dark green colour indicates the feelings were all highly positive.

Those strongly in favour of leaving the EU unsurprisingly prioritised Immigration 74% of the time (compared to 25% of the time by those strongly in favour of remaining). Interestingly both they, the Weak Out and Undecided groups had positive feelings about this issue – extremely positive in the case of the Strong Out. Both the Strong and Weak In voters had negative feelings about it.

Collage On Event June 23: Brexit Uk Eu Referendum Who Wins The GOne can speculate this is because those favouring Brexit or still Undecided, regard high levels of immigration as helpful when it comes to persuading others to their viewpoint. The same negative and positive feelings can be seen where Crime is concerned. Here half (50%) of those favouring Brexit had positive feeling on this issue while the Strong In voted were much less concerned with it and expressed strongly negative feelings.

Strongly pro-EU voters prioritised Education (51%); Unemployment (45%) and Inequality (42%) more often than any of the other groups. Apart from Immigration (74%) the issues prioritised by strong supporters of Brexit are Crime (50%) and Housing (46%). Europe was prioritised 40% of the time by Strong Out voters but only 20% of the time by voters strongly in favour of remaining in the EU.

 

Blog 2 - Table 1 - Priority

Male Female Differences -Table 2

Blog 2 - Table 2 - Whats your Priority

We looked at both the percentage of times that a key issue was prioritised over others and the strength of feeling as measured by the speed with which a response was provided.

As can be seen a slightly higher percentage of women afford Education a higher priority than men (46% vs. 43%) whereas more men than women prioritise the economy (50% vs. 45%). Women in our sample were also somewhat quicker to make their decisions about what to prioritise. Positive or negative feelings for each of the issues matched in direction although not always in strength as the colours indicate.

Differences by Age – Table 3

In line with other studies, our data shows younger voters view the EU significantly more favourably than do older ones. For the under thirties, both Europe and Immigration are significantly less of a priority than for the over fifties. On Europe a third of 18 to 24 year olds (33%) and a quarter of 25 to 29 year olds (24%) see this as an issues compared to four in ten (41%) of over eighties.

On Immigration the split is even greater, while around a third of the under thirties make this a priority after the age of fifty just over half do.

For voters below 25 Education is slightly more of a priority (53%) than any other group except for those aged eighty and over (50%). With the NHS it is the only issue to arouse positive feelings across all age groups.

Blog 2 - Table 3 - Priority Percentage

In my next blog I will explore the extent to which accurate knowledge and false beliefs about the EU influences voting choices.

End

 

Read more on this series

Blog 1 – What Voters REALLY Feel about the EU Referendum

Blog 2 – Who’s In and Who’s Out – Attitudes based on Demographics

Blog 4- How Both BS Susceptibility and EU Knowledge Influence Voters’ Priorities

Blog 5 – Why Feelings Hold the Key to EU Referendum Outcome


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Who’s In and Who’s Out

EU Ref Blog 2

Who’s In and Who’s Out?

EU Referendum – II

bigstock--132594740Before looking at these data in more detail, a few words about the way this study, in collaboration with The Guardian, was conducted.

As I explained in my previous Blog we used our proprietary software to explore the ‘feelings’ of 1,000 respondents regarding many aspects of the EU and Referendum. Such feelings arise on the boundary between the conscious and non-conscious mind and comprise a blend, in varying proportions, of emotions and cognition – for further details see my March 23rd Blog Once More With Feeling.

When it comes to the complexity of the issues surrounding ‘stay’ or ‘go’ a lack of precise information either way suggests that emotions play a greater role than knowledge. Because such ‘feelings’ tend to be resistant to change, findings implicit findings are more accurate and durable across time than explicit results.

We found that almost six out of ten respondents (57%) felt the UK should remain a part of the European Union, while 43% of the sample indicated that they would opt to leave. When we included the option ‘I am unsure’, just over one in six (15%) of respondents used this option. Two in five (37%) felt that Brexit was the best option while just under half (47%) indicated a preference for remaining.

One of the main goals of this study was to see if we could use implicit data to further separate these groups. To this end we identified respondents who held strong positions in either direction. For the purposes of this, ‘strong’ opinions were identified as being above 7 on a Likert scale indicating how sure they were (from 1 – ‘I am not certain at all’ to 10 = ‘I am extremely certain’).
Great Britain Leaves The European UnionOnce we had obtained a sample of such participants we then used their implicit positivity, associated with remaining / leaving the EU alongside their attitudes towards the key political issues to build a classifier that could be used to predict the probability that any particular individual would be inclined to vote either in our out.

According to the probability assigned participants were allocated into one of five groups: Strong out, Weak out, Undecided, Weak in and Strong in. Chart 1 below shows the differences between ‘explicitly’ and Implicitly derived answers:

The Tables below show both the percentage of times an issue was prioritised and the feelings they generated. The colours indicate the strongest and weakest sentiments per group. Green represents where the group most aligned, and red the opposite.

Voter preferences by Gender

Table 1 - Gender
As Table 1 shows, a higher percentage of men than women think the UK should remain in the EU, although both sexes were almost equally likely to feel Undecided or vote to leave.

Strong In males felt more strongly and positively about staying than did Strong Out men. Those in the Weak In, Undecided and Weak Out should negative feelings on the issue with the Undecided being most negative of all.

Voter preferences by Age

Table 2 - Age

As other surveys have found, our research confirmed the strong preference to remain among 18 to 24 years old voters with almost half (49%) feeling we should stay in the EU and only 3% feeling strongly that it would be better to leave.  Strong positive feelings were generated among those favouring remain while equally powerful negative associated were found in the Brexiters. Indeed it was only in this age range that equally powerful feelings, for and against, were found. Those most likely to strongly feel like leaving were aged between 50 and 59 (31%) although after the age of forty around one in five held this opinion. Those over eighty were least likely to be undecided (6%) but were far more likely to vote to leave (56%) than remain (39%).

Remain or Leave Preferences by Region

Table 3 - Region
Summary:

The Scots feel most strongly we should remain (41%) in the EU while those in Yorkshire and the Humber being least likely to want to stay in (22%). After Scotland, Londoners (37%) and the Northern Irish (33%) have the highest proportion feeling we should remain. People in the South West feel we should Vote Leave (29%), followed closely by East Midlanders (25%). All regions that are Strongly In have positive feelings about the EU, compared with only two regions (Scotland and Northern Ireland) in the Strong Out group.

  • Those who feel strongly we should either stay in or leave are most likely to be male, while women are more likely to be undecided.
  • Younger participants were more likely to think Britain should say in the EU, while older participants were more likely to want to leave.
  • Finally, people in Scotland and London were most likely to be in the ‘strong in’ group, while those in the South West and the East Midlands were most likely to strongly feel that Britain should leave.

But how important is Europe for a majority of voters? As I will explain in my next EU blog, our research has shown that it is far less of a priority than most in the Westminster Village would have us believe.

Read more on this series

Blog 1 – What Voters REALLY Feel about the EU Referendum

Blog 3 – A Matter of Priorities – What Matters to Voters

Blog 4- How Both BS Susceptibility and EU Knowledge Influence Voters’ Priorities


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What Voters REALLY Feel about the EU Referendum

EU Ref Blog 1

What Voters REALLY Feel about the EU Referendum

 

bigstock--130949024The traditional way of finding out how people will vote in the coming EU referendum is, of course, to ask them. Which is exactly what polling organisations have being doing regularly over the past months.

While their polls – that assign respondents to one of three groups: Vote to remain, vote to leave and undecided – offer a snapshot of voting intentions, such explicit questioning gives no sense of the strength of support for each position. Those marginally in favour of leaving or remaining, who could potentially change their mind, are combined with voters already firmly convinced one way or the other.

In the present study, conducted in collaboration with the Guardian, we adopt a radically different approach. By using a specially developed form of implicit rather than explicit testing, we are able to access both subconscious ‘feelings’ and the strength with which these views are held. This type of research relies upon the fact that for most of our decision-making, we employ mental shortcuts that call upon information that has been ‘absorbed’ into the subconscious. This information does not exist in isolation. Each piece of information is connected with every other in memory.

When presented with new information people generally take time to process the information and form a rationalised response. Over a period attitudes become more automatic as the individual devotes less energy into re-evaluating opinions already firmly established and connected in their minds. If we record the speed of response we obtain an insight into how embedded these opinions are. The more multi-faceted and complicated a decision becomes the more likely voters are to go with their gut feelings.

In this referendum, apart from a minority on either side who are passionate and committed, most voters seem confused and uncertain. A recent letter to the Metro undoubtedly expressed the feelings of many:

“I am educated enough to recognise that I have no hope of understanding and evaluating all the factors affecting this decision demanded of us in the EU referendum,” the writer admitted, adding “I seriously doubt if anyone can.”

In such situations, implicit testing provides a far more powerful and reliable tool of determining voter sentiment.

The present study, conducted in collaboration with the Guardian involved a thousand respondents and combined our new and unique form implicit testing with a number of explicit questionnaires in order to find answers to the following:

  • How positive do voters feel about the United Kingdom and the European Union?
  • How strongly do they associate the UK with leaving or remaining in the EU?
  • How do they prioritise the key political issues?

Over the next two weeks we will be publishing five further blogs each focusing on different findings from the study.
It is important to realise that one can only accurately predict what one cannot control. Weather forecasts are becoming increasingly accurate because their publication has no effect on the weather. The same cannot be said about polling data. This fact that, for example, a widely publicised poll that showed a significant increase or decrease in those supporting a particular position, would be very likely to influence voter decision making in the future.
This was what happened during the Scottish independence referendum after a well-publicised poll indicated an increased vote for the leave section. The government immediately made further promises and concessions, which, together with a surge of support for those in favour of the Union caused supporters of Independence to lose the vote.
In the next blog I will be describing what our research has revealed about the key characteristics of ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ together with the priority they assign to the referendum itself. Given the massive amount of discussion and media attention our finding may well surprise and shock you.

 

Dr David Lewis

Read more on this series

Blog 2 – Who’s In and Who’s Out – Attitudes based on Demographics

Blog 3 – A Matter of Priorities – What Matters to Voters

Blog 4- How Both BS Susceptibility and EU Knowledge Influence Voters’ Priorities

Blog 5 – Why Feelings Hold the Key to EU Referendum Outcome


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