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