I cannot claim authorship of this post, it was written largely by Eric Kaufmann Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. His latest publication is a Demos report, freely available, entitled Changing Places: the White British response to ethnic change. He may be found on twitter @epkaufm.
I have made small addtions to Eric’s work to include my own perspective. I publish it all because you will not hear about these things in the mainstream media, or from politicians. Yet it is critical if we are to understand the forces shaping our world, now and in future. The fact that these factors will be ignored by politicians and the media adds to Adam Curtis’s recent analysis in HyperNormalisation – that we are being kept inside an over-simplified representation of the world’s problems – and solutions – so that those in control may retain power – even though they have absolutely no answers other than to perpetuate the unrest.
The truth is even more unsettling I believe, and I am no conspiracy theorist.
“Britain’s choice to Leave, we are told, is a protest by those left behind by modernisation and globalisation. London versus the regions, poor versus rich.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Brexit voters, like Trump supporters, are motivated by identity, not economics. Age, education, national identity and ethnicity are more important than income or occupation. But to get to the nub of the Leave-Remain divide, we need to go even deeper, to the level of attitudes and personality.
To keep this argument reasonably short, I have omitted the analyses based on class and region. The reason? These variables explain only 54% of the intention to vote Leave, little better than chance.
Those who know my work, wouldn’t be surprised that I would seek explanations driven by the inner landscapes of individuals rather than the collectives of social or regional identity, income or class.
“Let’s therefore look at individuals: what the survey data tell us about why people voted Brexit. Imagine you have a thousand British voters and must determine which way they voted. Figure 1 shows that if you guess, knowing nothing about them, you’ll get 50 percent right on average. Armed with information on region or their economic situation – income and social grade – your hit rate improves to about 54 percent, not much better than chance. In other words, the big stories about haves versus have-nots, or London versus the regions, are less important than popular media or politicians would have us believe.
If they are keeping something hidden, there are two main reasons and a third possibility:
- It is unpleasant and unflattering to the people they wish to speak for and represent
- It is to the establishment’s considerable advantage to back a distortion rather than the truth. This makes it seem on the side of the people.
- They simply have not bothered to look at this analysis.
Both factors 1 & 2 could be useful to the powers that be in the Brexit situation.
Looking through the graphic, age or education, which are tied more strongly to identity, get you over 60 percent. Ethnicity is important but tricky: minorities are much less likely to have voted Leave, but this tells us nothing about the White British majority so doesn’t improve our overall predictive power much.
Invisible attitudes are more powerful than group categories. If we know whether someone supports UKIP, Labour or another party, we increase our score to over 70 percent. The same is true for a person’s attitudes to immigration.
What really stands out from Figure 1 is the importance of support for the death penalty. Nobody has been out campaigning on this issue, yet it strongly correlates with Brexit voting intention. This speaks to a deeper personality dimension which social psychologists call Authoritarianism. A less judgmental way of thinking about authoritarianism is order versus openness. Those who intended to vote Leave scored much lower on the Big 5 Personality characteristic, ‘Openness to Experience’ than those who intended to vote Remain.
The order-openness divide is emerging as the key political cleavage, overshadowing the left-right economic dimension. Another way of phrasing this divide is between those who dislike difference – signifying, to them, disorder and chaos – and those who embrace it.
Pat Dade at Cultural Dynamics has produced a heat map of the kinds of values that correspond to strong Euroscepticism, and to each other. This is shown in Figure 2. Disciplining children and whipping sex criminals (circled), keeping the nation safe, protecting social order and skepticism (‘few products live up to the claims of their advertisers…products don’t last as long as they used to’) correlate with Brexit sentiment.
[These attitude dimensions cluster within the third of the map known as the ‘Settlers’, for whom belonging, certainty, roots and safety are paramount. This segment is also disproportionately opposed to immigration in virtually every country Dade has sampled. By contrast, people oriented toward success and display (‘Prospectors’), or who prioritise expressive individualism and cultural equality (‘Pioneers’) voted Remain.]
Do download or magnify this map and look at it closely. I will be surprised if you don’t find some worrying attitudes among the yellow/orange segment. The most disturbing are support for the death penalty, non-reflecting and revenge. Do we really want to undertake a shift in our arrangements that will take 10 years, cost billions, motivated by revenge fantasies?
Is that where we are headed? Towards endorsing the views of people who want revenge?
Another is Shangri La-ism. Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. In the book, “Shangri-La” is a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia—a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world.
It is simply not true – it is the opposite of the truth – that things were better in the ‘good old days’. They were not: we were colder, poorer, lived less long, worked more physically, had less education, less to eat, less mobility, less labour-saving devices, less foreign holidays. See ‘Progress‘ for a thorough review.
I cry for my country, driven by revenge fantasies into darkness – which politicians, eager for votes and to retain power even though they have no solutions – are pretending is a new dawn.