Academic discusses research into public attitudes following EU referendum

On Thursday 27 April 2017 Dr Simona Guerra (pictured) joined a panel at the LSE on Brexit and why British citizens voted Leave at the 2016 British EU membership referendum.

The LSE Brexit event, chaired by Professor Tony Travers, LSE Director, was organized after the publication of the new book Why Britain Voted to Leave the EU, with contributions by Professor Matthew Goodwin, one of the three co-authors, Ms Marta Lorimer, a doctoral researcher at the LSE European Institute, and Mr James Ball, from Buzzfeed.

Simona’s contribution partly touched upon themes examined in her recent book, Euroscepticism, Democracy, and the Media: Communicating Europe, Contesting Europe, and her current research project ‘Brexit or Bremain: Britain and the 2016 Referendum’, with Roberta Guerrina and Theofanis Exadaktylos (University of Surrey).

Simona showed how the outcome of the referendum could be expected. Looking at the Eurobarometer data, at the question whether Britain benefited from EU membership, values generally showed a sustained predominance of negative answers.

The Single Market years, between 1989 and 1991, were the only ones when positive views were more widespread, but the impact of the political Union afterwards did not receive much support and negative views remained quite high. Hence the 2016 referendum took place at a time when the EU was called to answer multiple challenges and Britain showed increasing negative perceptions towards benefits from EU membership.

Simona further discussed attitudes and emotions following the referendum and the possible impact on the domestic debates surrounding the negotiation process leaving to exiting the EU. As Simona stressed, in the campaign the EU was charged by the worrying impact of migrants and the challenging impact of the EU on British politics. This polarized the EU narrative in the country, which often lacked any positive or neutral image of the EU. An overview on the reason to vote Remain and Leave immediately points to the lack of neutral information (Galpin and Trenz 2017).

Simona said: "While 71 per cent among those who voted Remain answered that the most salient issue when casting their vote was the economy, almost the same percentage (72 per cent) addressed Immigration & Asylum among Leavers. The position of Britain in the world is the second most important concern among Remainers. The importance of the role of Europe in their life becomes clear when answering Europe itself among the reasons of their vote (27 per cent). The rich details of concerns and possible negative outcomes following the outcome of the referendum address the limits when communicating Europe (Caiani and Guerra 2017).

"Bias towards news coverage is a ‘universal finding’ (Galpin and Trenz 2017) and in this case more presence of Eurosceptic actors and narrative have characterized the campaign that addressed the possible negative economic perspective domestic situation in case of Remain and the uncontrolled flow of immigrants and sovereignty in case of Leave."