Voter Decision-Making in a Context of Low Political Trust: The 2016 UK EU Membership Referendum

Nick Clarke, Will Jennings, Jonathan Moss, Gerry Stoker

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Using volunteer writing for Mass Observation, we explore how British citizens decided whether to leave the EU. The 2016 referendum was the biggest decision made by the British electorate in decades, but involved limited voter analysis. Many citizens did not have strong views about EU membership in early 2016. The campaigns did not help to firm up their views, not least because so much information appeared to be in dispute. Voters, often characterised as polarised, were reluctant and uncertain. Many citizens took their duty to decide seriously, but were driven more by hunch than careful analysis. In 2016, voters reacted against elites they did not trust at least as much as they embraced the ideas of trusted elites. This contrasts with the 1975 Referendum on the Common Market, when the vote was driven by elite endorsement. In low-trust contexts, voters use cues from elites as negative rather than positive stimulus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalPolitical Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 May 2021

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