Brexit Regret

I don’t know enough about British politics to know how to feel about the so-called Brexit. But I certainly know enough about American social media to know how my demographic is supposed to feel about the so-called Brexit. We’re supposed to feel that it’s a moronic hate crime perpetrated by racists, who didn’t understand and never believed in what they were voting for.

There are problems with each of these statements — they may be true, and may not, but they’re almost certainly oversimplifications, and I’d like to look at that last one, because although one common argument we all love is: “People who disagree with me don’t really disagree with me, they were just pretending to” —  “No one really likes modern art,” is perhaps the original formulation — this argument is almost always wrong.

This article, which hints that huge numbers of Brexit voters voted against their desires for the lols or something, was quite popular in the rounds, for example. But although the “best of” headline suggests that they were culling from innumerable examples, the first on their list and the fifth are actually the same person (one a primary source, the other a secondary source reacting to it); it was his “I didn’t think my vote would count” statement that started the Brexit regret fad.

The sixth example (of six) is the headline from one of an endless series of very nearly identical articles (“The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it”), presumably selected because it has the loaded word “frantically” in the headline and does not mention what some of the other articles mention: that google does not know if these googlers are those who abstained from the vote (27.8% of eligible voters), are those unable to vote by law, or are among the 48% of voters who are “good guys.”

The second example is from someone angry the stock market panicked. The third example is another third-party “this is the vibe around here” tweet, which I guess is evidence. The fourth is a link to a video that was taken down by the time I saw it, but is ostensibly a regretful leave voter whose race appears to undermine the “leave = racist” narrative.

So that’s not zero examples. Most of them get recycled in the inevitable nearly identical articles that jump on this bandwagon, although People magazine managed to find another one.

My question is: How common is “voter’s remorse”? How many elections have voters regretting all the next day?  What if the mainstream media gets really invested in the story that everyone who voted regretted it? Would you say you regretted it too? If we don’t have answers to these questions (and I don’t) how meaningful are a handful of anecdotes?

People often vote differently from how they say they will vote, which is why opinion polls are wrong. In the US, where Democrats have traditionally been branded as a party of idealists, and Republicans as a party of pragmatists (this has of course changed recently, now that we no longer have ideologies), Democrats traditionally have done better in exit polls than they did in the actual elections. Some people have called this voter fraud, but others have pointed out the desire to look like an idealistic, sensitive good guy leads people to fake their voter preference. Could it cause people to say they regret a vote they made in good conscience?

It is, of course, possible that many people who voted to leave didn’t really want to leave.  But, at least among my friends, this has already become the dominant narrative of the week: that Leave voters were so confused (?) that they pulled a lever based on momentary hate emotions (?), and sobered up immediately thereafter; and this theory, while possible, sounds fishy to me.

ETA: A good point from Freddie deBoer.



  1. For what it’s worth, someone who was outed as a Brexit sympathizer in my office said these things exactly the day following the vote — that she felt awful about it, that she wouldn’t have voted for it if she knew it would pass, and, indeed, at the end of a long day of teeth-gnashing by the company management, she said that in reality she had not actually cast her vote for Brexit at all, but only said she did. Hmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It worries me that I feel about Trump voters more or less how the rest of my peers feel about Leavers.

      So now in addition to my fear that Trump voters will destroy America, I also fear that they will destroy my perspicacity.


    2. Notington Tinfoilhatter · · Reply

      I’m sure I’ve repeated this saw before but — I know a lot of folks who voted for Bernie in the primaries who out and out said, “I am only doing this because I know he won’t win, the primary in NYC, and if I thought he would, I would not vote this way.”

      The way that I made sense of this and a lot of voting behavior draws on William Riker (the political scientist not the starfleet capitan He was freaked out when, during the cold war, this guy at RAND produced a mathematical proof that democratic voting procedures could never be implemented in a way that captures the will of the people — That proof came out in the cold war, and we knew that democracy was the best then, we all looked for reasons that it was the best, if the one it claimed wasn’t right.

      His answer — in a grossly oversimplified way — is that it keeps the patricians responsive to the needs of the plebians. When the people get pissed off, they don’t vote rationally for some new policy that they want (they never do that — they can’t). Rather, they just vote everyone out of office. Since the elected officials want to keep their jobs, they’ll do a far better job than communist bureaucrats of keeping the people happy/well-fed/etc.

      Maybe I’ve been reading far too much social psychology lately, but this cynical and dismissive attitude toward the self-understanding of the political behavior of others seems to explain a lot of recent political trends. The Tea Party (we get to maintain our demographic identity as GOPers while sticking it to those jerks), Trump and Bernie in the primaries (same rationale), Brexit perhaps (there was an awful lot of media and elites telling everyone “don’t do this.”

      One thing that seems different this time than in the past, though. There is some general sense that maybe the protest votes are for things dangerous to everyone, and not just to the patricians. I don’t mean dangerous in the way that dems always sneer at GOPer for voting against their interest, endangering themselves in their own stupidity. I mean something more like, well, we might have just destroyed our own retirement savings and the future prospects of our children. Our protest votes seem to be for far stronger things than just a different body in a suit taking advantage of us, and even if we have some emotion-character based drive to engage in this protest vote behavior, if the stakes are high enough reason might kick in and give us pause.

      So, yeah, the story all over the media that every single person who voted for Brexit immediately wants to press rewind, is as stupid as any other media narrative. But, it doesn’t seem implausible that you’d have a little more of that kind of thing now than during other elections.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are a lot of things that felt more comfortable, to me at least, when they were more useless. Political boycotts, for example, or shaming jerks. Before social media and out beloved internets these were simple, silly, and ineffective signals, and so we never had to think about whether they were a good idea or not. Heck, political boycotts still SOUND like a good idea, until you phrase it as “any company that disagrees with me should be driven out of business.” Is that really what we wanted?

        Protest votes have been a harmless signal for a long time (even if Perot and Nader swung elections MAYBE), and I’ve voted for a fourth-party candidate even when I thought their platform was too radical, just as an advertisement to drive the country in the direction I wanted (or to signal my black-hatted contrarianness; who knows?); but now that we’re coordinated enough to actually elect the crazy person, maybe we have to think for once about whether we ought to.


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