A risk worth taking? The effect of information in the Brexit referendum

Published on The Plot blog on 18 July 2016

The outcome of the Brexit referendum has sparked a wave of comments to understand who the Leave voters are. The evidence so far indicates that those who decided to leave the EU tend to be older, less educated and poorer than those who decided to remain in the EU. However, there is another factor that seems to explain support for Brexit, i.e. voters’ inclination to take risks. Despite presenting two apparently equivalent options, referendums require voters to choose between the uncertainty of a change – such as a constitutional change or the introduction of a new policy – and the relative certainty of maintaining the status quo. In most cases, the ‘change option’ is intrinsically riskier than keeping the status quo, and the outcome of Britain’s EU referendum clearly shows that “Brexit is riskier than Bremain”, as Timothy Garton Ash wrote.

Given these differences between referendum options in terms of risks and uncertainties, we can expect risk preferences to influence not only voting decisions, but also how voters react to campaign arguments from both sides of the referendum campaign. Were risk takers more likely to vote Leave in the Brexit referendum, and how did information influence their voting decisions?

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Brexit and Scottish independence: Does campaign information actually change voters’ minds during a referendum?

Published on the LSE Europp blog on 8 June 2106

A referendum implies two radically different choices. On the one hand, you can vote for a change, such as a constitutional change, the introduction of a new policy, or the approval of a new treaty. On the other, you can refuse the proposed change and maintain the status quo.

Although choosing the status quo does not necessarily correspond to the safest option, it does correspond to the less uncertain one. “Brexit is riskier than Bremain”, as Timothy Garton Ash wrote in relation to the upcoming EU referendum. But considering the intrinsic differences between referendum options, does information also have different effects on voting decisions?

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Great symposium in Konstanz

From 17 to 20 May I was in Konstanz at a symposium organised by the Graduate School of Decision Science, University of Konstanz. The symposium, entitled “Exploring Ignorance: Acquisition, Selection and Processing of Information” , gathered scholars from political science, economics and psychology, and was a fantastic chance to explore the topics of information processing and decision making from an interdisciplinary perspective.

As part of the programme, I presented part of my research on the effects of information in the campaign for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

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How to win a risky referendum: give voters more information

Published on the EPOP Blog on 4 May 2106

Voting Yes or No in a referendum is a substantially different choice. While Yes votes imply support for a change, No votes generally confirm the status quo. Such an imbalance is clear in the upcoming EU referendum in the UK. On the one hand, voters can choose to confirm Britain’s current status as a member of the European Union, while, on the other, they can opt for leaving the EU, with all the risks and uncertainties related to breaking an alliance that has lasted since the 1973. Considering these intrinsic differences between the two referendum options, how will the arguments from both sides of campaign influence the vote?

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Political psychology conference in Amsterdam

On 3-4 December I attended the Political Psychology conference in Amsterdam, where I presented my recent paper on “The polarizing effect of negative campaigning: Evidence from the 2015 UK elections”.

The conference, organised by members of the Amsterdam School for Communication Research (ASCoR), was a fantastic chance to meet great scholars working on political and social psychology in Europe.

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“Information is crucial for the most uncertain referendum option”

I’ve been interwied by El Español for an article on the UK’s EU membership referendum:

Las caras del referéndum británico sobre abandonar la UE
Las campañas a favor y en contra del ‘Brexit’ han abandonado la línea de salida y los principales partidos evidencian sus divisiones.

Read the article here

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Consultation on media diversity in South Korea

I have recently contributed to an expert consultation on media diversity in South Korea. The consultation, launched by Professor Kyung-sin Park and commissioned by the Ministry of Culture of South Korea, focussed on how and whether online intermediaries should be taken into account in the measurement of media diversity.

More information is available on opennetkorea.org.

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