Tension brews on the streets of Britain between Leave and Remain voters, facilitated by misinformation and careless reporting; I would like to discuss the facts
My Facebook feed is at war today.
People who voted Remain are accusing the Leavers of racism, stupidity, and thoughtlessness. The people who voted Leave are accusing the Remainers of having sour grapes and not accepting a democratic decision. And then you have the younger generation (16-24) accusing the older generation of robbing them of their future, of voting for something they won’t have to live with and of taking away the opportunity to live and study abroad.
It is true that there are things about the EU which particularly appealed to younger voters. As a 23-year-old Remain voter myself, I know that the ability to live and work abroad is something we cherished, a world of possibilities that is now in jeopardy. Collaboration with other European countries and feeling like we were connected to the world, that we weren’t just British, but European. These were important factors.
Many reporters covering this story are focusing on how the older generation ‘stole’ the younger generation’s future. That because of their own xenophobia and pining for Britain’s golden years, they have now messed everything up for the very people who will have to live through it. A lot of this is based on a YouGov poll taken on the 23rd of June, which showed that around 75 per cent of 16-to-24-year-olds voted to remain, whilst 61 per cent of over 65s voted to leave. This figure has been all over the internet since it was released, and it is fuelling a lot of bad feeling between the generations.
What most people aren’t saying, however, is that this poll is based on a total of 4,772 adults, of which the unweighted sample of 16-to-24-year-olds was 360, and the 16-24 age group was the smallest sample in the poll. This is not to say that many 16-24s weren’t in favour of remaining, but to use this survey as fact without first discussing the limits of such a small sample is a little dishonest.
There were young people who voted Leave. I’ve been conducting my own survey on the matter, and here are some of the responses I got from young Leave voters.
Oliver, 23: Voting Leave was a very difficult choice for me. Ultimately it came down to two factors, humanism and democracy, which I see as closely related. Having assessed very carefully the stated Democratic deficit in the EU, the pressure of large corporations and the replacement of elected member state governments in Italy and Greece, I concluded that the EU had the potential to deliver in the long term a political and economic disaster far beyond the worst-case scenario of Leave.
James, 20: Not a fan of what I consider to be a corrupt, unelected political elite with no accountability to the people they govern.
Luke, 22: I voted Leave because the EU has an unelected executive branch.
Eli, 24: I voted Leave because we can get better trade deals out of the EU than in.
There was also a backlash against the Remain supporters.
Mary, 21: I hate people who are just screaming xenophobia because they can’t fathom that people had other opinions beyond immigration. A lot of votes came out of the fact that the EU is undemocratic.
What you may have noticed from the quotes above is that none of them mention immigration as the reason they voted Leave.
Whilst immigration was certainly played up by the campaign, there were in fact many other reasons people voted which had absolutely nothing to do with immigration. Unaccountability, lack of transparency and lack of democracy were very big factors — whether you agree that this was the case or not. And some people researched and fact-checked long and hard before making a decision.
There has always been a lack of understanding about what the EU actually does in this country, and it is incredibly hard to wrap your head around all the branches and duties and regulations it involves. But this also means that the people who voted because of one issue, or who voted because they didn’t like the other side’s campaign, may not understand the full arguments from both sides and therefore do not have the right to make generalised accusations.
Public opinion is never unanimous, and it is never clearly defined by demographics. There are trends, there are shared interests, but ultimately public opinion will just never be straightforward. Whilst Remain voters have a right to be upset, a right to be worried and a right to be unnerved, taking it out on Leave supporters by dismissing them as old, xenophobic UKIP supporters who are all uneducated Sun readers isn’t helpful. Such an attitude is only going to make us less united in an uncertain time.
This is the start of a massive chapter in our history and no one really knows what’s going to happen. If however, we start collaborating and sharing ideas rather than fighting amongst ourselves, then maybe we can create something far better.