School of Psychology

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Could we have predicted Brexit?

11 January 2018

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Was Theresa May right to go for 'strong and stable' at the last general election? Although that strategy has been the subject of criticism, research conducted by Professor Dominic Abrams and Dr Giovanni Travaglino suggests that these themes might have appealed particularly to those who voted to leave the EU, as described in their British Academy blog

The research just published in the British Journal of Social Psychology reports evidence from political opinion surveys conducted just before the EU referendum, with samples of 1000 eligible voters from Kent and 1000 from Scotland. It examined the way that respondents' views predicted their voting intentions in the referendum.

Different explanations have been given for why people voted for Brexit. One explanation suggests that support for Brexit reflected a general rise in xenophobia and prejudice, perhaps fuelled by a populist agenda. Another explanation is that it reflected people's distrust and rejection of the political establishment. Professor Abrams and Dr Travaglino proposed an 'aversion amplification hypothesis' whereby the combination of these two components was particularly influential. They reasoned that when people's concern about levels of immigration was combined with feeling distrustful of politicians, this would lead to a heightened sense of threat from immigration, and disidentification with Europe. A vote for Brexit reflected a rejection of the political status-quo and a desire for a more predictable future.

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For more on this research see our Political and Social Change page.


School of Psychology - Keynes College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NP

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Last Updated: 19/02/2015