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On Brexiters being called stupid

Why is it that Brexiters are so insistent they’re being called stupid? Is it because they are being called stupid? In some cases, yes. You can easily find Remainers saying Leave voters are stupid, ignorant, racist or whatever, just as you can find Leavers accusing Remoaners of being unpatriotic traitors or elitist snobs, and the nature of social media is such that the most extreme examples are the most likely to get amplified, often by the other side in order to say “look, this is what they think of you.”

Perhaps the Leave campaign was just more effective at demonising its opponents.

This now happens with virtually every issue, though, and is not isolated to Brexit. Rather than finding the most eloquent proponent of the opposing side’s position and taking on their arguments, it’s far easier and probably more effective to pick out the weakest and hold them up to ridicule.

We didn’t know what we were voting for

But there may be more to this when it comes to Brexit. The statement that we didn’t know much back in 2016 but we know so much more about the EU now was often used as an argument for a people’s vote, and in most cases I read it as applying to all of us, not just those who voted to leave. Still, it was often taken by Leavers as a suggestion that they didn’t know what they were voting for, that they were either ignorant or stupid. But none of us really knew what Leave meant, and for many Remain voters that was a big part of their reason for voting Remain. Better the devil you know… There were numerous versions of leave on offer, from a no deal WTO rules Brexit to one that kept us in the single market and/or the customs union, and even now that we have formally left and are in the withdrawal agreement’s transition period, we don’t know what kind of deal if any we’ll have by the end of this year nor what effects it’s going to have on our the country.

We do now at least know that statements such as “leave means leave” and “Brexit means Brexit” are meaningless.

The idea that we didn’t know what we were voting for (or against) in 2016 was not only being put by Remainers. I can recall hearing many Question Time audience members complaining before the referendum that they didn’t feel informed enough to vote and asking for someone just to give them the facts, or saying this should be a decision for the politicians and it’s what we pay them for.

Remember that there wasn’t a huge demand for a referendum on our membership of the EU back in 2015 when it went into the Tory party’s manifesto, but when it came along most of us felt we ought to vote, even if we didn’t think we knew enough.

There were though many specifically targeted by the Leave campaign who didn’t normally vote and who probably weren’t that politically engaged who were persuaded to vote in the referendum. Those of us who are politically engaged, we’re used to having our opinions challenged, but perhaps for these new voters they took the attacks on their position as personal attacks. To state that a policy is irrational or stupid does not mean you’re calling those who support that policy irrational or stupid. People may infer that, but many intelligent people can hold views on some topics that are simply wrong, or stupid even. Rational people often have blind spots of irrationality.

The Leave campaign certainly wasn’t stupid. It understood far better than Remain that people weren’t going to be swayed by facts and figures, that emotion would be the main driver. Its use of social media was highly effective, albeit somewhat illegal.

the Leave campaign developed an interactive smartphone app that was downloaded by tens of thousands of people. Encouraging subscribers to sign up their friends and family and asking permission for Vote Leave to be able to access their smartphone contacts, this app provided a further means of harvesting valuable data about potential Brexit supporters and disseminating key campaign messages.

Leave versus Remain: the digital battle

Class warfare

According to polling company Ipsos Mori:

Younger, more middle class, more educated and BME voters chose to remain; older, working class, less educated and white voters opted to leave.

The weaponisation of the Brexit voters are stupid line has been particularly effective due to the apparent class difference between Remainers and Leavers, with Remainers being regarded as middle class metropolitan elites and Leavers as the down-trodden working class. How true that is is up for debate, but it’s a perception that seems to have stuck, so when Remainers appear to imply that Leavers are stupid that can be framed as the middle classes calling the working classes stupid, something that’s bound to generate plenty of anger.

However, the divide noted by Ipsos Mori is quite similar to the left-right electoral divide and a core belief of the right has tended to be that we live in a meritocracy so how rich or poor you are is down to your merits: how hard you’ve worked or how clever you are. It follows from that view that working class people are either not as intelligent or not as hard-working as the middle class metropolitan elites.

If you take the view that Brexit was largely a project of the right it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they played the working classes as dupes, which then leads you into the trap of calling Brexit voters stupid. In the US, Democrats have said the same of Trump voters, though rather than calling them stupid they’re often referred to as low-information voters.

Most likely uneducated, the low information voter doesn’t know much about “the issues”. He votes according to his gut feeling.

We’re all stupid really

With Brexit being such a complex issue we were probably all low-information voters, voting with our guts more than with our heads. The stupidity of Remainers is perhaps their failure to admit to this, or their failure to get their admissions heard and believed, and the stupidity of the Remain campaign was the idea that people would be swayed by facts, figures and fear rather than by a compelling narrative.