Divisions over Britain leaving the EU have led to increasingly polarised positions. This in turn has led to a hyper-analysis of small, incomplete, context-laden data sets which are extrapolated beyond their relevance and context in order to support a conviction on either side of the debate.
Two examples of this are the recent EU Parliamentary elections and the Peterborough by-election:
The EU Parliamentary election results were hailed as a great victory by Remain and Leave supporters, both claim to have received more than 50% of the popular vote. The combined total of all parties that have not ruled out a second referendum was larger than the combination of parties that had ruled it out. The combined vote share of parties that supported leaving the EU was larger than those that supported remaining. There was plenty to report on and lots of interpretation.
From another perspective there was nothing to report, the turnout was 36.7%, two percent up on the election in 2014, approximately 18.4% of the population supported either remain or leave. The other 81.6% either disagree entirely or don’t care enough to vote. The EU Parliamentary elections are traditionally an election for political enthusiasts in which smaller parties do better than in general elections from protest votes and this was no exception. The significance of the turnout is that neither side has demonstrated a clear majority of support and that people care a lot less about the Brexit debate than people who do care about it would assume. The people who do care about Brexit care about it a lot but both sides are in a minority and fighting hard to prove otherwise.
The Peterborough by-election was contested after former Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, was convicted for trying to pin a speeding fine on her partner. Turnout was 48.4%, down from 67.5% in the 2017 general election when Labour beat the Tories by 607 votes. Lisa Forbes MP managed to hold the seat for Labour, receiving 10,484 votes and beating the Brexit Party by 683 votes, an increased majority but a 17% decreased vote share.
The tectonic plates of Brexit both claimed a symbolic victory, with the Brexit Party coming within 700 votes of electing their first MP and the Liberal Democrats tripling their vote share. In context, Peterborough voted in the EU referendum to leave the EU by 60%. The Brexit Party was polled as winning this by-election against an embarrassed Labour Party and the Lib Dem vote share went from just 3% to just 9%. One of the most significant points is the low turn out and how little can be extracted from this data due to the very context laden conditions of the election.
Entrenched positions and boggling statistics seems to have been an ineffective tool for engaging interest in Brexit.
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