Simona Guerra (University of Leicester)

"Public Euroscepticism after the 2016 British referendum: Unleashing emotion"

1 February 2018, 2:00 pm

abstract

What is Euroscepticism? This presentation will explore how the study of public Euroscepticism has changed since the EU fifth enlargement (2004-07) and the recent British referendum. It is widely accepted that social learning, interaction and political communication have a significant impact on individual political opinions and behaviours. Emotion can influence cognitive capacities of citizens when challenged with a choice that intersect their position in both the personal and public domains (Marcus et al., 2008), although the role of emotions has never been studied when examining Euroscepticism. Previous research on attitudes towards the European Union (EU) and accession referenda (Jasiewicz, 2004; Guerra, 2013) addresses the role of subjective evaluations in voters’ decision-making. These findings support Mastropaolo’s work on the emergence of anti-politics (2012), which suggests that individual citizens make political decisions based on personal, and often very mundane, assessments of the wider socio-economic environment. Recently, Capelos and Exadaktylos (2017) explored how the affective content of Greek media influences attitudes towards European integration through traumatic public events, and the literature converge on results that bring evidence that emotions have a major impact on referenda, in particular, we cannot underestimate the role of negative emotions (Blumenberg and Faas, 2013; Chrona, 2017).

Undeniably, the campaign ahead of the referendum on British membership of the EU, leading to the vote of 23 June 2016, was highly charged. The rhetoric deployed by both camps sought to generate anxiety uncertainty, anger and fear. This contribution examines public Euroscepticism using original survey data, carried out by YouGov, two weeks after the referendum (6-7 July 2016) as part of the research project ‘Brexit or Bremain: Britain and the 2016 British Referendum’ (Guerrina et al. 2016), media and blog (Fanoulis and Guerra forthcoming) content analysis. Results point to the salience of emotions that have been moved by the referendum campaign and the impact these may have. It appears that both campaigns had an influence in increasing citizens’ anxieties and uncertainties, with uncertainty quite widespread among those who voted Remain and with a gender and age-group cleavage. While women and young people tend to be more anxious or uncertain, men are likely to feel angry and disappointed. Among their open answers the possible challenges towards the future and the lack of stable expectations and probable economic instability are likely to have played a role on voters. Additionally, emotions can affect different attitudes and behaviours, as uncertainty can make some voters more risk-adverse. This leaves us with further research to address the future of some sectors of society after the referendum, and methodologically about the role of emotions and perceptions and attitudes and behaviours.