SEMINAR: “A tale of two referendums: Fear, risk and independence in #indyref and #brexit”

Rob Johns (University of Essex)

28th november 2017, 13:00h, Sala de Juntes de la Facultat de Ciència Política i Sociologia de la UAB

Conventional wisdom, part 1: the status quo wins referendums.  So, even if tempted to take the constitutional plunge, voters usually opt in the end for the safety of existing arrangements.  Conventional wisdom, part 2: “it’s the economy, stupid”.  So considerations of identity and sovereignty are thought ultimately to be trumped by what voters think will be best for their own and their nation’s wallets.  In the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, this seemed to play out, with a late swing back to the status quo.  That reinforced the widespread expectation that the same would happen when UK voters went to the polls in the EU membership referendum of June 2016.  But instead the conventional wisdom was confounded.  In this paper, I assess various explanations of why parallel campaigning arguments resulted in diverging outcomes in the two cases.  Drawing on survey and experimental evidence and emphasising the psychology of voters’ choice, I examine the role that fear and risk played in both campaigns and challenge conventional wisdom, part 3: that negative campaigning works.