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Brexit behaviourally: lessons learned from the 2016 referendum


  • Tessa Buchanan



Abstract Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler was among those who expected Remain to win the EU referendum. Yet on 23 June 2016, a majority in the UK voted to Leave by a margin of 52–48%. A study of over 450 Leave voters, based on the MINDSPACE framework, looks at whether behavioural factors affected the outcome and at what lessons could be learned for any future votes. It finds that voters had low levels of knowledge which may have undermined any ‘status quo bias’; that messengers used by the Remain campaign didn’t work for this audience; that the Remain campaign’s loss-framed figure of £4300 per household per year was judged to be less than the Leave campaign’s figure of £350 m a week (it is six times larger); and that behaviourally-based arguments on immigration might have had an impact. It notes how behavioural science was used successfully to increase turnout. The implication for communicators is that a ‘Test, Learn, Adapt’ strategy could be helpful in future campaigns.

Suggested Citation

  • Tessa Buchanan, 2019. "Brexit behaviourally: lessons learned from the 2016 referendum," Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Springer;Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 18(1), pages 13-31, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:minsoc:v:18:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s11299-019-00214-3
    DOI: 10.1007/s11299-019-00214-3

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