On the 23rd of this past June, one of the most conservative European powers decided to do something radical. The United Kingdom (UK), has never been known for such radical change. While it is no surprise that the UK’s relationship with the European Union (EU) has never been the strongest, it has come to the surprise of many Members of Parliament (MPs) that the population of the UK decided to leave the EU rather than stay. If you told pundits and MPs before the 23rd that the UK would leave the EU, they probably would have laughed at you. In fact, an overwhelming number of MPs voted to stay in the EU, so why is it that more than half of all people who voted in the referendum voted to leave? Aside from there being an obvious disconnect between MPs and the people of the UK, what pushed the masses to vote to leave? For example, Wales voted to leave the EU, yet a large chunk of the Welsh economy is dependent on subsidies given out by the EU. It seems counter-intuitive, and not in their best interest for the UK to leave the EU. Furthermore, there was a low turnout of young voters, who were more likely to vote remain, whereas older voters were more likely to vote leave.
At first, it is easy to point the blame on the media, particularly on the print media. Outlets like the Sunday Express, had headlines that stated: “12 Million Turks say they’ll come into the UK.” These headlines, of these already heavily politicized newspapers, helped to exacerbate the fears regarding immigrants coming into the UK. It should be noted that the Sunday Express later conceded, that their information was indeed incorrect, however, the headline damage was already done. The other piece of misinformation regarded the funding of the National Health Service. Allegedly, Brexiteers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson pledged that if the UK left the EU there would be an additional £350 million to be spent on the NHS every week. After the referendum, the Leave Camp said that this statement was a “mistake.”
While it’s obvious that the Leave Camp played off of the fears of an economically dampened populous, the Remain Camp was nonetheless just as bad. The Remainers provided, to some degree, only negative arguments—if the UK leaves the EU, then X, Y, and Z-bad things will happen to the economy. For example, the lack of access to the single market and the termination of Welsh agricultural subsidies will hurt the UK’s economy. It should be noted that the Remain Campaign did draw from some benefits of the EU, however, these were largely underplayed, as the Remain Campaign was quickly dubbed, “Project Fear.” To some degree, the Remain Camp failed to show the people of the UK why they should stay in the EU.
Here we see the failure of three groups to provide either true, or convincing evidence to support their claims. So perhaps it is no surprise that the UK left the EU. A fear-mongering press, underrepresented youths, xenophobia, arguments pitched in a negative light all are responsible— with their impacts varying—for the success of the Brexiteers. From Brexit, the UK has gained rather little. Theresa May has quite a lot to deal with. Conflicting views on the EU within her own party coupled with the proper timing of invoking Article 50 will prove to be a huge ordeal for her government.
In the US the picture does not look all that different. A man that against the predictions of experts and insiders has made his way to the top of the Republican platform. Most Washington insiders and economists see a Trump Presidency as a threat to the US economy, as well as the global economy, similarly to how most MPs and pundits saw a Brexit as potentially hazardous to the UK economy. In the US there is an under-representation of the youth population, just like that of the UK. With niche-based online media in the US, similar to that of the polarized print journalism of the UK, it is often hard to discern facts from fiction. How many budget estimates has Trump given the American populous in regards to his project to build a wall? How many times has he referred to his opponents by tabloid-like sound-bites?
If there is something that we can learn about from Brexit, it is to expect the unexpected, unless you can mitigate the causes that would bring you to that unexpected outcome. In short, Trump should not be underestimated. Fear-mongering and lies got the UK to Brexit, fear-mongering and lies can get the US a Trump Presidency, and it has gotten him rather far. From here, until November 11th, to ensure a Trump Presidency does not ensue, it is imperative that young people vote and that American voters make the effort to find out the facts, rather than the political fiction spout out by both candidates.