While America deals with the onslaught of Donald Trump headlines, Britain has been dealing with an upcoming vote of its own: the so-called Brexit. On June 23rd, Brits will vote on a referendum to leave the European Union.
As voting day is only weeks away, the defining arguments of the two sides, Camp Leave versus Camp Remain, are beginning to form. The sentiments on both sides eerily resemble the upcoming showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Trump and the Leave Camp
The Leave Camp and Trump’s supporters display a spooky degree of similarity. The most striking similarity is their views on immigration. The Leave supporters are concerned by the influx of immigrants, with 330,000 arriving in Britain in the last year alone. From 2010-2014, UK born employment has fallen 4 percent while EU born employment has risen 12 percent. Supporters of a British Exit want their jobs and their country back. Leaving would turn Britain inward and away from the European Union, focusing on the UK’s domestic workers.
Trump has similar priorities. Trump has promised to build a wall at the Mexican border and ban Muslim immigrants, perhaps an extreme way to express his disapproval of immigrants. Secondly, the sentiment to abandon the inefficient and bureaucratic European Union echoes the calls to retake America by Trump’s “Silent Majority”. Just as Brits want their power back, Trump’s supporters want their voices to be heard again after decades of inefficient government and stagnant progress.
As a final confirmation, Trump lent his support for the Leave Camp in a May interview on Good Morning Britain. He is one of very few foreign politicians (if you are willing to call Trump a politician) to publically do so.
Hillary and the Stay Camp
On the other side, the Stay Camp is the Brexit’s version of Hillary Clinton; both are tried-and-true and represent the old system. The arguments supporting the Stay Camp revolve around the British economy and the stability of the European Union. The Stay Camp, quite convincingly, argues that staying would be much better for the British economy overall. British Prime Minister David Cameron described leaving as a “self destruct option” with reported economic consequences of 820,000 jobs loss and a 3.6 percent relative decline in GDP over two years.
Hard to argue against those numbers.
Second, a decision to leave would also be catastrophic for the European Union. One of the strongest countries in the European Union, Britain plays an important role both economically and diplomatically. Beyond an economic shock, leaving the EU could be the catalyst for populism and disintegration in other European countries. At worst, other countries follow suit and the European Union falls apart, and at best, leaving would be a serious blow to European solidarity.
President Obama and Hillary Clinton are both vocal supporters of the Stay Camp.
The implications of a British Exit for the American election
If the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union, the stars would be aligning for Donald Trump. A stamp of approval for Trump’s ideology, leaving the European Union would be a strong statement that immigration, border control, and national security have become too complicated for the European Union to handle. And if the EU has been failing on these topics, it is very reasonable to assume US politicians have been failing as well. Especially the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton!
Being correct on the Brexit vote would be a huge statement for Trump and his foreign policy skills, an area that has been a weakness so far in his campaign. The importance of Trump being right on leaving would be only magnified by the fact that Obama and Clinton are supporters of staying. And more than anything else, a decision to leave would reflect a growing sentiment that is certainly present in the United States and especially in Trump’s campaign—a sentiment to focus on the American people and look inward.
So, what is going to happen?
Can we predict the Brexit vote?
There are a few ways to forecast the Brexit vote.
The traditional way to predict the vote is through polls. According to a May 25th Financial Times poll of polls, 46% of Brits support staying while 41% support leaving. Still too close to call, with 13% still undecided.
But polls are notoriously inaccurate since they only sample a portion of the population and can miss entire sections of voters. In fact, unrepresentative poll samples were largely the reason polls failed to correctly forecast the outcome of last year’s general elections in the UK. It was also argued that the continuous media focus on inaccurate polls may have affected the pre-election campaigns and might even have had an impact on the election results themselves.
A way to capture the views of British voters writ large is to look at social media, such as Twitter. Sentiment and emotion analysis of tweets about the upcoming referendum can offer insights into how Brits feel about the two campaigns as well as what issues play an important role in their decision to vote In or Out.
The EU question, an app built by TheySay Analytics, reads Twitter posts and analyses their emotional and sentiment content. This provides a numerical snapshot of how voters are talking about Brexit in real time. It is not an attempt to predict the results of the vote on June 23rd but it is an accurate and straightforward way to capture the opinions of younger voters. It can reveal interesting patterns and trends as the day of the referendum approaches.
Overall, TheySay find that 66% of overall Twitter activity supports leaving the EU. Quite a different story than what the polls show.
At eu.theysay.io, TheySay also offer views of Twitter activity over time and in specific categories. Not surprisingly, support for leaving is strongest with immigration, with roughly 85% of immigration-related Twitter activity in support of leaving. Meanwhile, 70% of economy-related Twitter activity is in support of staying in the EU. These numbers are roughly in line with what we would expect, with the big takeaway being that the Leave campaign is significantly more active on social media. It is not surprising that the people who want to change the current arrangement between the UK and the EU are more vocal about it.
Could that be just enough to push the Leave vote over the line? We will see on June 23rd. Trump and Clinton will be watching.