Anti-Brexiteers on the rise – but can they sustain it?
Posted on May 1, 2017
To what extent will Brexit play a role in the upcoming general election? Whether the Brexit debate will shift votes – and in which directions – remains to be seen.
In an analysis of Twitter conversations around Brexit conducted between November and April, we found that pro-Brexiteers have largely dominated the air war. Those favouring a full Brexit account for 66% of all Brexit-related Twitter activity. They manage to energise their supporters with clear, simple messaging and clear leadership that is always present on social media. Among political leaders, Nigel Farage manages to generate a Twitter following that surpasses Jeremy Corbyn, @libdems, Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon and Nick Clegg combined.
Anti-Brexiteers, on the other hand, fall short. Inconsistent mixed messaging combines with a fondness for the rational over the emotive resulting in social media activity that is intermittent and fails to energise their supporters.
It seems that the pro-Brexit camp is continuing with the same approach seen in the successful Leave campaign while the anti-Brexit camp persists with the same messaging and tactics that characterized the failed Remain campaign.
The Brexiteers have clearly and decisively won the air war. However, as the ground campaign starts in the run up to the general election, those who argue for a softer Brexit do have some grounds for optimism. Over the past few weeks, anti-Brexit activity has gained significant traction putting anti-Brexiteers on a strong rising trend (chart) while pro-Brexiteers are showing a slight decline.
Our findings suggest that if both sides continue with the same approach that has characterized their campaigns over the last few months, pro-Brexit candidates will prevail. Yet, our analysis contains clear messages as to how the anti-Brexit camp can be successful. To achieve traction, their messaging must be clear (what are we trying to achieve and how?). Communication needs to focus on emotive issues such as fundamental British values and Britain’s stature on the world stage rather than on the technicalities of single market, customs union and all manner of other things that mean very little to the public. Also, the public seems to have lost faith in any kind of prediction of future benefit or harm from Brexit. They are, however, moved by actual evidence of economic harm or damage to Britain’s reputation and standing.
The Battle for Britain is not yet over. Who will prevail during the election campaign will depend on the skills and capabilities of each side during the campaign. The pro-Brexiteers have the easier task – continuing down the track that has already brought them success. For the anti-Brexiteers to succeed they will need to accept that, so far, they have handled the issue terribly. It seems that losing the referendum was insufficient for such a realization to take hold. They also benefit from a significant amount of latent energy among the anti-Brexit voting population. The challenge is to learn how to release that energy effectively – and to learn fast.