Over the past three months, our BritainThinks panel of 100 citizens – 52 who voted ‘leave’ and 48 who voted ‘remain’ - have been keeping weekly diaries recording their views of events.
We’ve learned a lot but these are the five most important insights:
1. The typical ‘leave’ versus ‘remain’ distinction is far too simplistic. It is true that ‘leavers’ and remainers’ tend to use different vocabulary to describe the situation (the former focussed on ‘freedom’ while the latter is preoccupied with ‘uncertainty’) and that they also interpret the same terms in different ways e.g. ‘hard Brexit’ means ‘tough on immigrants' to ‘leavers’, but implies ‘tough for the UK to achieve’ for remainers. However, our analysis suggests not two, but four groups, with ‘leavers’ dividing into ‘die-hard’ enthusiasts and ‘cautious optimists’, while ‘remainers’ tend to be ‘accepting pragmatists’ or ‘devastated pessimists’.
2. That said, what unites ‘leavers’ is that the economic arguments, sacrosanct to so many politicians simply don’t matter. The main vote drivers were controlling immigration and restoring sovereignty. When economic arguments are raised, they are often contested, but ultimately drive decision making much less than these broader cultural issues.
3. This has implications for the corporate and brand reaction. Price increases are viewed with scepticism by all – seen as opportunist and cynical. One diarist commented: "These companies are taking advantage. Brexit should not be an excuse to push up prices." Negative news about jobs is seen in a more sanguine way, although many contest the extent to which such information is Brexit-related: "We live in a very flexible world and companies move for various reasons. It may not have anything to do with Brexit at all."
4. Another key learning is about the sheer weight of expectation. Voters from all but the ‘devastated pessimist’ group expect life to be good, post Brexit. The government has not really managed these expectations and it will be very hard now to live up to them. One typical ‘leaver’ said "I am looking forward to it. This is a fantastic opportunity to rebuild the country: more police, better hospitals, more schools and more teachers", while even a ‘remainer’ observed "This is a chance to explore a different avenue for Britain. To see if this could make Britain even more successful."
5. Finally, the project confirms something we already suspected to be true: elites think differently from ordinary voters. Throughout the process, Trump, rather than Brexit, dominated the news stories that our diarists noticed. While some don’t like him, the consensus is that his policies may well work. They are looking for a similar resolve to emerge out of Brexit. One voter commented "I applaud Trump for doing what he promised to do. How unusual!"
Now, as the clock starts ticking towards Article 50, the government is going to have to think very carefully about how it can meet these expectations – and what will happen if it doesn’t.
Responses to last week’s Budget do not suggest that many of our diarists are willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
Asked about the national insurance hike for self-employed people, one ‘remainer’ commented: "This is a clear breach of promise and it is the reason why people don’t trust politicians."
Deborah Mattinson is a partner at BritainThinks