Room A, City Hall
Time Slot: 
Tuesday 27th March 09:30 - 11:00
Panel Chair: 
  • Dr Matthew Wall (Swansea University)
Panel Members: 
  • Ms Neema Begum (University of Bristol)
  • Dr Arndt Leininger (Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Dr Joe Greenwood (Department of Government, LSE)
  • Dr Stuart Fox (Cardiff University)

The past decade has seen both the number of and demand for referendums on a growing range of political issues increase throughout Europe, such as on membership of the European Union, independence for regions or countries, individual rights, or constitutional reform. This has in turn increased both interest in understanding how and why voters make decisions in referendums, and the number of opportunities to study such questions. This panel presents four papers that have taken advantage of such opportunities, and offers an extensive debate about how voters reach decisions in referendums.

In the first paper, Neema Begum examines the preferences of ethnic minority voters in the UK’s EU Referendum. She shows that ethnic minority voters had a complex array of motivations for supporting remain or leave in the referendum, and that these reflect intersections between their ethnicity, social class, gender and national identity. Her conclusions challenge the simplistic notions that ethnic minority voters were essentially Remain supporters who have since the referendum become little more than passive victims of hate crime.

In the second paper, Arndt Leininger examines the choices of Italian voters in Italy’s 2016 constitutional reform referendum, testing the applicability of models that emphasise economic factors in explaining vote choice in elections to this contest. His analysis shows that voters’ short-term assessments of their economic circumstances were powerful predictors of vote choice, suggesting that the actual issues being debated in the referendum campaign may have been less prominent in shaping the result than is widely assumed. Joe Greenwood’s paper also examines the role of economic capital in shaping referendum votes, but adds to the mix the role of cultural capital and perceived privilege. He examines how economic structural inequality affects perceptions of cultural and economic inequality, and how these in term shaped voters’ decisions and participation in the UK’s EU referendum in 2016. Arndt and Joe’s respective papers offer new insights, therefore, into how voters make choices in referenda in ways that are related to their social, economic and political circumstances, posing the challenge that if voters’ decisions are heavily influenced by such circumstances rather than the issue at the heart of the referendum itself, how reliable is a referendum result as an indication of voters’ informed preferences?

Finally, Stuart Fox and colleagues examine the role of political socialisation and intergenerational transmission in the development of attitudes relating to voters’ support for or opposition to Brexit in the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Using the UK Longitudinal Household Survey, they explore how young voters’ decisions were influenced by the Euroscepticism of their parents while they were growing up, and find that the offspring of very Eurosceptic parents were disproportionately likely to support Brexit – as long as those parents were also engaged with politics. Their analysis offers new insights into the role of longer-term factors stemming from political socialisation in shaping voters’ choices in referendums .