As 2016 comes to an end and many people are in despair at the swing to the populist right in the UK and US, it is worth reminding ourselves that in both cases it was a minority of the population that voted this way.
On Brexit 17.4 million voted leave and 16.1 million voted remain. The majority was very small – 1.3 million. 34% of those eligible to vote, voted leave but 52% of those who voted. The turnout was 72%. So a small majority of those who voted, supported leave but they were a minority of the people eligible to vote.
Some interesting polling by Lord Ashcroft of 12,369 people on referendum day showed that a majority of those working full or part-time voted to remain. White voters voted to leave by 53% to 47% – again a small majority ; two thirds of those who describe themselves as Asian voted to remain as did 73% of black voters. 58% of those who voted Tory in the 2015 general election voted to leave and 37% of those who voted Labour.
In the Ashcroft sample those who voted leave are united by hostility to social liberalism, not just immigration. Of those who thought the following issues a force for ill, a high proportion voted leave. 81%– multiculturalism; 74% – feminism; 78%–the green movement; 69% – globalisation; 71% – the Internet; 80% – immigration. In addition the British Election Study of 6 October found that people who felt they lacked control over their lives and thought that things in Britain were much better in the past, were strongly likely to vote leave. The survey also showed that’s 6% of those who voted leave regretted doing so and 4% did not know whether they regretted it. These numbers taken together are more than the majority for leave.
A little reflection on this reality and how finely balance the decision was should put a stop to the argument that the referendum results cannot be questioned or debated. Certainly the outcome of the referendum must be taken seriously but given the complexity of the process of negotiating to leave the EU, the suggestion that the referendum vote requires the fastest and therefore hardest possible Brexit is ludicrous.
Trump had the support of a much smaller proportion of the population. The total turnout was 58%. Clinton won 2.8 million more votes thanTrump but he won the electoral college where the winner takes all of a state’s votes in most states. This means that Trump got the support of 27% of the American people eligible to vote.
According to exit polls it is clear that the poorest people did not vote for Trump. Those on lower incomes voted Clinton. Trump won in rural areas. A majority of women voted Clinton but a majority of white women voted Trump. Like Brexit ,younger voters favoured Clinton, as did black and Hispanic voters.
The conclusion is clear that in neither the US or the UK do the populist right command the support of a majority of the population. And it is not simply a matter of the losers from globalisation voting Brexit and Trump. The people who feel resentful and left behind are not the poorest. The lesson for those who oppose the ideas of the populist right is that Social Democrats and all who are committed social justice and equality to need to make a more convincing case on how the future could be more fair and secure for all.