|Credit – Titan9389/Flickr.com (CC BY-ND 2.0)|
These factors are particularly evident in two political contests that have dominated the UK and the U.S. in 2016; namely, the EU referendum and the American presidential election. In the U.S., the pronouncements of Republican candidate Donald Trump are demonstrably false around 70% of the time, according to the independent non-partisan fact-checking site Politifact. Only 4% of Trump’s statements were judged to be unambiguously true. In the UK, many claims of the Leave campaign in the lead-up to the referendum were likewise clearly false, from the claim that the UK transferred £340,000,000 per week to the EU, to the spectre of Turkey joining the EU and its citizens becoming eligible for residence in the UK.
|“Vote Leave” poster, Market Street, Omagh. Credit – Kenneth Allen/Geograph.ie (CC BY-SA 2.0)|
Trump’s false claims have been routinely debunked by the American media, but this has had little effect on his standing in the polls. Similarly, the mythical figures of the Leave campaign were widely condemned and corrected in the media, without any discernible impact on opinion polls or the public’s beliefs.
Why do facts no longer matter to so many people? And if facts no longer matter, what does?
|Donald Trump makes a campaign stop at Muscatine, Iowa, January 2016. Credit – Evan Guest/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)|
Trump and Brexit are phenomena that have tapped into people’s deeply-held attitudes. The EU referendum ultimately was a contest between the voices of diversity and tolerance on the one hand, and nationalism and exclusion on the other, rather than a competition between different economic visions for the future.
Trump and Brexit are about emotions, not the economics of the moment. It is how people feel about themselves and others.
|Daily Mail newspaper, 23 August 2006. The headline was repeated in August 2015. Credit – Gideon/Flickr.com|
If Brexit and Trump are driven by emotion and attitudes, fuelled by misinformation and demagoguery, rather than (just) economic concerns, what does this portend for the future?
Front page of the Algemeen Dagblad, Dutch newspaper, 15th June 2016. The paper issued an open letter in English titled “please don’t leave us”.
How can we move on from here?
|Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the Earl of Kilmuir, in 1954. British Conservative politician, lawyer and judge who was instrumental in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights. Credit Elliott &Fry/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)|
The Republican Party used to be the party of the conservative but pragmatic establishment, with figures such as Ike Eisenhower or Gerald Ford. Today, Trump’s evident authoritarianism is only the beginning of the transformation of that former Republican Party into an off-shoot with troubling and chilling attributes: A party that finds little wrong with a candidate who refuses to promise that he will abide by election results has at best a tenuous grip on the democratic mainstream. A party that brazenly promises not to confirm any nominee for the Supreme Court if Hillary Clinton is elected president is a party that has taken leave from democratic practice and traditions.
This article was written for the Policy Bristol Blog by Cabot Institute Member Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol.