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Your personality type tells us if you voted Leave or Remain

Your personality type tells us if you voted Leave or Remain

Your opinions on people who voted differently to you in the 2016 EU referendum are likely to be fairly set in stone after the atmosphere of polarisation displayed across the country for the past two years. It seems to have entrenched people’s views further than they were before due to the aggressive nature of recent political discourse.

If anything it can be said that political engagement has increased, which should be taken as positive, but that engagement so often has resulted in hugely biased and often aggressive exchanges. Media outlets which came out in favour of leaving such as The Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail have upped their rhetoric and have invited intense criticism for their suggestion that people going against the will of the people are “traitors” or “enemies of the people”.

Remain outlets such as The Independent and The Guardian haven’t escaped criticism either for what many see as an obsession with overturning the democratic decision to leave the EU.

Your opinions may be strengthened or changed, however, with the release of a huge study profiling the personality traits of UK voters that has been conducted with the participation of almost 12,000 respondents.

The Role of Personality, Authoritarianism and Cognition in the United Kingdom’s 2016 Referendum on European Union Membership has now been released by The Online Privacy Foundation and some of its results are surprising, some less so.

According to the research, “Participants expressing an intent to vote to leave the EU reported significantly higher levels of authoritarianism and conscientiousness, and lower levels of openness and neuroticism than voters expressing an intent to vote to remain in the EU. When compared with Remain voters, Leave voters displayed significantly lower levels of numeracy and appeared more reliant on impulsive thinking. In the experimental studies, voters on both sides were found to be susceptible to the cognitive biases tested, but often, unexpectedly, to different degrees.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data suggested that Brexit voters shared a number of personality traits with supporters of Donald Trump in the US, who were also studied by the same organisation. “On the direct test for authoritarianism, Leave voters’ scores were nearly twice those of Remainers,” said team member Chris Sumner.

It also stated that Leave voters, especially older males, were far more likely to overestimate their ability to perform tasks. Remain voters, it said, were more susceptible to negative emotions but also were more likely to think things through before making a decision, whilst Leave voters were much more impulsive.

Leave voters were also tested for mental flexibility in which they were tasked with sorting cards where the rules were changed at different intervals. They performed significantly worse than remain voters who were able to display better flexibility and agility.

One thing that all voters shared in common, however, was their willingness to misinterpret information in order to fit their own narrative. The organisers of the study suggested that this has led to the levels of polarisation between both groups that we see today, as everybody seeks to confirm their own biases against the other, making it much less likely that either will change their mind.

Perhaps most strikingly, the findings said “Not only do many voters lack the skills to critically evaluate the information which is being presented, their inherent beliefs and biases clearly influence the way in which they process this information. Considering these factors, a fundamental question is raised as to whether direct democracy in the form of binary, winner-takes-all, referendums is an appropriate mechanism for deciding major and complicated political issues”

A number of personality traits that are perhaps unsurprising are uncovered there; not least the tendency towards authoritarianism, but perhaps the most concerning finding is the fact that almost all voters are susceptible to misinformation and exploitation. It appears to confirm the idea that effective personality profiling can be extremely successful at persuading voters early on in a campaign.

With the confirmation last week that the official Leave campaign broke electoral law in their spending, it is surely now for the UK government to look at how we can best protect our democracy against undue influence and misinformation.

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