Lessons of Bregret: Be critical of soundbites, empathetic towards others, and encourage young people to VOTE

These past few days your news feeds, like mine, are probably full of shocked, defeated, angry friends who are reeling over Britain’s popular vote to #Brexit.

As a Canadian who has lived in London and currently lives in New York, the thing I most value about these places is the feeling of acceptance and proud diversity that makes up each culture. Reflecting on Brexit these last several days has me even more upset and fearful of the power of harmful soundbite rhetoric that is influencing large numbers of voters and calling the national stability of our values into question.

Donald Trump was quick to draw parallels between Brexit and the U.S. Presidential Election, noting that “people want to take their country back” (more on this later).

Let’s take a closer look at who wants their country back.

According to polling data, those most likely to vote Leave were older, low income with a GCSE (secondary education) or equivalent as their highest level of education. Areas with younger populations, who were more likely to vote Remain, had lower turnouts at the polls. [The Telegraph]

In many cases, the people who voted to Leave will be hit even harder than those who knew better. The Leave vote was actually the strongest in areas most economically dependent on the EU. [Financial Times]

And many who voted apparently did not understand the implications of their vote, or the negative consequences it could have on everyone — including themselves — right away and in the long run.

Google Trends revealed shortly after polls closed that “What is the EU?” was the second top question Googled in the UK on the EU. This suggests that many people who voted did not understand what exactly they were voting for.

Moreover, many Leave voters were apparently misled about the consequences of leaving by a group of self-interested, xenophobic politicians who used headlines and soundbites to tap into economic instability, fearfulness and dissatisfaction.

NewStatesman’s Laurie Penny articulated it perfectly:

“Anyone feel like they’ve got their country back yet? No? That, after all, was the rallying cry of the Leave campaign — the transatlantic echo of “Make America Great Again”. There’s a precedent for what happens when svengalis with aggressively terrible haircuts are allowed to appeal to parochialism and fear in the teeth of a global recession, and it isn’t pretty”.

Nigel Farage’s admission that a Vote Leave poster pledging to spend millions of pounds supposedly given to the EU on the NHS was a “mistake” has resulted in mass ‘Bregret’ among many of its supporters.

“I personally voted leave believing these lies, and I regret it more than anything, I feel genuinely robbed of my vote” Khembe Gibbons,Suffolk [The Independent]

The parallels between Brexit and the Trump campaign are frighteningly similar, most notably so in their demographics. According to the New York Times, the proportion of the white population that didn’t finish high school and who do not have a job (nor are looking for one) is relatively highest in places where support for Trump runs the strongest. Trump is also winning in counties and cities where this reversal of the national trend — rising life expectancy — is happening. Much of the failure to take advantage of advancement in medical technology and healthcare availability results from working-class white men’s high rates of alcoholism, obesity and tobacco use [Salon].

So, are these people playing some kind of sick game where they get to vote and then die and laugh at the rest of us from their lazy-boy chairs in (heaven)?

Maybe, but probably not. They just want to be heard, recognized, cared for. Even loved. And they are feeling that love from Trump.


Of course he loves them. He has the support of a demographic he wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, but who are eating out of the palm of his hand. He, his children and acquaintances have graduated from the top universities in the country and the world, not to mention he’s just taken a break from his campaign to heli-land on a million dollar golf course deal he’s working on in Scotland!

The evidence that Trump often does not know what he’s talking about (one study by PolitiFact found that 91% of what he says is not true) — during debates, on broadcast, and in the majority of what he says (artfully disguised as generalizations and ‘hearsay’) — seems not to matter at all to his supporters. Because you guys, he’s so good on Twitter. He waves his hands a lot. And has plastered his name across the country as a sign of ‘wealth’.

Trump’s statement last week from the green in Scotland further illustrates the point that it’s too easy for his supporters to believe him instead of doing some Googling.

“They [the people of the United Kingdom] have declared their independence from the European Union and have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy [1]… Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence,” Trump said in the statement. “They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite [2], and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people. I hope America is watching, it will soon be time to believe in America again [3]”.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

[1] While the long-term economic implications of Brexit are uncertain, credit ratings agencies like Standard & Poor and Fitch have downgraded the UK’s score from AAA, warning of an abrupt slowdown in short and medium-term GDP growth. The UK is now deemed less creditworthy than the US and EU by S&P, and the decision marks its exit from an elite club of countries such as Switzerland and Australia that still have a AAA rating.

[2] There is broad agreement among academic economists that in the long run, immigration has a small but positive impact on the labor market outcomes of native-born workers, on average. A few stats:

  • Immigrants create more jobs than native-born Americans, representing 13% of the population, yet 18% of small business owners
  • Immigrants actually drove up wages for native-born Americans without high school diplomas (many of whom want to deport them!) according to a 2012 economic analysis of 1990–2006
  • Deporting unauthorized immigrants (who make up 3.7% of the population) would actually hurt, not help, the economy and employment rates in the U.S. [Economic Policy Institute]

[3] You get the point.

So why did I write this article when there are tons of news sources out there for people to follow? 1) To educate myself more on this mess, and 2) To discern a few key takeaways that might lead toward a different outcome in November.

Here they are (and please add your thoughts as well):

1. We need to critically examine Trump’s statements of “fact” and publicly provide reasonable and empathetic explanations of disproof to those who accept his campaign at face value.

The web empowers us all to inform ourselves during the political process and it is incumbent on us to critically assess what we hear and speak out when it’s wrong.

But speaking to each other — even in brilliant segments like John Oliver’s “Make Donald Drumph Again” roast — might not be communicating to the supporters we need to reach, and we are running out of time.

Understanding what motivates certain constituents and getting in front of them with messages that take their concerns into account — and presents information in an respected, relevant way — can be that bridge.

2. This year, more than ever, we need to make sure EVERYONE gets out and votes. Everyone. That means young adults (specifically 18–24 year-olds), who have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups in every presidential election since 1962.

The US Census Bureau’s voting data also shows that, on average, less than half eligible young adult voters will actually make it to the polls (or take the time to fill out an absentee ballot) this November. We (at Matter Unlimited) just briefed our interns on this task (we are counting on you, interns)!! Organizations like Rock the Vote and others have been working on this for yearsss. It’s up to everyone to encourage their peers, friends, family, randoms on the street, etc. to vote. This is not a drill.

Here, take this puppy:

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.