Brexit — All this hate for the elderly
The referendum in the United Kingdom to leave the EU (brexit) or remain (bremain) ended with 17,410,742 votes in favour of leaving (51.9%) vs 16,141,241 (48.1%) votes in favour of staying. The referendum turnout was 71.8% with more than 30 million people voting. It was the highest voter turnout in UK since the UK 1992 general election.
Motivation for this post
In the aftermath of this referendum we find the internet filled with memes, videos, articles and posts on social media that talk about, give an analysis of, or opinion on, what happened, why it happened and what the future may hold for UK and the rest of the world.
Now everyone is entitled to their opinion, professional or amateur, as the case may be but the thing spurring me on to write this article are the hate filled posts spamming my newsfeed against those who voted to leave. Specifically of the theme “Old people have screwed over the younger generation”. Let’s leave aside the hate for the so called “ignorant”(the irony) for now and take a look at a few visualizations floating around the internet.
So let’s start with some questions you should be asking
Which organization/body did the data for these visualizations come from?
In the case of the visualizations above, it’s from YouGov.
So what is YouGov?
It’s a market research firm.
Where did the data come from?
From polls. In this case specifically from Online and Phone polls.
What is a poll?
In brief, a survey designed to measure the views of a particular group of people.
So how does it work?
They ask a small subset of people whose opinions they believe can represent the majority of the populace.
More details on how polls work here.
Can polls truly represent the majority?
I am no statistician and won’t pretend to be. Read this and make your own opinion.
A quote from the article I just referenced.
“Polling data is rarely perfect and often inconclusive or misleading, so its pays to pay attention to the details.”
So based on the first visualization here, yes, we have 1652 people’s opinions used to categorize, by age no less > 30 million people. (Read the fine print)
I agree that if proper factors are taken into account when deciding on the samples, the samples opinion could give a “picture” of the whole. But this I feel is only when we consider the voting percentage for brexit vs bremain. To use the samples selected to represent the age groups of the different people who voted, especially in light of various unexpected factors such as high voter turnout, is stretching things a bit thin.
So most of the polls predicted a close race. But they were not perfect and neither do they claim to be.
So we’ve established that the visualizations we see floating around are based on data on polls only.
What? Wait you say? Maybe some of the graphs came from actual data, like maybe directly from the government?
This is the data available from the electoral commission.
Now unless they specifically asked you for your age when you put in your vote, (death to anonymity?) the government should not have that information on all the votes.
So what about all those videos of older people talking about the ridiculous reasons for voting for brexit? Don’t they give credibility to the visualizations?
You realize that these are just videos of tens of people and they cannot represent the millions who voted. It’s easy to find elderly people who voted for brexit. Then select the videos that are sensational. Go with the current flow and feed the people what they want?
It’s just as easy to do the opposite. To younger people who have just as “interesting” answers to why they voted to bremain. People just don’t do it because it is not what the entertainment seeking netizens want right now.
All visualizations are evil!
No! Visualizations can provide data in a way that people can easily understand it. Our brains are made to perform parallel processing on the images our eyes capture. So it is a powerful means of providing a large amount of information very quickly.
What are you trying to say?
It is easy to mislead people with visualizations. The people who make visualizations have something they want to convey. It is up to the public to be skeptical about it (It’s the internet!!! You need to be skeptical about it). Blame the user, not the tool.
Lets be skeptical!
So let’s take another look at the first visualizations I posted.
You can see percentages are used. Percentage of what you ask? That’s in the fine print. The opinion of 1652 people (yes I know, it’s possible they are representative).
The source was called YouGov (although that is the actual name of the firm, the “Gov” part easily adds a feeling of legitimacy for those who glance over it but never actually look it up, or so I feel)
Try not to laugh at others while treating opinions as facts.
This post was written so that people (who read this) stop treating the opinion polls as facts.
About the hate posts in general. All this hate is not going to solve anything. People are worked up and they have a right to be. One day brexit could be seen as an amazing decision (or a colossal mistake) of the people of UK. We don’t know how the future is going to play out but I’m sure of one thing. Hating the people who voted for brexit is not going to make things any better.