Since last week’s Brexit vote, new evidence has emerged suggesting that the result many have been influenced by widespread political ignorance. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, there was a massive spike in internet searches in Britain asking questions like “What is the EU?” and “What does it mean to leave the EU?” Obviously, reasonably well-informed voters should have known the answers to these questions before they went to the polls instead of after. The aftermath of Brexit has also spawned the so-called “Regrexit” phenomenon: Britons who voted for Brexit, but now regret doing so because they feel they were misinformed about the likely consequences, or did not consider them carefully enough. A petition on the British Parliament website calling for a revote has collected over 3.4 million signatures (Parliament is required to consider any petition that gets over 100,000 signatures, though it does not have to grant it).
Both the internet searches and the Regrexit movement are indications of the impact of political ignorance on the vote. But we should not make too much of this kind of evidence. Regarding the searches, we do not have good data on how many people are doing them, or even whether they voted for “leave” or “remain.” We also don’t yet have systematic survey data on how many pro-Brexit voters are now in a Regrexit mood because they feel they were duped or misinformed [but see update below on some very limited data pertaining to this].
Some (as yet undetermined) number of Leave supporters have indeed come to regret their decision. But there might also be some Remain voters who today prefer the Leave option. Data from past elections indicate thatthere is a often a significant “bandwagon effect” that leads people to shift their views in favor of whichever side seems to be winning. In post-election polls, it is common to see a higher percentage say they voted for the winning candidate than actually did. People like to identify with a winner and dislike being associated with losers. Although media coverage has not focused on it, it’s possible that the Leave camp is benefiting from a similar bandwagon effect. That, of course, does not mean that Brexit was a good decision. Bandwagon effects are themselves often the result of ignorance. But the possibility of bandwagon effects cautions against drawing any hasty conclusions to the effect that a majority of British voters have come to regret last week’s result. It could be that the majority in favor of Brexit is as large, or even slightly larger, today than it was on the day of the vote.