Brexit in the wind

In a previous post, I outlined specific issues and concerns with a recent study finding that wind speed could “predict” the Brexit remain vote. Since then, a few other people have written about the study.

First, Nick Brown has noticed a few basic factual errors in the descriptions of the referendum in a blog post:

1. On p. 9 the authors claim that “The referendum for UK to leave the European Union (EU) was advanced by the Conservative Party, one of the three largest parties in the UK”, and again, on p. 12, they state “In the case of the Brexit vote, the Conservative Party advanced the campaign for the UK to leave the EU”. However, this is completely incorrect. The Conservative Party was split over how to vote, but the majority of its members of parliament, including David Cameron, the party leader and Prime Minister, campaigned for a Remain vote (source).

2. At several points, the authors claim that the question posed in the Brexit referendum required a “Yes”/”No” answer. On p. 7 we read “For Brexit, the “No” option advanced by the Stronger In campaign was seen as clearly prevention-oriented … whereas the “Yes” option put forward by the Vote Leave campaign was viewed as promotion-focused”. The reports of result coding on p. 8, and the note to Table 1 on p. 10, repeat this claim. But this is again entirely incorrect. The options given to voters were to “Remain” (in the EU) or “Leave” (the EU). As the authors themselves note, the official campaign against EU membership was named “Vote Leave” (and there was also an unofficial campaign named “Leave.EU”). Indeed, this choice was adopted, rather than “Yes” or “No” responses to the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”, precisely to avoid any perception of “positivity bias” in favour of a “Yes” vote (source). Note also here that, had this change not been made, the pro-EU vote would have been “Yes”, and not the (prevention-focused) “No” claimed by the authors.

Second, Stuart Ritchie further describes some issues with the studies in a post at the i:

Overall, the results – rather like the proposed influences on people’s behaviour – seem very subtle, and it doesn’t take many small changes to the analysis to render them non-statistically-significant. Results that are this fragile could certainly still be real: small effects exist! But we can’t have too much confidence in their existence from this analysis.

There are also a few weird things in the wording of the paper, which are perhaps explained by the fact that none of the researchers live in the UK. For example, they write that the Conservative Party “advanced the campaign for the UK to leave the EU”. That’s flat wrong: the Tory party was riven in two by the Brexit referendum, with more of its MPs (including its leader) at the time supporting Remain than Leave. They also discuss how the Moray region of Scotland voted Leave, when it’s very well-known that all regions of Scotland voted remain (though Moray was on a knife-edge, with Remain getting 50.1% of the vote).

Do check out both pieces. Highly recommended.