The what and the when of Brexit is clear, the why rather less so. Researchers and polling professionals didn’t see it coming but it is now apparent that the United Kingdom is a complicated and divided country, one that belies its name.
During the opening keynote of the MRS Impact conference (London, March 2018), Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Virgin Money, admitted to a widely held view: her confidence in the insight profession had taken a wobble in 2016, a profound wobble that has continued to afflict the industry. How did so many polls get it so wrong, twice?
Yet Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump in the US, speak to a greater need for research than ever. Considering the impact of 2016 on qualitative research, Luke Perry, deputy head of qualitative at Jigsaw Research, observed in his recent study that Brexit shone a light on the rise of the lived experience to a more than prominent place in the conversation.
This also constitutes a narrowing of many peoples’ viewpoints. “Confirmation bias”, argued Viki Cooke, a founding partner of BritainThinks, “has gone mad now!” While few voters truly floated, the tribalism of British public discourse appears to have hardened, helped in no small part by the advances in personalised media consumption which have been aided – and to a large extent abetted – by the titans of the social internet.