Brexit: The Majority Fallacy

Typically a majority vote is strengthening not weakening. But in the case of Brexit political rhetoric is escalating and the far reaching effects of the Brexit vote have spawned a number of unrests in commercial, social and cultural spheres. And if you were watching BBC One like I was this evening, you would be worried to hear about ‘race hate crimes’ and words like ‘civil war’ being used however metaphoric that might be.

It is difficult to believe why the people in the UK are going through so much catharsis and unrest, given that typically a majority vote is normally a happy one.

The Majority Fallacy

The argumentum ad populum is a red herring and genetic fallacy. It appeals on probabilistic terms; given that 52% of a population answers A to a question where the answer is uncertain, the argument states that it is reasonable to assume that the answer is indeed A.  In cases where the answer can be known but is not known by a questioned entity, the appeal to majority provides a possible answer with a relatively high probability of correctness.

Then there is the problem of determining just how many are needed to have a majority or consensus. Is  52% significant enough and why? Should the percentage be larger, such as 60 or 70 or 80 or 90 percent, and how does that make a real difference? Is there real consensus  just because only 48% voted for Remain  and does the prove that the vote of the majority is true?

The History of Scientific Discovery

Let’s take the history of scientific discovery.  If we wanted to determine the shape of the earth by going through a democratic process and everyone believed the earth was flat, unfortunately it doesn’t make the earth flat. This is because the masses have no idea of science and therefore the majority is really redundant in this case. As has been proved by the history of scientific discovery even one or two people saying that the earth is round can mean it is the truth.  Similarly are the masses capable of judging the economic and commercial impact of leaving the EU?  Not unless they are qualified economists or accountants with a flair of commerce.  To be or not be a part of the EU is an economic decision rather than a political one.  Also it has been constantly shown that the perception of the masses can be wrong by a large margin. For example in one poll, people in the UK believed that 25 % of the population in the UK was Muslim. Whereas in reality only 5% of the population is Muslim.  That is a margin of error of 500%!

So the majority and indeed the democratic process can both be illusive.

A majority fallacy is a major contributor to a number of problem solving and decision making failures. It is linked to ‘group think’ and the perception that many people thinking together can solve a problem much better than one or a few people.  Because problem solving is not only about the majority but about how much people people know and how competent they are in their understanding about a problem and its possible solutions.

The Silent Majority

The Silent Majority is an unspecified large group of people in a country who do not express their opinions publicly.  The term was popularized  by Richard Nixon in a November 3, 1969 speech in which he said ‘ And so tonight – to you the great silent majority of my fellow Americans – I ask for your support.’.  He was referring to the war in Vietnam at the time.

As we know the % who got through our final #EU Referendum poll turnout filter by age group:

18-24: 36%

25-34: 58%

35-44: 72%

45-54: 75%

55-64: 81%

65+: 83%

It is unfortunate that the younger people came out to vote much less than the older people. Although 72% of the UK voted on the referendum we will never know what the view of the silent majority is really.  Plus if we add that to the 48% who voted to Remain, this may well be the clue to why the nation is so disgruntled with the majority vote.  In any case a 52:48 votes constitutes neither a majority or a minority. I would say it is a highly polarised response.  And polarised responses mean that some will hate it and some will love it.

In reality 52 % may not be the view of the real majority! But anyway only time will tell.




About the Author:

Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H. All previous posts of Prabhakar can be found here.