Ethan Ilzetzki's picture
Affiliation: 
London School of Economics

Voting history

Are academic economists ‘in touch’ with voters and politicians?

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Question 5: Voters think that the preferences of economists do not align with their own preferences. (This includes the possibility that they thought that the predicted negative economic consequences would not affect them personally).

Do you agree this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
Disagree
Confidence level:
Not confident
Comment:
This statement is far to general and sweeping. I would guess that the median voter doesn't feel that economist have different preferences from their own, but there certainly are some voters that feel this way and are therefore untouched by economic arguments. My guess is that this is a small minority.

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Question 4: Voters did not believe the economic arguments put forward (for example, because they thought the arguments put forward by macroeconomists with dissenting views made more sense or because voters have little faith in economists in general).

Do you agree that this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
Strongly disagree
Confidence level:
Very confident

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Question 3: Voters chose to leave the EU for non-economic reasons.

Do you agree that this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
Strongly agree
Confidence level:
Extremely confident

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Question 2: What do you think is the most likely reason that a majority of UK voters went against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
A. Non-economic reasons more important
Confidence level:
Extremely confident
Comment:
I disagree with entire premise of this question. Whatever the failings of economists in general, this one was NOT our fault. Economists elaborated the costs of Brexit very clearly. I expect very few in the public were unaware of these costs and for the most part I think they beleived the warnings. This was very picked up by the media and put the Brexit campaign on the defensive. Michael Gove would not have resorted to attacking "experts" or comparing economists to Nazi scientists if he didn't feel that our message was getting through to the public. Brexiters consciously campaigned primarily on national pride ("Independence Day") and immigration, knowing that the economic cost-benefit were not their strong turf. There is nothing economists could do in 90 days before the referendum to overturn the visceral feelings English voters have towards the EU, following decades of political and media scapegoating of this institution. Even the leaders of remain (Cameron, Corbyn) were lukewarm supporters of the UK remaining in the EU. The referendum was won on turnout (particularly given the bad weather on referendum day). The side that felt its case more intensely won. Brexit was was not an academic failure and occurred despite an unusually concerted effort on behalf of academics. Instead it was a political failure as evidenced by the collapse of a whole class of politicians both on the Remain and Leave sides.

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Question 1: Do you agree that the economics profession needs an institutional change that promotes the ability to communicate more effectively with policy-makers and the public at large and to make clear when economists have a united view; and do you agree that we need to introduce leadership to help achieve this improvement through coordinated efforts?

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Answer:
Disagree
Confidence level:
Confident
Comment:
More can always be done to improve communication, but I'm not sure what type of "institutional change" would alter the reality that economists will only be one small voice in the political discourse, even when they talk in unison. I don't see other sciences faring better. The near unanimity of climate scientists does little to change the views (or interests) of half the American political class. Add to this the fact that economics is a very imprecise science: the public SHOULD take what economists say with a grain of salt. Examples abound. There was near consensus that Argentina of the 1990s was a poster child for reform and we saw how that ended. No one predicted the enormous rise of China. Finally, I think Brexit is a very bad case study from which to to draw conclusions. I believe scientists (social or physical) can affect public opinion only in the long run and it is even harder to get the public to take any concrete action based on scientists advice.

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