Tim Besley's picture
Affiliation: 
London School of Economics
Credentials: 
Professor of economics and political science

Voting history

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

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Question 7: Voters did not know that there was near-unanimity among economists.

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:
Neither agree nor disagree
Confidence level:
Confident

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Question 6: Economists did not explain the reasons for this consensus in sufficiently clear language.

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:
Strongly Disagree
Confidence level:
Confident

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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:
Agree
Confidence level:
Confident
Comment:
There was an element of this. We are happy to trade-off costs and benefits to get an aggregate outcome. Anyone who has spent time involved in policy-making knows that these arguments tend to grate with people who see the issues much more in terms of the lives of affected people. There are many with more anecdotal views of the world who think that those who look at aggregate outcomes does not align well with their circumstances. It is hard to explain to painter-decorator who has struggled to put up prices for ten years, which he/she blames on migrants, that they should not care about this because the aggregate economic picture favours staying in. This is always a struggle in economic policy discussion where the criteria that economists use to look at benefits and costs are not see easy to communicate to the general public.

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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:
Disagree
Confidence level:
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:
Confident
Comment:
One problem is that we tend to see migration as a purely economic issue where the benefits are clear looking at the economy as a whole. Even though there was lots of misinformation, it does not get away from the fact that the migration is symbolic of concerns about a wider loss of sovereignty which is why the "take back control" message was so powerful. This was mistakenly dismissed too readily as pure "xenophobia". In the end, these are issues of political economy, not economics per se. I suspect that many "out" voters also had doubts about the competence of the EU to resolve issues as evidenced by the Eurozone crisis and the migration crisis. It is hard to get away from the argument that creating the Euro was an act of great folly driven by political ambition. Even though we stayed out in the UK, it reflects poorly on those key decision-makers who are at the heart of the European project. Little of the argument put forward by economists about the economic costs to the UK speaks to these issues directly even though the logic is compelling and by being dismissive of these concerns, we may have come over as remote from the thinking driving the out campaign. In the end, the argument had to be that we could play a more important role in influencing the direction of economic affects which will impact on the UK if were in than out. But clearly that is quite a subtle argument to get over and it is hard to provide direct evidence to support it of an economic nature.

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