Swaying “undecideds” on Brexit: the importance of qualitative insight

Surprisingly rarely in any form of vote do voters get either get the opportunity or choose to engage equally with both sides of the debate. Frequently, preconceptions stand in the way, but equally availability of information can be a challenge. And for those on the fence, the lack of fair or equal access to information can mean it feels almost impossible to make an informed decision.

For H+K and our clients, equal access to both sides of the BREXIT debate provided a unique opportunity to do just this. Two hour-long events, held in our London office, provided each camp with the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas and take questions.

As a follow up the office-wide survey on the debate [see last week’s post] we took the opportunity to follow up with our group of undecided employees, to see what they had taken away from the experience.

This approach overlays deeper qualitative insight on the quantitative understanding we gained from our office-wide survey. This type of research can feel less thorough and more time consuming than a broad survey, but adds important value, helping us to consider not only what people think, but why they think it. The why is equally, if not more, important than the what when considering how best to engage target audiences around a specific campaign. It helps communicators delve deeper into audience preconceptions or biases, as well as communications needs or nudges, and channels which can be utilised to share information influence opinion.

In carrying out qualitative research as well as quantitative research around the BREXIT campaign we have indeed been able to garner three key pieces of audience insight:

More information doesn’t always feel like better information. 
Time with both campaigns increased audience awareness of contradictory statistics and data points, which could have made it more of a struggle to feel like they were making an informed decision.  Because of this, it could be argued that, over the course of a campaign, the side that “shouts the loudest” or shares the broadest range of information, across the most platforms may win the day.

Economic risk is key to the decision.
Although, interestingly, our undecideds were split on how they planned to vote, both sides highlighted the potential economic risks as the deciding factor for them.  Although our interviewees may not be representative of the wider population, this seems to show that the move from them “remain” camp in particular to focus on economic arguments may be the very powerful.

Personal style plays well for the out campaign.
For those who found the “leave” campaign more convincing, the personal style and commitment of the campaigner played a pivotal role. His repeated expressions of personal dedication and conviction played well with an undecided audience, who felt that when somebody with significant experience put their reputation on the line, the probability was that they were right. This insight may be what has driven some of more personal approach of the “leave” campaign.  

These three lessons reflect some of the approaches recommended by our behavioural insights team, H+K Smarter. Where economists have always described man as a rational animal, capable of using information to make the best decision, the feeling of contradiction and overload our voters suffered better reflects the confusion of everyday life. This need for a “reality check” on economics led to the rise of behavioural economics. At its heart, behavioural economics accepts that man is rarely the rational actor traditional economics suggests, and that instead our decisions are influenced by a variety of factors. Key among these are perceptions of risks (and incentives), the messenger (who makes a recommendation) and the role of emotion and storytelling in influencing our decisions.  Each of these can be seen played out in the feedback above. 

This deeper understanding of the drivers of peoples’ voting decisions could not have been garnered through qualitative surveys alone. Instead, by taking time to understand not only whether undecided voters had been swayed, but also how, gave us a new insight into which campaign approaches are proving most powerful with the undecided audiences that both sides need to sway. I am sure we are all waiting to see which campaign’s approach wins the day.  As our micro-survey showed, it is far from clear which side swing voters will go.

H+K Admin

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search