Brexit – an age-old decision?

Explaining referendum voting patterns through the lens of Emotional Intelligence.

The referendum resulting in Brexit has been one of the most significant political events in recent times.
Following analysis of voting demographics, the disparity between the younger and older age groups of voters was striking. Younger voters tended to favour remaining in the EU, whereas older voters were more likely to opt to leave the Union; demonstrating a clear divide between generations.

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Linking this outcome with JCA’s own research on Emotional Intelligence (EI), we introduce the idea that age differences in voting are, to some extent, explained by age differences in EI.
EI is concerned with how people manage themselves to be both personally and interpersonally effective. It is closely related to the concepts of ‘wisdom’ and ‘emotional maturity’, being an individual’s capacity to draw upon their life experiences when deciding on how to respond and behave in a given situation. This capacity is largely determined by a person’s attitudes and their awareness of themselves and others.

A study conducted by JCA Global on over 20,000 individuals indicated that EI increased with age in all aspects of EI except one: ‘Connecting with Others’. This suggests that older generations feel less of a need to belong or hold significant connections with others, which it could be argued, was demonstrated through their voting choices. For the younger voters, ‘Connecting with Others’ appears to have been a significant reason to remain; through media articles we have all viewed the despair of this age group in what Brexit will mean for them in terms of the potential loss of the feeling united. Collaboration and the desire to be part of a large network seemed to be a big factor in their decision making when voting.

Was voting to stay in the EU by the younger age groups a decision driven purely by a need to be closely linked with others or were there other reasons, such as fear of uncertainty? Perhaps surprisingly, our research shows older age groups to score higher in aspects of EI related to change such as ‘Flexibility’ and ‘Emotional Resilience’, suggesting that they were more prepared to accept the much anticipated negative economic consequences of Brexit. Perhaps this was because older age groups have greater financial security so can afford to do so. If so, then were older generations voting for their own interests above the interests of younger people? Based on our evidence this seems unlikely, as EI scales concerning the welfare of others such as ‘Regard for Others’ and ‘Awareness of Others’ (in this case perhaps for their own children and grandchildren) also increase with age.

Looking forward then, how can EI help individuals, organisations and the nation deal with Brexit? The good news is that unlike personality and IQ, EI can be developed. There is a need to build bridges between the Leave and Remain voters, by showing empathy and understanding towards others and specifically developing the ability to connect with others. Individuals can also develop their capacity to cope with uncertainty and adapt to change. Organisations can learn to negotiate new trade relationships and collectively our nation can reassure our European allies that we value them and want to work together. EI will therefore be a critical factor in navigating through the coming months and years to achieve harmony and success now the Brexit wheels are in motion.

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