Though the European Union is a corrupt and anti-democratic institution, I thought and think that the “Brexit” is a terrible idea. I also think that there’s little doubt that racism and nativism played some role, probably a large role, in that decision, and as such it reflects some sinister forces. But I’m seeing tons of people ascribing terrible social views to Leave voters based on a simple misreading of a popular infographic, this one.
Here is what this graphic says: 81% of those who think multiculturalism is a force for evil voted Leave, to pick one example. Which doesn’t say great things for Leave, I grant you. But here’s what I keep seeing people say on Facebook and Twitter, including a distressing number of professional journalists: that 81% of Leave voters think multiculturalism is a force for evil. That isn’t correct! And it makes a huge difference. If you actually bother to look at the actual data set, as Shashank Joshi has, you’ll see that 14% of Leave voters think multiculturalism is “very much a force for ill.” And that goes for other basic questions of social progress as well. Check out the numbers on feminism:
Even UKIP voters – members of a really noxious, proto-fascist party – are skewed towards viewing feminism as a positive force rather than a negative force, with the largest group found right in the middle at “mixed blessing.” I don’t think these numbers are good, and I wish support for multiculturalism and feminism and assorted were much better. But they aren’t nearly the untrammeled record of pure bigotry that they’re being made out to be in the neoliberal press. The story is much more complicated than “bigots vote to reject immigrants,” much to the dismay of those who want to defend austerity and unfettered financial speculation.
It’s pretty clear what’s happening: liberals have a narrative and misread data in a way that suits that narrative. But the whole point of a media, particularly one which prides itself on “data journalism,” is to correct these misconceptions. What is going on in the media industry where so many professional information-interpreters don’t bother to look at the data, and apparently don’t know how to read a graph?
Update: And for god’s sake, stop running Google trend stories!