The Guest Blog



Guest blog post by Howard Dobson, Strategic digital communications specialist and author.

Europeans don’t understand the EU well enough to make an informed stay/leave decision. It’s not about knowing your Asse (in Belgium) from your Elbingen (in Germany). How many know their European Court of Justice from their European Court of Human Rights? Or their Council of Europe from their European Council?

My latest piece of communications analysis proves that referendums and political and economic unions mix less well than the 510 million inhabitants of the 28 EU member states.

Last month I ran a customer relationship management survey asking UK residents nine questions about the European Union. Six questions asked respondents to rate their trust in the EU, one asked them to quantify the quality of the EU’s work overall, one asked how satisfied respondents were with the EU, and one asked them how they voted in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Once crunched the numbers revealed that public satisfaction in the European Union was not the biggest contributing factor to voting outcome. It made up just nine per cent of voting behaviour – a sizeable effect but not enough in itself to swing a vote from leave to remain.

No, the most powerful variable in my model was actually dependability, an element of trust. Accounting for a whopping 55 per cent of voting variance, dependability could have converted a floating leave voter into a born again remainer, particularly as it was a major contributor to public satisfaction in the EU and overall perceptions of the EU’s work.

So this is where the UK’s referendum of the millennium went wrong! Questions on dependability asked respondents to rate how they agreed or disagreed with two statements: The EU can be relied on to keep its promises; I believe the EU takes the opinions of people like me into account when making decisions. Without a clear concept of promises kept and opinions sought (are EU news releases really hot in these departments?), many voters opted for leave. The final score: Brexit 1, EU customer relationship management nil.

You may have thought Brexit was solely about perceptions of the EU’s work but this only accounted for two percent of variance in voting behaviour. Let’s be honest, how many of us have flicked through weighty EU reports of late? Could you accurately judge how successful the EU/EC/EEC has been in its 61-year history?

So how crazy for the UK to gamble the future of Europe on our clear lack of understanding, cloudy political campaigning and beginners’ level trust in the EU.

One remaining variable with statistical significance was the public’s concept of the EU’s skills and ability (an element of trust) contributing just over three per cent to the electorate’s mindset – another tough one to call.

Just over 30 per cent of the variance in voting behaviour came from variables not within the scope of the study – things like political bias, age, gender, education. Interestingly the variable of integrity did not register at all. Neither did the emotional reassurance that comes from trusting an organisation. Clearly everyone wanted easily quantifiable results from a 28-state union, not warm-fuzzies.

Having processed these data, we can conclude that the best way forward is for the UK prime minister to forget the result of the ill-fated first referendum, abort any talk of a second and get back to experts making expert decisions.

And please EU let’s learn from UK-led mistakes. Improve the level of customer relationship management so the public have a simple way of evaluating EU performance. In a Twitter interactivity index, looking at how customer relationships are built on Twitter, I recently ranked 40 UK public organisations and personalities. The Scottish National Party came first, Jeremy Corbyn second. The EU Commission in the UK came 25th – behind UKIP (the UK Independence Party) in 20th place but interestingly ahead of the UK’s Department for Exiting the EU in 32nd place.

Howard Dobson is author of How to Improve Customer Satisfaction in Times of Spending Cuts: A Simple Guide to Public Sector Communications

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