More on the Renwick Effect

In response to my last post on this topic, rjfmgy writes

Not to call into question the Renwick effect, which I am neither competent nor inclined to do, but when it comes to voting for actual people, Bill Clinton’s political guru Dick Morris said the opposite of what Renwick said about referendums. Morris said that, all things being equal, late deciders will vote against the incumbent, his thinking being if they don’t like the incumbent already, they’re not going to decide at the last minute that they like the incumbent. I don’t know if that applies in this case; just mentioning it.

I think there’s also a matter of what the “status quo” is in this case. Is a pro-Brexit vote against the status quo, or was UK accession to the Common Market a temporary disruption of the status quo that ought to be reversed? What Britons voted for in the 1975 is not the same as what they have now. So was the status quo that Britons adopted 40 years ago disrupted by the expansion of the powers of the Common Market, transforming it into the EU? The real question is, what vote do average Britons feel is the expression of the natural and legitimate political order?

Thanks, rjfmgy. Great thoughts and questions!

As I understand it, the Renwick effect only applies to referenda, not to, e.g., incumbent politicians. Why? Hell if I know. I don’t recall Renwick discussing the matter, but he probably should. If I were forced to guess, I’d say that swapping a new politician for an an incumbent politician is seen as a pretty small change when compared to swapping, say, the uncertainty of national autonomy for the certainty of several hundred years of being part of the UK (to take the most recent referendum I can think of as an example). In other words, the Renwick effect might be thought to apply only in cases where the change from the status quo is of a very large scale (and/or a potentially irrevocable). But as I say, I’m just guessing.

I completely agree that there’s a question about what counts as the status quo in the Brexit case, and I worried about that somewhere or another on the GJ site. Here, I think[a], but maybe somewhere else. What I said, IIRC, was that (obviously) Britain’s connections with the EU are less deep than Scotland’s connections with the UK or Quebec’s connections with Canada. So if the historical roots of the change away from the status quo is what matters, then we’d expect to see far less in the way of the Renwick effect. But there might be other things that matter. A move away from the EU would be highly disruptive to economic life in Britain. If that is what makes the status quo important, then the Renwick effect should come into play. It’s also worth noting that the average age of a UK voter in the last parliamentary election was less than 35[b]. Britain’s been moving toward the Europe for the entire lives of these voters. Of course there are still voters around who remember fighting a bitter war against a German-dominated Europe, but they’ll be in the minority. That said, if the opponents of EU membership manage to frame the issue primarily in terms of whether Britons feel like legitimacy flows from Brussels, then I think it’s rather unlikely that the UK will remain in the EU. The status quo ante just won’t matter if that’s the question.




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