In the direct aftermath of the Brexit vote, when gobsmacked global elites tried to make sense of what had just happened, a curious narrative started making the rounds in the press: voters didn’t really know what they were voting for! Dubbed “Bregret” by some wags, anecdotal evidence seemed to pour in suggesting that Out voters were merely venting their spleen under the mistaken assumption that their protest would get drowned out in a sea of Remain ballots.
The argument always smelled funny. Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that if the so-called “Bregret” was a real phenomenon, it shouldn’t change anything: if the majority of a country’s electorate was in fact so vain and solipsistic, it surely deserves its fate. No, what rankled was that the argument was at heart condescending. The rubes weren’t ill-meaning, the argument implied, they were just misguided. And now they’re pleading for forgiveness. It felt like a desperate, clumsy attempt by the media to call for a do-over.
Now, with more than a month past, that narrative is looking ever shakier as polls emerge. OpenEurope:
A YouGov poll for The Times has found no evidence that voters regretted the decision to leave the EU. Asked whether Britain was “right or wrong to leave the EU”, 46% of respondents said that it had been the right decision and 42% said that it had been the wrong one.
Similarly, IpsosMori found that 49 percent of Great Britain found themselves feeling “sad” at the Out vote, while the rest of the country was either “happy” or “neither”.
As the populist revolt across the West gathers steam, journalists have feverishly sought to find some sort of explanation for the anger—an explanation that tidily sidesteps the most obvious one: that people are deeply and bitterly unhappy with the status quo. Take special note how every populist victory is immediately linked by the chattering classes to the Grand Chessmaster Vladimir Putin, whose peerless spy services and mastery of information warfare is supposed to be corrupting the minds of innocent voters across Europe—and now the United States.
This kind of explanation is not just simply wrong on the merits. It’s also dangerous. By trying to delegitimize votes for the likes of Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, and Grillo, or for causes such as Brexit or the Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU, as being the products either of external manipulation or of some other form of false consciousness, our elites are refusing to even countenance the underlying causes fueling these sentiments. Maybe this wave will be beaten back, but the tide of populist anger shows no signs of receding long term.