What The Brexit Vote Taught Us
July 19, 2016
The Toughest Lessons
Sometimes the toughest lessons are the ones you remember best. When you get home from the store and forget to put your pints of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer, they will melt. If you leave your car windows open during a rain storm, that car is going to be soaked. We’ve all made these mistakes—but rarely more than once.
Recently, a sizeable number of people who took part in the “Brexit” vote throughout the United Kingdom learned a tough but useful, and even hopeful, lesson too: your vote counts.
A Huge Mistake?
Brexit—short for “Britain” + “exit”—was a nationwide referendum on a single issue: Should the UK withdraw from the European Union. It was a complicated subject for many people to understand, especially since so much misinformation was being spread about the consequences of voting to leave or remain.
Of course, misinformation is all around us, with questionable claims bombarding us, via phones, tablets, even gas-station pumps, all day and night. The flip side is that we’re also able to research the truth more easily than ever. Unfortunately, it was only after the polls closed in Britain that British Google searches of “What is the EU?” skyrocketed.
The Results Were A Surprise
To worldwide astonishment, Britons voted to leave the EU 52%-48%.
How did this happen? Well, let’s turn to Adam. Adam became internet-famous after admitting, live on television, that he didn’t think his vote would matter. Sadly, and much to the frustration of all those who didn’t want Britain to leave the EU (and voted that way), Adam was not alone. This is what he had to say:
I’m a bit shocked to be honest. I’m shocked that we actually have voted to leave, I didn’t think that was going to happen. My vote, I didn’t think was going to matter too much because I thought we were just going to remain . . . I think the period of uncertainty that we’re going to have for the next couple of months, that’s just been magnified now. So yeah, quite worried.
What Can The US Learn from Our Friends?
While leaving the complexities of British society’s long, tormented relationship with Europe glaringly aside, we are able to detect one fatal assumption held by many of the British public going in to Brexit. People were upset, but a lot of them, including many who never wanted to leave the EU, apparently believed that the majority of the country would vote to stay, freeing them up to register a protest by voting to leave.
A Risky Proposition
Basing your vote on what you think everybody else might do is always a risky proposition. Of course, voting is rarely an entirely straightforward exercise. How often, for example, do you feel like you’re getting exactly what you want when you cast a vote for or against an issue or a candidate? Besides, it’s easy to feel, when you’re alone in the ballot booth, like your one, lonely, isolated vote won’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
The big lesson here is that it might: it might even change the course of history.
These Races Came Down to a Matter of Votes
Consider these numbers:
- The 2004 Washington gubernatorial race was decided by 133 votes out of almost 3 million cast.
- The 2008 US Senate race in Minnesota was decided by 312 votes out of almost 3 million cast.
- And of course, some of you might remember the 2000 presidential election—George W. Bush defeated Al Gore after winning Florida by 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast.
Your Vote Counts
We talk about voting a lot around here. As hard as it is to believe, the right to vote is still not guaranteed for everyone. States all across the US have been working to find ways to make it harder, not easier, for citizens to get to the polls since the Supreme Court defanged the VRA. Money is pouring in to politics, drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.
But know this: When you cast a vote, it counts.
People have the power.
We get to elect our leaders. We get to decide. And by heading out to the polls and marking a ballot, we get to be the change we want to see: part of the solution rather than the problem. Each of us, alone with our ballot, is part of something much bigger and, when you think about it, more beautiful. Our democracy has a lot of problems, but it’s nothing that millions of us, working together all over the country, can’t fix if we remember just one thing:
Your vote counts.
So put those pints in your freezer as soon as you get home from the store. Because there’s nothing worse than waking up the next morning feeling like you made a huge mistake.
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