Brexit Then & Now: From Memes…

Brexit Then & Now: From Memes to Stockpiling

With the original leave date slated for 31 March 2019, Brexit is once again “trending”.

But Brexit has always been in the news since the referendum. It’s only from the start of this year that Britons have regained interest, or more likely concern. The number of Brexit articles viewed on the top five print publications exceeded 11 million in January to March, up 63% from the previous quarter *. After a dormant two years, searches for “Brexit” have risen rapidly, spiking in the week of 30th March with the Revoke Article 50 Petition and the People’s Vote March.

“Brexit” Searches
From the Referendum to Now

Source: Hitwise, UK. Weekly search volumes for “Brexit” (and variations of the term).
Call outs refer to week-on-week change.  

“Brexit” searches show more Britons taking action and preparing a contingency plan.

Searches for “Brexit” have almost reached the level of 2016’s referendum. But what we care about has changed significantly in the past three years. From odds, memes, and immigration concerns in 2016, we are now getting more informed and taking action. Our concerns in 2019 have shifted to our borders, the impacts to trade, and contingency planning if it all goes belly-up. 

“Brexit” Keywords
% Difference from Referendum to Now

• In 2016 we were:

1. Checking our oddsPoll” searches, now down 93%
Oddschecker“, now down 87%
Odds“, now down 81%
2. Concerned about campaign issuesProperty” searches, now down 84%
Immigration“, now down 75%
NHS” now down 57%
3. Searching for a good memeMeme searches, now down 61%
Jokes”, now down 57%
Cartoon”, now down 47%
4. Fact checking post-voteReaction searches, now down 95%
Consequences”, now down 68%
Lies”, now down 42%

• In 2019, we are now:

1. Divisive but taking actionMarch” searches, now up 1,592%
Petition”, now up 652% 
Betrayal”, new in 2019 
2. Concerned about our borders 
and trade
Customs” searches, now up 2,388% 
Tariffs”, now up 954% 
Backstop”, new in 2019
3. Soul searching and getting informedPopulism”searches, now up 359% 
Explained”,now up 349% 
Lessons”,new in 2019
4. Preparing a contingency planMedicines” searches, now up 378% 
Insurance”, now up 256% 
Stockpiling”, new in 2019

Source: Hitwise, UK. “Brexit” keywords. “Now up/down” = Relative difference between 4 weeks to 6 April 2019 vs. 4 weeks to 2 July 2016.

The face of the Brexit petitioner has changed too, drawing a wider mix of ages and regions.

After 2016’s vote, 4 million people signed a petition to call for a re-run. These petitioners (i.e. people who visited the petition site in the two weeks after the referendum) drew a larger share of younger people, particularly 18-24 yo, and residents from South West and South East regions.

This profile largely differed to the most recent petition, which drew almost 6 million signatories. In the two weeks to 6 April, Brexit petitioners still over-indexed for 18-24 yo, but included a wider mix of age groups up to 55 yo and over. With calls for these regions to stay in the EU, Scotland and London also saw the largest shifts in petitioning from 2016 to 2019.

Petition Site Visitor
From 2016’s Re-Run to 2019’s Revoke Petition

Source: Hitwise, UK. Visitors to petition.parliament.uk in 2016 (2 weeks to 2 July 2016) and 2019 (2 weeks to 6 April 2019). Index is compared to the general online population.

Despite the petition getting rejected, there were some positives to come from recent weeks.

Hitwise data shows that there has been a significant shift in public opinion and reaction since 2016’s referendum. Three years ago, Britons were searching for memes and checking their odds. Our biggest concerns were around contentious issues, like immigration and the NHS. 

Today, Britons are still divisive, with both “Cancel Brexit” and “Brexit Betrayal” trending in search. But we are getting more informed and preparing contingency plans. Our concerns revolve around the hugely debated “backstop”, the impact to trade and customs, and fears around medicine and food shortages.

The face of the Brexit petitioner has changed from mostly young people, to now a mix of age groups and regions, particularly Scotland and London where their leaders are calling to remain.

Theresa May has been granted an extension to Halloween. The next six months will tell if we’ll have another change in public opinion as we edge closer to Brexit’s next deadline.

*Source: Hitwise, UK Market. March-April 2019 vs June-July 2016. Top five print publications – Daily Mail, The Guardian, Daily Express, The Mirror, and TheSun.