Moaners, Gloaters, and Bystanders: Perceived Fairness of the United Kingdom’s 2016 Referendum on the European Union

Abstract

Referendums divide citizens into winners and losers, and research has shown that winners, losers, and abstainers tend to differ substantially in their evaluation of the fairness of a referendum. However, no study has investigated the nature and determi- nants of citizens perceptions of the fairness of a national referendum from long before until long after the vote. I address this lacuna by studying perceived fairness of the Brexit referendum using a four-wave panel dataset that tracks perceptions of fairness from before the referendum to ten months after. The results demonstrate that winners, losers, and abstainers differ significantly in their fairness expectations and fairness evaluations after the vote and that the gap between them widened over time. Strength of identification with the referendum camps substantially moderates perceived fairness. Winners who expected to win did not expect the referendum to be conducted more fairly than winners who expected to lose.

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