The June 23 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum provides us with an interesting look at modern decision making and collective voice. Everyone seeks information from different places or people. For some, Google or another search engine will suffice. For others, it’s the opinion of those they trust – family, friends, news anchors, bloggers or perhaps a self-declared “expert.”
Britons went to the polls and voted. They voted to leave the European Union. The reasons why are varied. For some, they voted because they felt their culture was in jeopardy. That some “foreign” entity was harming their cultural makeup – that the “British” identity was being tarnished (I’ll leave my spiel about the benefits of cultural diversity for another time). For others, it was because they wanted to challenge their government, telling them it’s time for a change and to make change happen. But making this change happen may not be possible just yet as the fallout has already had some significant repercussions – from hate crimes to political infighting and a spooked global economy.
History is riddled with examples of a national vote ending with unexpected results. In 2008, California residents who are some of the most progressive in the United States, voted in favor of a measure that halted same-sex marriages. Yes, remember that? In the weeks leading up to the vote there was confusion around what voting in favor of Prop 8 would mean. Even San Francisco’s mayor messed up. Following the vote, some asked if wrong-way voting was also a factor, which seems entirely possible.
Greece had Grexit, where the Greek people voted ‘No’ on an EU bailout. Like the British people, some voted based purely on national pride and a feeling their culture was in jeopardy. They voted to make a statement and challenge the norm.
National pride, a sense of self and sense of place will play a pivotal role in any vote. The ability to vote is an important part of the democratic process. It’s our opportunity to speak up, to have a voice. It’s a right and a privilege. But it is also our duty to vote with an understanding of the issues at hand – we must force ourselves to be “in-the-know.” Because, let’s be honest, there isn’t an “undo” button we can push to jump back and start over.
In the modern era, voting and petitioning have become commonplace. We vote for contestants on television, vote for M&M colors, sign a petition against a beverage maker or vote for the silly name of a state-of-the-art research vessel. We have come to form opinions quickly, seldom with enough information to justify those opinions. We’ve all been there at one point or another.
Communicating fact is becoming evermore complex – requiring us to explore new avenues to educate the public and provide them with facts. In the communications equation, whether for a political campaign or a Fortune 500 company, transparency and full disclosure must come first. We can’t force anyone to read a PDF or a Tweet, but we can make the information/facts/possible outcomes available in other forms. This way, when it’s our time to speak up, we, as a collective group, are “in-the-know” and qualified to do so. Avoiding that potentially attention-grabbing front-page headline that reads “whoops-a-daisy.”