Brexit and US Politics: What They Say about Voters’ Views

By Randy Myers


The first shocking election result in 2016 happened in the U.K., where, voters frustrated with what they viewed as unfavorable trade deals, uncontrolled immigration, and out-of-touch leadership opted by a 52-48 margin to exit the European Union (EU).

Their sentiments were hardly unique, though. In the U.S., many voters voiced the same frustrations in 2016 when they chose an isolationist-minded businessman and reality TV star to be the Republican nominee for President and flirted with choosing an avowed socialist to be the Democratic nominee.

The parallels are hard to avoid, and may have long-term implications in the U.S. that go well beyond this year’s presidential election, according to BBC World News America Lead Anchor Katty Kay.

“This is a more complicated time,” Kay told participants at the 2016 SVIA Fall Forum in Washington, D.C., in October, four weeks before U.S. voters shocked much of the world again when they elected Donald Trump to become their country’s next president. “Traditional alliances are being stretched. People in the United States and Europe are questioning whether free-market capitalism is necessarily the best model for everybody.”

Kay noted that many Americans feel they have been left behind by globalization and trade deals, by lower taxes for the wealthiest, and by immigration. In many cases, they believe politicians have not done a very good job of supporting them as they have fallen behind in this new economic climate. They have been asking if it may be time for the U.S. to look inward and focus on nation-building at home.

“I think we are in for a period of time when the post-Cold War hegemony is going to be exploded on both the Democratic and Republican sides,” Kay said. “We’re in for a period of huge upheaval, no matter the outcome of the presidential election, and I think the prospect of a one-term presidency in the United States, regardless of who wins, is very real.”

All this will have repercussions for the rest of the world, Kay said, observing that “what happens in the United States affects many audiences around the world in a way that is not true of any other country,” and that global policy, whether it is about climate change or trade, is still driven by decisions in Washington. Syria is the exception right now, Kay said, with Russia seemingly exerting the most influence there and making other countries nervous that this could become a precedent.

“I think the world still looks to America for leadership, and the world is better off when it does lead,” she said. “When President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, it’s no secret the world did not like it. It was seen as America throwing its weight around. But we like it less when America retreats. The world’s fear of America retreating is greater than the fear of American involvement.”

Asked whether the U.K. might hold another vote on leaving the EU—as many people believe the vote would be different this time—Kay said it would be politically difficult, especially anytime soon. What might be possible, she said, would be for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to negotiate the terms of the U.K.’s exit from the EU over the next two years and then present those terms to the British people for a re-vote, especially if the terms are onerous to the U.K. “It doesn’t look like there’s legally a problem to doing that,” Kay said.

Still, she said, even that could prove problematic. “The people who voted to leave, who are driving the Conservative Party, may never let May do that,” she said. “That may be seen as too undemocratic. And it’s true. We voted to leave. At some point you have to respect the democratic process.”