My last post was essentially about the credibility (ethos) of speakers in the Brexit debate. Now that we know the results of the vote, let’s look at the effectiveness of the ‘remain’ side´s communication strategy briefly. So what happened last Thursday that the majority of the electorate failed to respond positively to Mr. Cameron and the ‘remain’ camp? Why did 52% of the electorate vote to leave the EU, when an impressive list of home and international figures and organizations advised the great British electorate publically to vote ‘remain’?
This illustrious list is headed by the president of the United States, and then followed by the Secretary of State of the U.S., head of the IMF, Governor of the Bank of England, Confederation of British Industries, Trade Union Council, Head of the Church of England, many Catholic bishops, eight Treasury Secretaries, Secretary General of NATO, CEO’s of the top 100 companies, one hundred leading economists, Greenpeace, Director of Europol and top officials in Brussels, right across the spectrum to such showmen as Bob Geldof and David Beckham. Surely there was enough credibility there for the average voter to be impressed as to the character soundness of these people and their messages!
As the messages from the ‘remain’ side concerned what would happen if the electorate voted to leave, it was basically about the future, which cannot be demonstrated other than by educated guesses based on probabilities. So there was a problem with the logos of the message. We could only depend on the credibility of the speakers (and not on the argumentation) as to whether we believed them or not. This is why the credibility of the speaker is so important. The majority of voters obviously were not impressed by Mr. Cameron and his elite supporters.
Now the electorate have revolted and shockwaves have been felt around the world. So the question arises as to whether the elite will try to reverse the referendum result? Parliament is supreme in English law, so the referendum is not binding and Article 50 of the European treaty cannot be invoked until the prime minister with the permission of parliament says so. But this, although immensely interesting, is an issue for the future.
Returning to the rhetorical aspect, many of the voters suspected the veracity of the claims of both sides. The consequences of both a ‘leave’ vote and a ‘remain’ vote lay in the future. But many of the electorate had not benefited from the new resurging economy, and the possible negative consequences of leaving the EU did not impress them. A person cannot sympathise with a future negative consequence if he or she is discontented with their present situation and they see others benefiting. Normally audiences cannot sympathise with rich people losing money or their privileged positions, when their own situation shows no promise of improving. It is understandable that there would be distrust.
So neither the emotional dimension (pathos) nor the credibility dimension (ethos) of the rhetorical triad worked with the majority of voters for different reasons, strategically speaking. They were badly thought out. Why would anyone follow the advice of millionaire showmen like Bob Geldof and David Beckham? Was it an insult to the 52% of the electorate who voted to leave to suggest that they would be swayed by such celebrities, or many from the influential list of dignities and organizations mentioned earlier? If one dimension of the rhetorical triad is missing, yet alone two, then a successful communication of any message will surely be ineffective.