‘A Nation Divided’: News Reports and Opinions the Morning After the 2016 EU Referendum – Sarah Josephine Ryan & Veronika Koller

 Bangor University
Lancaster University

“A referendum, by its very nature, is divisive and the 2016 British EU referendum was no exception: 52% the electorate voted to leave the EU while 48% voted to remain. Since the results were announced, many in the UK and beyond have been trying to make sense of the divide in the nation by looking at which demographic groups and political affiliations voted which way.

In our research, we looked at the metaphors used in newspaper articles the day after the vote to see how the situation was described. Metaphor is more than a literary technique; it is pervasive in our day to day language. It has the ability to make sense of and shape how we think about complex situations and abstract ideas. As might be expected,  the texts we analysed were full of metaphors describing how the UK was divided by the referendum, but it there were also interesting differences between news sites.

Newspapers on the Remain side of the campaign focused on demographic rifts between the young and the old, the city and the country, graduates and non-graduates, the nations of the UK, nationalists and cosmopolitans. The Leave supporting newspapers, however, described a different division – between the electorate and the establishment. This was a vote against the establishment, the status quo, the elite, and for that reason, the Leave vote was the populist vote.”

Sarah Josephine Ryan of Bangor University & Veronika Koller of Lancaster University