A word of advice from a Brit who didn’t vote: I thought Brexit couldn’t happen


I remember the night Brexit happened like a slowly unfolding nightmare. I spent it in a sports bar on Wall Street with a few other young Brits. I sometimes hear them talking about that night like it’s a trauma they can’t shake. 

The nightmare began with some tweets from the North East of England. As we crossed the East River on a ferry, reporters began saying that Brexit was winning big in Sunderland, a solidly working class area which was expected to be pretty close. Within minutes the pound had fallen off a cliff. In the tower blocks around us, people in suits were making and losing money. 

I couldn’t bear to admit it to the crest-fallen Brits around me in the back room of the sports bar, or in dozens of conversations about Brexit in the weeks afterwards, but I will admit it now: I didn’t vote.

I didn’t vote because I believed the polls, and the polls had Remain ahead by a margin that felt comfortable. And I didn’t vote because I made the grave mistake of indulging my biases. No one I knew was voting for Brexit, and I arrogantly assumed I knew my country. 

This is my mea culpa to the progressive people of Britain and my warning to the young people of America: don’t leave this to chance.

The chances of Brexit winning on the morning of June 23 were about 3-1 – very long odds indeed in a two-horse race. As a leading British betting company has just pointed out on Twitter, those are Trump’s odds of winning today.

The specter of a “Brexit situation” as CNN’s John King put it last night, hangs over election day in America. “Obviously that is in the air,” admitted David Axelrod.

What that means – what everyone who says this fears – is that the polls are wrong. That the pollsters have missed a whole bunch of Trump supporters who either don’t speak to pollsters or don’t say they are voting Trump. In the UK, almost all of the pollsters missed a clear five percent swing to Brexit during the campaign. 

It probably won’t happen. US polling is better and more extensive than British polling, as is US political journalism. And the methodology of the state polling in this election’s battlegrounds is much more established than the polling that preceded a one-off referendum. It probably won’t happen. But imagine if it did.

If you are in Florida or Michigan or Pennsylvania or North Carolina or Nevada or Virginia or Ohio or Iowa or New Hampshire and you haven’t voted yet, my personal advice – born of a horrible personal screw up and a national calamity – is to leave your desk now and get it done.