Communication, identity and Brexit: why EU investment doesn’t always add up to a vote for the EU

EU flags blowing in the wind in front of a building

New research from our PERCEIVE project shows communication and regional identity play the biggest roles in shaping how people feel about the European Union (EU).

The research findings explain why places like Ebbw Vale, a former mining town which has received millions in EU regeneration funding, voted for Brexit. They also highlight the challenges the EU faces in communicating the work it does.

The three-year PERCEIVE project has interviewed 2000 citizens from 10 EU countries. The survey explores how people’s sense of local, national and ‘European’ identity influences their attitude to the EU.

They are also researching how people learn about EU initiatives. Content and sentiment analysis tools are tracking the use and success of different ‘storytelling methods’ used by the EU.

A PERCEIVE computer model, now in development, will allow for virtual testing of tailored communication strategies in different regions. By finding the right message for each area, the project hopes to give more citizens a better appreciation of the EU’s work.

The PERCEIVE team are particularly interested in EU Cohesion Policies. These projects aim to stimulate jobs, growth, sustainable development, and improve quality of life.

Dr Adam Cox principal investigator on the project, said: 'The initiatives that make up the EU's Cohesion Policy should lead to positive feelings about the EU, but as the UK’s EU referendum suggests, things are not so simple.

The UK will leave the European Union but the research will still be valuable. It could help all levels of government to communicate policies and projects that make people listen

Dr Adam Cox

Principal Lecturer in Economics and Finance

'Learning from an initiative after its delivery is difficult and costly. Instead, our computer model will provide a virtual lab to test communication strategies first.'

The project is set to finish in September 2019, just a few months after the UK should have left the European Union. But Dr Cox says the research can help governments of all sizes to communicate better.

'The UK will have left the European Union, but the research will still be valuable,’ he said. ‘It could help all levels of government to communicate policies and projects that make people listen.'