Jo Cox's Murder Was A Tragedy, But Unlikely To Affect Brexit Results

by: Elephant Analytics


The murder of Jo Cox was shocking and resulted in the Brexit campaigns being suspended until Sunday.

Voters will express sympathy for Cox, but this is unlikely to result in a change of voting intentions.

The 2003 murder of Sweden's Anna Lindh may be the closest comparable.

Lindh was a very prominent national figure and campaigner for the "Yes" vote in the Swedish Euro referendum. Despite much sympathy, the "Yes" vote didn't improve on previous polls.

The last few days of the Brexit campaign will have the most effect on the referendum results.

Campaigning for the EU referendum has been suspended until Sunday after the shocking murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was a strong proponent of a "Remain" vote and described as a rising star.

While it should be universally agreed that Cox's murder was a tragedy, there has also been some discussion that her death will halt the momentum of the "Leave" campaign and increase the chance that the UK votes to remain in the EU. However, I think that the actual result will be that the country will mourn her, but that there will also be limited impact on the referendum results.

Anna Lindh's Murder

The closest comparable that I can think of is the 2003 murder of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh several days ahead of a referendum on Sweden's adoption of the euro. Lindh was a leading campaigner for the "Yes" vote and her murder led to the suspension of both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns, although the decision was made to let the referendum go ahead as scheduled. Lindh was one of Sweden's most prominent politicians and was considered by many to be a potential future Prime Minister.

The motive for Anna Lindh's murder was unknown at the time, although there was some initial speculation that it may have been connected to her "Yes" vote campaign. Her murder was eventually determined to be unconnected to her stance on the euro, but that was not conclusively determined until a while later. Although later exonerated, early suspicion fell upon a man with alleged links to far-right organizations.

Effect On The Swedish Referendum

There was speculation that Lindh's murder would boost the "Yes" vote out of sympathy. Indeed a couple of the polls taken after Lindh's death showed a significant increase in "Yes" support that put the "Yes" vote roughly on par with the "No" vote. This was a major change from average poll results that showed a 12% to 15% "No" lead before Lindh's murder. However, there were also other post-murder polls that indicated no change in the "No" lead, and a Gallup poll indicated that only 5% of those polled though that Lindh's death would influence their voting decision. In the end the "No" vote won by 14% in the actual referendum, which was toward the high end of what was expected. Lindh's murder appeared to have no noticeable effect on the actual vote.

Potential Effect On The EU Referendum

Initial information indicates that the suspect (Thomas Mair) in Cox's murder may have had far-right connections and may have also struggled with mental illness. Those are two lines of inquiry that are being investigated.

However, it will probably be unknown for a while how much Cox's murder was intended as a political act by a sane individual versus one borne primarily out of mental illness.

While Cox's murder casts a pall over the referendum, I don't think it will have a significant effect on the results. Lindh was an even more high profile politician who was murdered just a few days before the referendum, and her death didn't change the results at all from what the polls were indicating before her death. Cox's murder happened with a bit more time to go before the referendum, so I would say that the Brexit probability is still a tossup, and that the end result may depend largely on the last few days of the campaign next week. Any attempt to overtly politicize Cox's death is likely to backfire.


Jo Cox's murder was a shocking and tragic event that is probably going to have only a modest impact on the referendum results. While people will honour her memory, the sympathies for Jo and her family will likely not spill over into vote switching. The precedence can be seen in the reaction to Anna Lindh's murder in 2003. There was a huge outpouring of sympathy for her death. The actual effect on the referendum was negligible though, despite Lindh being a very prominent national figure and campaigner, along with her murder being only a few days before the referendum. Indeed, the "No" vote actually came in at the high end of the pre-murder poll results. Another example is that spread betting had the "No" vote at 51% to 54% before Lindh's murder, while the actual result came in at 56%.

The EU referendum is expected to be much closer than the Swedish referendum, so even a change of a couple percent could switch the outcome. However, the results are much more likely to be determined by the last few days of the campaign than by any sympathy vote.

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