Preferences Are Not Transitive

This is the most pointless, nerdy thing imaginable, but I’m going to post it anyway. As you may know, Britain has basically three options when it comes to Brexit:

  • Remain: cancel the whole thing and stay in the EU.
  • May Deal: go ahead with Brexit on the terms negotiated by prime minister Theresa May.
  • No Deal: exit the EU with no deal at all in place.

A recent poll asked the British public what they thought about each of these options. Here’s how they responded:

Take a careful look at this:

  • Remain is preferred to the May Deal.
  • The May Deal is preferred to No Deal
  • But No Deal is preferred to Remain.

This is an example of a hoary old political science result: namely that preferences are not transitive. Even if you prefer A to B, and B to C, you might still prefer C to A. However, real-life examples of this are hard to find, and textbooks often have to resort to obviously clunky, made-up examples. But this one is real! Textbook authors everywhere will be eternally grateful to the British public for this.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.