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A quick guide to why your area voted leave/remain.

Updated: Apr 26, 2021


"Key socio-economic factors helped shape why some areas backed one side over the other in the referendum. "

The Brexit divide became quite prominent in British politics post-2016. The 2017 election appeared to be influenced by how areas had voted in the 2016 referendum, and this trend only deepened in the 2019 election. This short article outlines the possible reasons why some communities voted to Remain and why others voted to Leave. This blog post therefore helps to identify why some constituencies went onto increase the Conservative Party’s vote share and others boosted Labour support. In short, this blog argues that key socio-economic factors helped shape why some areas backed one side over the other in the referendum. It is argued that these groupings backed their given side due to how social units had been affected by recent globalisation and modern economic developments. The groups most likely to feel they had benefited from such trends chose to remain part of the supranational institution, whilst those who felt they had lost from modern developments wanted to voice this feeling by separating from a globalised institution.

Age:

By taking the electorate of each constituency and breaking down its population by different age demographics, it can be stated areas that had more youthful populations voted to Remain much more often than they backed Leave. Constituencies that had the highest proportion of their electorate being under the age of 40 tended to vote Remain significantly more so than compared to the national average, again indicating that the generational composition of an area helped determine the extent to which it voted Leave or Remain. In contrast, areas with older than average populations were more likely to return a Leave verdict. Along with this, the constituencies with the highest proportion of older voters as part of its electorate overwhelmingly returned a Leave result. This again raises the possibility the age profile of an area helped determine localised voting patterns across the UK in the EU referendum, especially in cases that significantly deviated from the national average.

Figure 1 - Proportion of voters Young and Old and Leave vote

Education:

The qualification divide also appears to have impacted varying constituency results in the EU referendum. Areas that backed Leave tended to have fewer of its voters having experienced university-level, or equivalent, education. Such localities also tended to have more of its electorate having obtained only level-2 (GCSE and BTEC), or no qualifications. Further, areas that heavily voted to leave had a much higher than average proportion of its electorate only having obtained lower-level qualifications. Oppositely, Remain localities reflected constituencies that tended to have a strong university presence, and as a result, contained more voters having accessed further and higher education. The constituencies that most heavily voted to Remain have a much larger than average proportion of the electorate having postgraduate degrees, again indicating how the qualification divide helped determine the likelihood of your area having voted Remain/Leave in the 2016 referendum.

Figure 2 - Qualification divide on the 2016 Remain Vote

Occupational Class – A new voting pattern:


Class traditionally in British politics has been a clear dividing line. Those in working-class occupations mostly have not voted the same way as those in upper-middle and very high-class occupations. Whilst this trend was not as strong as it once was this pattern was still strong enough to separate voters quite clearly between Labour and Conservative in the time of New Labour. However, the 2016 EU referendum shows that those in working-class occupations voted against the Labour Party’s Remain recommendation and they instead followed Conservative and UKIP leaders who advocated Leaving the EU. Significantly, this would indicate that old patterns of how constituencies voted may have been less relevant in the 2016 referendum, and also that a new class pattern had emerged. Working class groups were advocating positions the right-wing Eurosceptic element of the party had been promoting since the 1990s. In contrast, liberal elements of the Conservative Party vote from higher-class occupations were now voting in-line with many Labour politicians who had become staunch Europeans in the era of New Labour. Therefore, figure 3 shows how your area could have voted leave/remain due to a new class divide that breaks old party loyalties. Interestingly, these class-based patterns would go onto form into new patterns of party support, where in 2019 the Conservatives would become more of a working-class party.

Figure 3 - Class difference in the 2016 Leave vote

Deprivation and Social mobility:

Figure 4 - Social Mobility and its affect on the 2016 Referendum

Finally, another good indicator to why your area voted to Leave/Remain was the extent to which the constituency you live in is deprived, and from this, the ability people have to get out of deprived circumstances, their social mobility. Areas that were less deprived and had higher levels of social mobility tended to vote Remain, whilst areas with higher than average levels of deprivation and a low level of social mobility mainly voted to Leave. Interestingly, this highlights how globalisation and its impacts may have helped shape the referendum result. Areas that had economically gained from globalisation tended to be more supportive of the EU, a supranational institution which has advanced the process of globally integrated markets. Alternatively, constituencies that had economically lost out, and even been damaged, by this phenomenon tended to have voted Leave. This new political divide potentially partly being shaped by globalisation means that a new British electoral map emerged, which in the 2017 and 2019 election altered the likelihood your local area went onto vote for the Conservative or Labour Party.

Figure 5 - Distribution of Remain and Leave vote across the UK in the 2016 Referendum

Conclusion:

In conclusion, seats that voted Remain can be described as urban, cosmopolitan, younger, highly educated and more reliant on professional occupations. Interestingly, these demographics reflect the exact groups who are thought to have been the ones most likely to benefit from globalisation and supranational institutions, such as the EU. Conversely, Leave seats reflected older, less qualified, traditional working class areas, crucially populations reflecting those thought to have been most likely to have lost out from globalisation. This mirror reverse pattern shows that Remain was more reliant on areas benefitting from globalisation, whilst Leave represented localities hurt by such economics. This pattern occurred at a localised level and indicates that a new divide created by globalisation forces could have been created in the aftermath of the referendum.

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