Monthly Archives: September 2016

An analysis of the trends driving the Brexit vote

prof goodwinToday, Paul Gosling’s excellent Twitter feed led to news of research showing that trends relating to income, location and skills were important factors behind the public’s decision on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union (EU).

Kent’s news article adds that the research was ‘co-conducted’ by Professor Matthew Goodwin (right), Professor of Politics in Kent’s School of Politics and International Relations, and Dr Oliver Heath at the Royal Holloway University.

It was commissioned by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and drew on data from the British Election Study (BES). Professor Goodwin said that it “sheds light on the deep divides that exist in our society”.

A further search led to the source document which may be read here:

jrf logo

A JRF article about this research adds that people earning less than £20,000 a year with lower qualifications and living in low-skilled areas were the driving force behind the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. The researchers also found that public support for Leave closely mapped past support for Ukip but was more polarized along educational achievement lines than support for Ukip ever had been.


  • ‘Double whammy’ of low skills and lack of opportunity led to Brexit
  • Low earners, low skilled workers and left behind places drove Leave vote
  • Government must deliver a ‘Britain to work for all’ to heal divisions, says JRF

It said ensuring prosperity was more equally shared and that people could find thrive and find security in the modern economy was crucial to address the concerns. The research found three key trends behind the Brexit vote:

People living in the poorest households, which earn less than £20,000 per year, were much more likely to support leaving the EU than those in the wealthiest households, as were the unemployed, those looking for work, people in low-skilled and precarious manual occupations. In households with incomes of less than £20,000 per year the average support for leave was 58% but in households with incomes over £60,000 per year support for leaving the EU was only 35%. Unemployed people and those looking for work were also far more likely to support Brexit than those in full employment – support for leave among the former was 59% but only 45% among the latter. Other things being equal, support for Leave was 10 points higher among those on less than £20,000 per year than it was among those who earn more than £60,000.

Educational inequality was the standout trend behind the vote, showing that a lack of opportunity for low-skilled workers was a key driving force. Other things being equal, support for Leave was 30 percentage points higher among those with GCSE qualifications or below than it was for people with a degree. Over 70 percent of people with no qualification voted for Brexit, over 70 percent of people with a postgraduate degree voted to remain.

Where people lived: in low skill areas the proportion of A-level holders voting leave was closer to that of people with low skills, in high skill areas their vote was much more similar to graduates. Support for Brexit varied not only according to the type of individuals but the type of area. Those with all levels of qualifications were more likely to vote Leave in low skill areas than in high skill areas. The biggest difference across types of area was for those with A-levels or a degree. Whereas over 70 percent of people in low-skilled communities like Tendring (which covers Clacton) voted for Brexit, over 70 percent of people in very highly-skilled communities like Cambridge voted to remain in the EU.

Amongst the conclusions of Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation were that:

  • “The research shows how Britain cannot afford to return to business as usual following the vote for Brexit. The result was a wake-up call: for too long, many communities have been struggling as the country’s prosperity passed them by and missed out on opportunities to build a better life.
  • “With energy focussed on the process of leaving the EU, there’s a danger the concerns of people at home are ignored. This analysis should act as beacon for politicians who often talk about representing the concerns of ordinary people.
  • “The rapid pace of change in the economy has left too many people without the skills and opportunity to get on in life. We must act to ensure prosperity reaches all corners of the country, and provides everyone with the chance to earn a good wage in a secure job.

“Theresa May has made the right noises to overcome this and heal the divisions with a promise to make Britain work for all. The priority is making good on this promise.”