The 2016 BREXIT Vote: Part Two

In my last post, I explained the origins of the BREXIT vote, the inability for pollsters to forecast the Leave Campaign’s surprising victory, the regional distribution of the vote and the potential impact BREXIT could have on the United Kingdom’s future territorial unity. In this post, I want to breakdown the BREXIT vote along demographic lines. The goal is to understand who supported BREXIT and who wanted Britain to remain in the European Union (EU).

In the event, the British Parliament considers to hold a second referendum, which at this time is very unlikely, these numbers will help each side of the debate mobilize their supporters.

A Generational Divide

As noted yesterday, 72% of the British electorate participated in the BREXIT referendum. Let us first look at the participation rate by age group.

How did voters in each group vote?

Clearly, younger voters were more supportive of the Remain Campaign than the Leave Campaign. Given higher turnout rates among older voters, they helped the Leave Campaign win the referendum.

This generational divide is a bit daunting for the UK’s future. As it starts to recast its economic future, the risks associated with this move will impact younger people more than older voters. It is worth highlighting that 75% of voters between the ages of 18-24 voted for the UK to remain in the EU. That is a big margin.

Men and Women on BREXIT

Here is a table that summarizes the results of the vote along gender lines. Men participated at higher rate than women and they overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. Women had mixed views on the EU.

Gender Remain Leave Turnout
Male 45% 55% 74%
Female 51% 49% 71%

Race and the BREXIT Vote

Immigration issues was one of the big drivers of the BREXIT vote. For those voters who felt that the UK should regain control over its border and immigration policies, BREXIT was seen an important step. Those people who favored the EU’s open borders and its labor mobility regulations voted to stay. I will write about this in post in the future.

But the debate on immigration activated identity politics. The next table captures an important racial divide regarding BREXIT.

Race/Ethnicity Remain Leave Turnout
White 46% 54% 74%
Black or Minority Ethnic Group 69% 31% 58%

It is clear that White British voters overwhelmingly supported the Leave Campaign, while minority voters strongly voted for the Remain Campaign. Could a higher turnout rate among minority voters help keep the UK in the EU? The number of minority voters in the UK, compared with the United States, is very small. Thus, a higher participation would not have made a big difference.

The BREXIT Vote and Social Class

To measure voters’ social class status, we can use a voter’s type of employment as a proxy. The British Census includes four key classifications.

Let us look first at the turnout rate for each of these classifications.

While the turnout rate among the highest classes was higher than the national average, the fact of the matter is that these voters represent a smaller size of the electorate. By in large, voters in higher income professions were more apt to support the Remain Campaign than people in lower-paid professions, as the next graph demonstrates.

The Education Divide

In terms of voters’ educational background, the turnout rate for voters with the U.S. equivalent of a high school education or less (i.e. “no qualifications”) was estimated at 70%, while it stood at 71% for voters with some tertiary education. The rate for voters who completed a university degree or higher was 78%. The next table summarizes the distribution of BREXIT votes along these three groups.

The higher voters’ education attainment, the more critical they are about BREXIT.

Political Affiliations and BREXIT

Finally, let us look if voters’ affiliations to Britain’s main, national political parties had any impact on their vote in the referendum.

Even though the UK Independence Party is not a major political party and it has a very low number of follower, when compared to the other parties included in the graph above, it is worth remembering that its leader, Nigel Farange was one of the main leaders of the Leave Campaign. It is impressive that close to 100% of its voters want Britain to exit the EU. Support for Brexit was stronger in the Conservative Party than in the Labour Party and Liberal Democratic Party.

Not surprisingly, the turnout rate for people affiliated to one of the main political parties was higher than the national average.

Concluding Thoughts

As Britain gets closer to its expected departure from the EU, it is worth remembering that many Britons voted in favor of remaining in the EU. Should the British parliament consider a new referendum? For now, the House of Commons has rejected proposals to hold a new referendum. But assuming that the members of parliament had a change of hearts, would voters change their vote? It is difficult to answer these questions. BREXIT divided the public and these divisions will define British politics for some time.

The 2016 BREXIT Vote

I will be giving a talk on Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU). After several years of negotiations between the British Government and Brussels, it seems that for now the United Kingdom’s exit will be on 12 April 2019.

How did we get here?

Britain’s relationship with the EU has always been tenuous. Historically speaking, it favored deeper integration of the regional bloc’s common market, but it balked at supporting any policy that would impinge on the United Kingdom’s political, economic or financial sovereignty. Thus, the UK did not join the European Monetary Union, which established the European Central Bank and the euro. It also blocked attempts to strengthen the European Commission’s powers or the European Parliament’s competence in different policy areas.

Over the years, Euro-skeptics in both the Conservative and Labour parties had requested the British Government to renegotiate the UK’s status within the EU. For example, in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s Government negotiated a British reduction to the European Community’s budget, known more commonly as the “UK correction” or the “UK Rebate”.

By 2012, there was a growing number of people in the Conservative and Labour parties, and within the UK’s citizenry, asking for a referendum on Britain’s membership on the EU. While Prime Minister David Cameron agreed that the UK should renegotiate its status within the EU, he opposed holding a national referendum. But, carrying out these negotiations were difficult because Cameron’s Conservatives had formed a coalition Government with the pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party.

In 2015, Britain held parliamentary elections and sensing strong Euro-skeptic sentiments amongst the electorate, Cameron and his Conservative Party promised to hold a referendum on the Britain’s membership in the EU, if his party won a clear majority. Cameron’s decision was in part influenced by the rising influence of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a fringe right-leaning, anti-EU party.

After winning a majority of the vote, Cameron’s Government started to negotiate new concessions with the EU on multiple issues and it called for a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU, which was held on 23 June 2016.

Public Opinion Polling and the Results of the Referendum

Public opinion data, as can be seen in the following graph, suggested that the Remain Campaign, led by David Cameron and other British politicians, including Theresa May – the current Prime Minister, would win 52% of the vote. The Leave Campaign, which was most associated with the views of the UKIP’s Nigel Farage and the Conservative Party’s Boris Johnson, was projected to win 48%.

The polls did not capture the Leave Campaign’s energy. It won 52% of the vote, while the Remain Campaign captured the remaining 48%.

While the polls failed to forecast British support for the Leave Campaign, by the end of the campaign the pro-BREXIT had been able to mobilize its supporters. To show this, the next graph uses the first graph’s data, but it includes the trendlines for the two campaigns.

These trendlines clearly show that the race was closer than the final public polling averages suggested.

Today, it is difficult to understand the BREXIT vote’s long-term implications. But breaking down the results of the referendum will help us understand what sort of challenges Britain faces in the near future.

Deconstructing the BREXIT Vote

Overall, 72% of the British electorate cast a vote during the referendum. To put this number in perspective, it is worth noting that the rate of participation was higher than any of the parliamentary elections held since 1997.

Let us look first at how electors in the UK’s territorial units (i.e. nations and provinces) voted.

What was voters’ preferences in these territorial units?

As the bar graph shows the Leave Campaign won a majority of the vote in Wales and England. But it is important to remember that most British citizens live in England. Thus, English voters, more so than voters in the rest of the country, decided Britain’s fate with the EU.

RemainLeaveTotal Votes%
England13,266,99615,188,40628,455,40285%
Scotland1,661,1911,018,3222,679,5138%
Wales772,347854,5721,626,915%
N. Ireland440,707349,442790,1492%
Total16,141,24117,410,74233,551,983100%

Here is a breakdown of the vote by regions.

The data shows that while voters in London preferred to remain in the EU that was not the case in rest of England.

Concluding Thoughts

What can we learn about the referendum’s results? Differences between Britain’s territorial units, will foster two problems. First, on Britain exits the EU, we can expect Scottish leaders to call for another independence referendum. One the reasons why the 2014 Scottish referendum failed was Scots’ fear that independence would mean that Scotland would not automatically be part of the EU.

While most voters in Northern Ireland wanted to stay in the EU, the vote was cast along sectarian lines. Thus, 85% of the Catholics/Nationalists voted for the Remain Campaign, while 60% of Protestants/Unionists voted for the Leave Campaign. Many people Brits fear that reestablishing a border to separate the Northern Irish counties from Ireland will reignite the sectarian conflict that ended with the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreements. This one of the reasons that Prime Minister May’s Government is trying to find a way to leave the EU but without reestablishing a border.

In part two of the analysis, we will breakdown the 2016 Brexit vote along demographic lines. For now, we can conclude that Britain’s future territorial integrity is in question.