Another Brexit blog

A few years ago I saw a Jon Sopel (of BBC fame) speak at my Uni (Southampton) of which we are both alumni. He argued convincingly that the Murdoch press did not swing elections; it was not the Sun what won it (wow I just googled it. The lecture was filmed and here it is). I’m reminded of this in debates about Brexit. It has been blamed on everything from Jeremy Corbyn’s level of enthusiasm to the lies of the leave campaign. Then there is the school of thought that says perhaps the country was just a bit more Brexity than we thought. These result reflect underlying discontent and are not swayed by some trivial campaigning just as newspapers can’t swing elections.

I believe that everyone has a Brexit story. My girlfriend sat a three hour EU law exam on the morning that the result was announced. It was the final exam of her two-year course. The whole class had just received the news of David Cameron’s resignation as they entered the exam hall. My story is as follows. On the day before the vote I met with a consultant from DeHavilland the political intelligence monitoring service. He said to me:

We’ve prepared a press release for remain and a press release for Brexit. It’s a shame really because the Brexit one is really good.

It was really good. As was all of their post-Brexit analysis (shout out to DeHavilland who being a monitoring service will almost certainly pick this up).

The result revived our Brexit fatigue and the commentary took a new tone, why? followed by what next?

When we published my piece on disengagement from education a few media outlets tried to get some mileage out of the disengagement map and the Brexit map. Some falsely claimed that the Brexit map aligned with areas that suffered mad cow disease.  I haven’t yet had enough of experts, so below are a few people that have made less spurious connections.

The Resolution Foundation crunched the numbers to give us something stronger than anecdote to explain the vote. Education came out on top as the best predictor of how an area voted.

In this RSA blog, Atif Shafique of the inclusive growth commission discusses how Old Industrial Areas (OIAs) voted for Brexit, more so in the hinterlands of big cities than the cities themselves which have been the focus of investment and regeneration.

The popular narrative is of unequal recovery (incidentally see Andy Haldane’s speech ‘whose recovery’ which although not explicitly focused on Brexit was given post referendum and looked at the uneven economic recovery by region, age, and income). Eric Kaufman challenges this narrative  and argues that it is much more about identity than economics. We can see visible differences (like gender, age, and geography) so it’s natural to make associations between these groups and their voting preferences. Kaufman argues that hidden characteristics such as attitudes have higher predictive power with one of the strongest correlations on voter preferences being attitudes towards the death penalty (this speaks to a stronger underlying personality dimension).

Finally, not so much why? but what next? The Commons Library produces research papers to inform MPs (and as such are written in a very accessible format). This extensive paper looks at the possible impact of Brexit on a range of policy areas.


  1. I’d be interested to know how the death penalty correlates with the Brexit votes, please.
    In addition, is it statistically verifiable that, whilst the emotional canvassing by each side seems to have served Brexiteers best, would a more macroeconomically based factual debate have been better for Remain?


    1. Follow the Kaufman link. Using stance on death penalty you can predict voting preference correctly 70% of the time. The point is that this is much stronger than age, education, and income/class which is where most of the post vote analysis has been.

      In my opinion, the remain campaign relied naively heavily on economic debate. This was part of the successful Tory strategy in last years general election (the would you trust labour with the economy argument) and as the leaders of the remain campaign they reasonably felt this was a trump card. It’s the economy stupid is received wisdom. But the remain campaign were not able to dictate the terms of the debate (factual, emotional or otherwise). Remainers, myself included, sat around incredulous that the weight of expertise could be ignored. Perhaps there is traction to the idea that we now operate in a period of post trust politics ( Being right and winning are two different things.


      1. Good points well made. Thank you.
        Q. Has the turnout of the 18-24 age group been finalised above the initially estimated 35%?


  2. I don’t think we have a breakdown by age other than from poll data. This FT article argues that a higher turnout of younger voters wouldn’t have swung the result remain.

    “It’s technically possible that higher turnout among young voters could have yielded a Remain victory, but the levels of turnout required would have been so unprecedented that they would essentially only occur in a parallel universe.”


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