1 Great Britain Part 1 is divided into four sections, starting from the objective characteristics of voters, such as age, education and other demographic factors, and their geographical contexts. Next, it discusses subjective attitudes and value orientations that might have informed the vote, and finally the influence of media representations and the campaigns themselves. In doing so, this chapter both challenges some of the existing narratives around why the UK voted to leave and highlights potentially important factors which remain underexplored. These factors are analysed through new analysis and original polling in part 2. Demographics and identity As soon as the results were in, commentators sought to explain the demographic make-up of the Leave and Remain camps. Since the Brexit vote was difficult to map onto the usual party political divides, there were few go-to explanations. The electoral cleavages diagnosed in subsequent reports are almost too many to count. Younger people generally voted to stay in the EU, as did higher-educated people, while pensioners and people with fewer educational qualifications opted to leave. There were geographic splits: it was the Remainers of London versus the Brexiteering regions and a pro-EU Scotland versus a Eurosceptic England and Wales. 3 There were differences by ethnicity, by income, by class. Of the most prominent axes of identity, interestingly, only gender does not appear to have played a significant role, with men and women voting Leave in almost exactly the same numbers. 4 Brexit Britain, some have argued, is a society divided by ‘class, generation and geography’. 5 Age One of the most prominent divides lay between younger and older voters. Early on, it became apparent that the youngest segment of voters was far more likely to support staying in the EU than was the oldest. According to British Election Study data, only 28 per cent of 18–25-year-olds voted to Leave,
55 compared with 59 per cent of those over 65. 6 Correspondingly, it was older constituencies that voted to Leave, with 19 of the 20 constituencies with most pensioners voting to leave the EU, while 16 of the 20 youngest ones votes to remain. 7 There was considerable debate over the turnout numbers of young people. Early reports suggested the vast majority of young people had not voted in the referendum, but later analyses found these claims were likely overstated. About 64 per cent of registered young voters went to the polls, according to researchers at the London School of Economics, compared with a 72 per cent average turnout. This leaves a worrisome double-digit gap in turnout between the oldest and the youngest voters, but it is a world away from the initial figure of 36 per cent turnout among 18–25-year-olds. 8 Some of the most prominent themes of the campaign, such as sovereignty and controls on immigration, appear to have resonated much less with younger voters. While older groups felt strongly about ‘Britain’s right to act independently’, only 20 per cent of young people said this mattered to them and significantly influenced how they would vote. Instead, young people were more likely to be concerned about economic opportunities, which they saw as imperilled by a potential Brexit. 9 Education The effect of age is not always easy to distinguish from the effect of education, as levels of education vary by generation. Nonetheless, education levels appear to have been the single biggest driver of the decision to either Leave or Remain. According to the British Election Study, the difference in likelihood to vote Leave between people with postgraduate degrees and people with no formal educational qualifications was almost 50 per cent. 10 In their research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Matthew Goodwin and Oliver Heath found that, controlling for other factors such as income, the gap between those with a university degree and those with GCSE qualifications or below still stood at 30 per cent. 11 The effects of other important factors such as age and income pale in comparison.