Resolution Foundation: Why did we vote to leave?

There are six key takeaways.

First, living standards matter. Reflecting on the results three weeks ago, we noted that recent changes in living standards hadn’t played much of a role – despite the contention that people were angry about the post-financial crisis squeeze on living standards – but that deeper rooted economic differences did. That finding is confirmed in our more detailed investigation, with employment levels proving the indicator with the strongest link to tendency for an area to vote Leave. A 10 percentage point (ppt) rise in the employment rate within a local authority is associated with a 1.7ppt fall in the leave vote. Areas where high numbers of people are out of work voted to leave.

Second, education matters. A lot. A 10ppt increase in the proportion of people with degrees (more technically, with qualifications at NVQ4 and above) is associated with a 4.5ppt fall in the leave vote. In our analysis education was the best predictor of how an area voted, reflecting the fact that it is closely related to pay, employment, and feelings of cohesion – bringing together both economic and cultural explanations for how areas voted and suggesting that more than just academic achievement is at work here.

Third, demographics matter. A 10ppt rise in the proportion of students within the population is associated with a 5ppt fall in the leave vote. The same increase in the ratio of over-50s to under-50s is associated with a 0.7ppt increase in the leave vote. This chimes with what we know about how people of different ages voted and the widespread support for Remain among students.

Fourth, migration matters, but only in areas where the migrant population has grown rapidly. That is, while the overall share of the population in a given area born outside the UK does not have a significant effect on the leave vote, the pace of change in the decade after 2004 does. Increasing the proportion of migrants in the population by 10ppt raises the leave vote by 3.9ppt. All areas that experienced at least a 7 per cent increase in the proportion of migrants over the last decade voted to leave.

Fifth, culture and cohesion play an important role. Chiming with the findings from Lord Ashcroft on the importance of attitudes at the individual level in explaining the vote, we find that a 10ppt increase in the proportion of people who believe that individuals from different backgrounds ‘get on well’ in their area is associated with a 3.9ppt decrease in the leave vote.

Finally, politics and wider geographical factors also matter. Local authorities in Scotland recorded leave votes that were 12ppts lower than the English average, even once all of the factors above were taken into account. In contrast, we found no specific ‘London effect’ when holding all these other factors constant.

Why did we vote to leave? What an analysis of place can tell us about Brexit