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The common clichés of the “liberal elite” Remainer and ill-educated Brexiteer are not entirely accurate, a new survey shows.

One year on from the EU referendum, Brexit voters describe themselves as middle class, educated but dissatisfied with life

A year since the vote to leave the European Union, new research has found that Brexit voters are more likely to describe themselves as middle class, educated and fed up, rather than angry and working class.

The common clichés of the “liberal elite” Remainer and ill-educated Brexiteer are not entirely accurate, a new survey shows. People who voted to leave the European Union did not necessarily feel angry or left out of society because of globalisation.

The findings - from three surveys - call into question assumptions increasingly made by observers that people who voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016 are poorly educated and from working class communities.

People who support Brexit are more likely to have intermediate levels of education rather than no qualifications, and feel a malaise because of declining economic conditions, rather than anxiety or anger.

The research published in Competition and Change was carried out by a cross-national team based at Teesside University, the Q Step centre at the University of Exeter and web developer company Kieskompas in Amsterdam.

The findings confirm that people with higher levels of education were less likely to vote leave. But it also shows that both Brexiteers and Remainers with intermediate levels of education – good GCSEs and A-levels - were more likely to vote leave than those with no formal education and with GSCE with low grades.

Laszlo Horvath, from the University of Exeter, one of the team who carried out the study, said: “Our findings suggest that Brexit came about because of the malaise of a much larger portion of the population than just traditionally ‘working class’ communities, as media have previously suggested. It shows middle class families do feel affected by changes in the economy and some feel their lives have got more complicated and are not worthwhile”.

Dr Lorenza Antonucci, from Teesside University, co-author of the article, said: “Our empirical study shows that the ‘squeezed middle’ was more likely to vote for Brexit than the working class. We even found that Leavers identified as middle class, rather than working class. Our study shows that the social malaise and the dramatic changes in the voting dynamics are not just led by the ‘left behind’, but rather include a significant segment of the population in a declining economic position. Responding to this dissatisfaction requires, therefore, public interventions that address inequality and not just social exclusion”.

The research is part of the VOTEADVICE project, a four-year research project funded by the European Commission to investigate the impact of new technologies on political behaviour. Academics used three sources of information for their research:

  • data from the British Election Study Internet Panel on the referendum campaign,
  • an online survey they set up shortly after the EU referendum that ran from 28 June until 10 July 2016
  • and another survey they conducted during June 2016.

Approximately 2,000 people took part in the two online surveys from around the UK, recruited as users of an online application designed by the VOTEADVICE team with Kieskompas called Voting Advice Applications.

Date: 22 June 2017

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