Brexit – A matter of principle, not economics

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The ISEQ this morning

Today we wake up to the news that – against all odds – the ‘Leave’ camp has been successful. Apart from kicking myself for not giving it a wager (8/1 odds in some places!), I struggled to understand how. And why.

On the surface the ‘Remain’ side had it all sown up: the banks were with them, most political parties were with them, a number of celebrities were with them. How did it go the way it did?

The first step is understanding who was more likely to vote ‘Leave’. According to opinion polls, the typical ‘Leave’ voter is:

  • Lower socio-economic class
  • Lower level of education
  • Older

Meanwhile the ‘Remain’ voter is:

  • College educated
  • Not from England
  • Younger
  • More liberal political affiliation

The link with unemployment can’t be understated either. The following unemployment map (from 2009) shows a moderate correlation with the Brexit vote. London, of course, being the main outlier:



Another major factor was age. In fact, there was a very strong correlation in the opinion polls:


What makes the older population more nationalist and/or conservative is complex issue and one that I won’t go in to. Older voters are more likely to vote and are more likely to be silent beforehand, perhaps leading to this surprising result.

Interestingly, gender was only mildly correlated with voting preference, with females slightly more likely to vote ‘Remain’.

In this blogger’s opinion though (and this is just my opinion) this result shows the English ‘class division’ in a new light. While we have seen previous votes being working class against upper class, north-west against south-east, labour against conservative, today showed those who wanted to keep the “traditional British way of life” against those who didn’t.


2010 map showing the northwest/southeast divide.                     via:

In summary:
The idea of losing control to a greater power is a terrifying concept. Just look at how Ireland reacted to the Nice treaty referendum (both of them) and the Lisbon treaty referendum (both of them!).

While remaining in the EU makes obvious economic choice, this wasn’t about the “right decision”. Today showed us how important national identity, freedom and sovereignty are to people – particularly the silent voters.

This shouldn’t be a discussion over whether economic stability or national identity is more important, but rather a discussion over why people voted they way they did.

Because otherwise we’ll never understand each other, and we’ll continue to be surprised by referenda results.


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