Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Leave and the Left Behind

I argued at the end of last year that immigration was an attractive issue for the right, because it offered the possibility of capturing votes from those who would vote left on economic grounds, but who were also socially conservative. It was particularly attractive if you could convince leftish social conservatives that voting to reduce immigration would improve their economic situation. The EU referendum vote exemplified how successful that strategy could be. The socially conservative vote went to Leave, irrespective of where those voters were on a left right spectrum (see here).

In this situation, it is understandable that a lot of focus goes to the left/social conservative voters. As voting left clearly correlates with income and areas of social deprivation more generally, we get stories about the economically left behind Leavers. At the same time, some social scientists object, saying that voting Leave clearly correlates with socially conservative views, like hanging for example. There seems to be a contradiction here, but there is not. As I argued here, it is the fight over whether left social conservatives vote on economics or on their social views that swings these votes. The same point could be made for the US as the UK, particularly if we add in race as an issue.

Those controlling right wing media understand all this. Another post from last year looked at how economists had shown clear evidence that Fox news was not in the business of reflecting their viewers beliefs and voting patterns, but in moulding them. They did this by looking at what economists call natural experiments: events that in this case influenced whether people watched Fox that had nothing to do with their politics. Over Wren-Lewis Christmas we were talking about whether there were any natural experiments for assessing the influence of the Mail or Sun in the UK. One possibility we discussed was whether the Liverpool boycott of the Sun over Hillsborough might be a useful natural experiment.

I then read this twitter thread from @marwood_lennox. They first note the clear correlation between measures of deprivation by constituencies and votes in the 2017 general election. They then show the imputed EU referendum vote against measure of deprivation: apart from the least deprived areas voting to Remain, there is no clear correlation. So far much as we would expect from the analysis above. But it was these two tweets that really caught my attention:

“Deprivation doesn't clearly correlate with strength for Remain either. There are eight >60% Remain seats in most deprived decile …. Two of those eight are in very white working class Liverpool. What happened there?”

Is this the ‘natural experiment’ of Sun readership at work?

If only social science was this easy. There are, unfortunately, plenty of other explanations. First, cities tended to vote Remain, it was the towns that did not. Liverpool’s Remain vote was not that different from Manchester. True Manchester has less acute deprivation, but if deprivation and voting Leave are uncorrelated, so what? One reason that cities voted remain is that they have large universities.

Furthermore, as a result of twitter (thanks everyone), I learnt that the local papers had made much of EU funding for the docks and elsewhere. There is also a legacy of Irish immigration. Liverpool has a strong international tradition based on its port and football club, recently reinforced by being a European city of culture. Thus plenty of other reasons why Liverpool might be unusually Remain, if that is what they were.

Despite all this, I have learnt from experience not to let such difficulties get in the way of a potentially interesting result. So I would be very interested if by chance anyone who did proper multivariate analysis of the Leave vote is reading this, and noticed that Liverpool constituencies were, or were not, unusually Remain (given age, education etc). Or if anyone else has any ideas about natural experiments that might affect recent newspaper readership.     


  1. I think there is a typo in the first paragraph:
    "voting to reduce immigration who improve their economic situation"
    should be:
    "voting to reduce immigration would improve their economic situation"

  2. If I do the multivariate analysis, can I be invited to the next Wren-Lewis Christmas?

  3. "In 2003, YouGov conducted 21 polls from March to December asking British people whether they thought the decision by the US and the UK to go to war was right or wrong, and on average 54% said it was right.

    But more than 10 years of opposition is a long time, and many people now remember things differently. Now only 37% of the public say they believed military action against Saddam Hussein was right at the time, instead of the 54% recorded at the time."

    Will of the people.

  4. Just to respond in depth. In the first decile of my analysis, there are 14 constituencies that are said to have voted Remain, out of the 53 possible. This is not low - there is also in this analysis 14 out of 53 in the eighth decile, although in that one there is less variation and less extreme results (on either end, actually).

    The constituency results are based on a model created by Professor Chris Hanretty, professor of Political Science at Royal Holloway, which maps a variety of demographic data and the already known local authority results. The description of the model is here:

    However, in many places since that paper was written, freedom of information and some local decisions have led to some councils releasing their data on the vote. Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Wirral, Lambeth, Waltham Forest, Salford, Nottingham, Blackburn with Darwen, Walsall, Haringey and Greenwich have all done so (among others) and have allowed refinements to the model, which seems to be increasingly accurate. Liverpool was not among them, but we do know the result of the City Council Area - 58.2% Remain, a lead of just over 33,000 votes. That area is currently divided into four and a half constituencies, all of which are in the top 60 for deprivation according to parliament. They are, listed with the Multiple Index rank and projected referendum result, as follows:

    Liverpool Walton (1!) - 46.2% Remain
    Liverpool West Derby (13) - 49.8% Remain
    Liverpool Riverside (30) - 73.2% Remain
    Liverpool Wavertree (39) - 64.2% Remain
    Garston and Halewood (59) - 52.2% Remain (Part of this constituency is in the Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley).

    Riverside and Wavertree have a substantial population of students (especially in Riverside, which contains the City Centre, with 31% in Full Time Education according to the most recent data I have). Which must be a key factor in explaining those projections. But comparing those two seats to the other twelve Remain seats in the first decile which was caught my interest. Those other twelve are:

    Birmingham Ladywood * - 64.4% Remain
    Manchester Central - 63.4% Remain
    Leeds Central - 52.4% Remain
    Bradford West * - 53.3%
    Manchester Gorton - 62.1%
    Tottenham * - 76.2%
    Birmingham Hall Green * - 66.4%
    Nottingham East * - 57.1%
    Hackney South and Shoreditch - 77.9%
    Bethnal Green and Bow - 69.1%
    Newcastle Upon Tyne Central - 51.7%
    Edmonton * - 54.5%

    (The * indicates where the result is confirmed and known without doubt)

    These are, of course, all highly urban areas, many (but not all) very central to the city they are in. What caught my eye is the percentage of White British in each of these seats - compare to Liverpool first.

    Liverpool Riverside - 73% White British
    Liverpool Wavertree - 80% White British
    Garston and Halewood - 92% White British
    Liverpool West Derby - 92% White British
    Liverpool Walton - 93% White British

    (Note before continuing that ethnicity was not a variable used in Hanretty's model so it won't be a confounding variable) (1/2)

  5. (2/2)

    Birmingham Ladywood - 21% White British
    Manchester Central - 55%
    Leeds Central - 68%
    Bradford West - 32%
    Manchester Gorton - 45%
    Tottenham - 22%
    Birmingham Hall Green - 31%
    Nottingham East - 56%
    Hackney South and Shoreditch - 34%
    Bethnal Green and Bow - 34%
    Newcastle Upon Tyne Central - 70%
    Edmonton - 27%

    Quite a few of those with relatively high White British percentages also have large student populations (and note that all these constituencies in the second list would be well below the national average). Having a high ethnic minority population correlated with Remain (but also, usually, with low turnout) although this may be confounded by the observation that ethnic minority populations in the UK tend to be younger. But having all that in mind Liverpool - and the whole of Merseyside other than St. Helens actually - does stand out for having a strong white working class Remain vote - not the only place that did (Bristol for example, would be another). It stuck me as phenomenon worthy of study and notification.

  6. Simon, two articles I think you should read if you have not already are the following:

    The first explains that it was the hinterlands, and not the cities, and especially not the so called 'global cities' who voted for Trump and Brexit and on the continent are anti-EU. He also explains how the EU, originally something that was originally welfare statist became captured by a metropolitan neo-liberal elite. It was a way of getting neo-liberal policies through while bypassing national parliaments and therefore the people.

    The second is from Cameron's EU Ambassador who explains the baffling view of why Cameron thought it was necessary to hold the referendum. He explains that it was not immigration that forced Cameron to hold the referendum, but it was what lost it. Especially when loss of control over the borders fed into a narrative about a loss of sovereign control generally. He blames in particular the unnecessary decision by Britain to go it alone and rush in the entry and opening of the national labour markets to Eastern European countries without transition controls. Behind this decision he explains were advisers (I suspect economists) arguing that it would increase the competitiveness of the country and industrialists who wanted the cheap labour. Had that not happened, he explains, the referendum would have been about fisheries and other such policy . Before the explosion of immigration from eastern Europe, anti-European conservatives had little of interest to say to the general public.

    Similarly I would argue the same about the right wing press. Without the unusually high rates of inward immigration - the Sun and others would not have much of a story to say to about it. Clearly though once the cumulative number had reached a certain point, it hit a nerve with a certain readership.


    1. Anti-immigration sentiment in Britain began its rise c. 2000, several years before Eastern European countries were admitted to the EU. This was partly because (with Labour embracing capitalism under Blair) the Tories were forced to find a new sales pitch (think William Hague's "foreign land" speech) but also because there was a large increase of immigration then from outside the EU.

      It is possible that Blair's immediate opening of the UK labour market to Eastern Europeans may have been driven by a desire to cut non-European immigration, as much of it was Muslim and was increasingly seen as both a cultural and a security threat.

  7. The trivia surrounding the media and how it constructs public opion to suit its own agenda has been known and documented over many years.

    The privately controlled media and even the BBC no longer care what people think, they peddle myths and propaganda as though it were fact as a matter of fact.

    We are not having a real debate about Europe because it doesn't serve the interests of the establishment. Europe is in fact being used as a diversion to distract people of the real and ongoing agenda, which is, the asset stripping of the state and increasing power and wealth to the few. That of course is exactly the same agenda being carried out in Europe.

    This latest Video from MMT has some fascinating revelations, that most of us know about that follow MMT, but the revelation of Mario Draghi having to admit that the ECB can never run out of money, and yet crippled Greece, whilst continuing to bail out the corrupt European Banking system with QE.

  8. Here’s a prediction for March 2019.

    I think it is likely that rich Brexit supporters will spend a lot of money on things like street parties to "big-up" Brexit Day to create the impression of widespread grass-roots celebrations.

  9. You highlight the paradox of some results by referring to Liverpool, where it appears that some very deprived areas voted to remain in the EU.
    Another place to look at this sort of paradox is Scotland. Every local authority area in Scotland voted remain - among these are very deprived areas in Central Scotland together with well-off parts of Edinburgh. There doesn’t seem to have been much analysis of this phenomenon.
    As the IFO paper from CES in Munich pointed out for England and Wales, a more disaggregated analysis still shows a correlation between Brexit votes and levels of education, industrial decline and deprivation - even within the remain voting areas of London. The same is no doubt true within Scotland.
    But it is striking that the remain vote in Scotland as a whole was around a third higher than in England. Not only that, but there was a significant move in favour of the EU in Scotland as compared with the 1975 referendum, a trend completely contrary to that in England and Wales.
    Has this got much to do with newspaper readership ? You already highlighted the fact that the Daily Record - Scotland’s second largest paper - came out in favour of remain. But its circulation is under 150.000. It’s true that the Scottish Sun, with over 200.000 circulation, toned down its Brexit message in Scotland. And the television media in Scotland is almost entirely a reflection of the London media bubble. Still, all this may be worth looking at in more detail.
    It may be that the more important factor in people’s minds at the time of the referendum in Scotland was the attitude of their political leaders - with the strongly pro-EU SNP in government, and all other major parties almost totally in favour of remain. This may have been enough to counter the 20 years of negative stories about the EU which received as much coverage in Scotland as everywhere else in the UK. The only figures on the Brexit side were those within the English Conservative party and UKIP, so prominent in the television coverage, but neither of which will have carried much weight in Scotland.


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