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14 May 2024

Study finds wealthy 'more likely to have voted for Brexit'

Wealthier voters were more likely to have voted for Brexit than those of lesser means, according to a new study.


The security against risk offered by wealth, particularly home-ownership, afforded greater protection against any potential negative outcome to wealthier voters and made them more likely to vote for Brexit – a potentially risky change in the status quo.

Conversely, researchers found that younger voters, who were much less likely to own their homes or have security against economic shocks, were more risk averse and more likely to have voted to remain in the European Union.

The findings were revealed in a new paper, Mind the Gap: Why Wealthy Voters Support Brexit, published in the British Journal of Political Science and co-authored by Dr Raluca Pahontu, of King’s College London, and Professor Jane Green, of Nuffield College, Oxford.

The researchers said: “Studying the effect of wealth in the Brexit case, we found that variation in personal wealth – especially property wealth – enabled wealthier individuals to support Brexit and less wealthy individuals to support Remain.

“Evidence in our study showed the mechanism linking wealth and higher Leave support came via wealthy voters' expectations that Brexit would not impact their personal finances; we also showed that an increase in wealth lowered risk aversion.”

Data for the paper was drawn from a British Election Study internet panel and a series of Bank of England’s panel surveys of income and expenditure covering 2016-2018. Both panels included data on individual wealth and political preferences. In addition, the researchers fielded a survey experiment which involved a hypothetical wealth win and measured its impact on satisfaction with Brexit support.

Across both panel data sets, the researchers found the likelihood of a Leave vote increased as property wealth increased. In the Bank of England data for example, a standard deviation increase in property wealth increased Leave support by as much as 7.1 percentage points.

And although the researchers acknowledge that poorer areas of the UK were more likely to have voted for Brexit, their work shows it was wealthier people within those areas that were more likely to support leaving the EU while relatively poorer voters supported Remain. 

People living in left-behind areas were more likely to support Brexit than those living in prosperous areas. The gains of Brexit were perceived to be greater in areas of the country that had experienced economic decline. But within those areas, given people's preferences, we show that wealthier individuals were more likely to vote for Brexit, and poorer individuals were more likely to vote for Remain.

Research team

While wealth was not the only factor influencing the decision of voters in the Brexit referendum of 2016, the researchers argue their findings could have significant effects on future votes for major change that affect the status quo.

They added: “Our findings may apply more broadly where political choices over changes substantially affect the economy. This applies to other referenda on national secession. It may also apply if nations confront periods of economic instability due to a different kind of democratic choice. For example, it may apply to initiatives that change existing economic models motivated by decarbonisation, which entails substantial economic instability. Wealthier voters may be more able to vote with their preferences over climate change reduction and support a party and its policies because they are insured against the immediate economic consequences.”


You can read the study in full here: Mind the Gap: Why Wealthy Voters Support Brexit.

In this story

Raluca L. Pahontu

Lecturer in Political Behaviour