England was ‘divided along educational lines’ at Brexit vote, research says

People who voted for Brexit were more likely to live in areas where the overall level of education was lower, according to a new study.

However, Dr Peter Tammes, of the University of Bristol, found no link between leave-voting and higher unemployment or lower socio-economic status.

In a paper in the journal Sociological Research Online, Dr Tammes analysed the 2016 referendum vote result and compared this with census and other data on people in each of the 380 local authorities in mainland Britain.

He found that in the 25% of areas with the highest proportion of people with lower educational qualifications in England, on average 63% of people voted Brexit. In the 25% of areas with the lowest proportion of people with lower educational qualifications, on average only 49% voted for Brexit. This was after other factors such as unemployment rate and turnout rate were discounted statistically.

Writing in the journal, Dr Tammes says: “In England, the percentage of lower educated was positively associated with the proportion of Leave-votes. This indicates that England was divided along educational lines.”

He also found that the Brexit vote was bigger in areas that had seen a large rise in the proportion of immigrants between 2004 and 2011.

This finding contrasts with suggestions from some analysts that the highest vote for Leave were in areas with the lowest levels of immigration.

Dr Tammes said: “The percentage of migrants who arrived between 2004 and 2011 in local areas was positively associated with the proportion of leave-voters.

“This indicates that the relative number of recently-arrived migrants in local areas might have been a key factor in voters’ decisions.”

The study also found that in areas where relatively more people self-reported, poorer health showed higher proportion of Leave-votes, particularly if they had a large proportion of elderly people in poorer health.

The research aimed to “provide us with a better understanding of the underlying factors of the Brexit-vote and directions for future research,” said Dr Tammes. 

For more information, please contact: 

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392 


  1. Dr Tammes used data on the referendum vote in 2016 in 380 local authorities in England, Wales Scotland and Gibraltar. He also used data from the 2011 national census, which gives the country of origin of respondents, the year they came to Britain, their age, occupation and their self-reported health.
  2. When comparing local authorities in the lowest quartile regarding proportion of lower educated (low proportion of lower educated) with those in the highest quartile (high proportion of lower educated), Dr Tammes estimated that the Brexit votes were on average 49% and 63% respectively. So, when local authorities are exactly the same on other factors such as unemployment rate, turnout rate, proportion of recently arrived immigrants, an increase from lower to higher proportion of lower educated would swing about 14% towards Brexit vote.
  3. The article is entitled ‘Investigating differences in Brexit-vote among local authorities in the UK: an ecological study on migration- and economy-related issues’, published online inSociological Research Online, one of the journals run by the British Sociological Association and SAGE.
  4. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235  www.britsoc.co.uk