How Britain voted in the 2016 EU referendum

As we have for every general election since 1979, Ipsos MORI has produced estimates of how the voters voted in the recent EU referendum.

How Britain voted in the 2016 EU referendum

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
  • Glenn Gottfried Research Manager
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As we have for every general election since 1979, Ipsos MORI has produced estimates of how the voters voted in the recent EU referendum. It is always important to stress that these are only estimates, based on aggregating the data from our election polls and other surveys over the course of the campaign, which asked people how they intended to vote, and then weighting these figures to the final actual results and turnout at a regional level. Nevertheless, in the absence of any exit poll with demographic data or other official source, these should provide a useful guide for how different subgroups voted1.

Here are five key findings from the results:

  1. The referendum vote revealed huge differences in voting intentions by age, class, education level and ethnicity – if anything, more apparent than that seen in the general election. Younger, more middle class, more educated and BME voters chose to remain; older, working class, less educated and white voters opted to leave.
  2. Age and class both have an effect on people’s views. A majority of 18-34 year olds in every social class voted to remain, while a majority of those aged 55+ in every class voted to leave. But within each age group the middle-classes were more likely to vote to remain, and the working classes more likely to vote to leave, and within each class younger people were more likely to vote remain, and older people more likely to vote to leave. The crossover point was among the middle-aged: middle-class 35-54 year olds voted to stay, working class 35-54 year olds voted to leave.
  3. A very small majority of women voted to remain, while men voted to leave. The biggest gender differences were among the AB social class and among those aged 35-54, among both of whom women were eleven points more likely to vote to remain than men.
  4. People in work (full or part time, public sector or private sector), students, mortgage holders and private renters voted to remain. Those who own their home outright, social renters, the retired and those looking after homes all voted to leave.
  5. There were clear differences along party lines, but a majority of those who did not vote in the last general election choose to leave. 2015 Conservative voters voted to leave by roughly the same margin as 2015 Labour and Liberal Democrat voters voted to remain; 99% of UKIP’s 2015 support voted to leave. Among those who did not vote in 2015 (but who were not too young to do so), there was a 16-point lead for leave.
   Voting    Voting
   Remain
%
 Leave
%
   Remain
%
Leave
%
All (GB) 48 52 All (GB) 48 52
Gender     18-34s by Class    
Male 45 55 AB 71 29
Female 51 49 C1 71 29
Age     C2 54 46
18-24 75 25 DE 56 44
25-34 60 40 35-54s by Class    
35-44 55 45 AB 61 39
45-54 44 56 C1 53 47
55-64 39 61 C2 35 65
65-74 34 66 DE 36 64
75+ 37 63 55+ by Class    
Men by Age     AB 48 52
18-34 64 36 C1 37 63
35-54 44 56 C2 32 68
55+ 35 65 DE 30 70
Women by Age     Ethnic Group    
18-34 67 33 White 46 54
35-54 55 45 All BME 69 31
55+ 39 61 Work Status    
Social Class     Full-time 53 47
AB 59 41 Part-time 53 47
C1 52 48 Unemployed 40 60
C2 38 62 Not working - looking after home 36 64
DE 36 54 Student 80 20
Men by Class        Retired 36 64
AB 54 46 Other 39 61
C1 51 49 Housing Tenure       
C2 35 65 Owned 42 58
DE 36 64 Mortgage 54 46
Women by Class        Social renter 37 63
AB 65 35 Private renter 56 44
C1 54 46 Work Sector    
C2 41 59 Public sector 56 44
DE 37 63 Private sector 52 48
Educational Level     GE 2015 Vote    
No qualifications 30 70 Con 41 59
Other qualifications 44 56 Lab 64 36
Degree or higher 68 32 Lib Dem 69 31
      UKIP 1 99
      Did not vote (but not too young) 42 58

Note 1: Our final voting forecast overstated the remain vote. This was because in making the forecast we had to make assumptions about likely turnout patterns, without much evidence from similar referendums to guide us, and in fact turnout was higher than we anticipated. If we simply assume that those who said they were certain to vote did in fact do so, our data matches the final result very closely even without further fine-tuning, which encourages us that the changes we have made since the 2015 election have made our underlying samples significantly more representative.

Turnout

Estimating turnout is especially difficult when relying on survey data. The main error in our 2015 General Election polls was to underestimate the proportion of non-voters (and in return over-estimate Labour voters), and although we have introduced a number of changes since then to address this issue, it may still be the case that politically-engaged people are more likely to take part in polls than those who are not engaged, although we hope, less so than before. Respondents may overestimate their likelihood of voting in an election (and they may also incorrectly believe they are registered). Turnout patterns may also be very different in a referendum than in a general election – indeed, had we used our old turnout filter in the EU referendum instead of the one we had developed to replace it (precisely because the old turnout filter did not work in the last general election), we would have got the referendum result almost exactly right. This means that estimates of turnout in particular need to be treated with some caution. Even so, we believe the estimates below do shed light on which groups of the population were more or less likely to vote in the referendum.

Two different figures for turnout have been calculated below. The first is based on all resident adults, and the second is based on all those registered to vote. The proportion of resident adults is what we measure directly – our sample is designed to be representative of resident adults, and all quota and weighting variables are based on this (electoral registers have not been used as a sampling frame for many years). The second figure is the one that is usually quoted as the basis for turnout, but although of course some of the resident adults who did not vote were not eligible to do so (in most cases because of their nationality), there is merit in considering both. Firstly, there are issues with the official turnout figure since an unknown but not insignificant number of names on the register are either duplicates or redundant, for example because they are out-of-date or the person in question has died, so the number who legally could vote is somewhat smaller than the figure for the electorate which is normally quoted. But secondly, simply looking at turnout based on those registered obscures other important issues – for example, if many young people do not register to vote in the first place, only looking at turnout among those who have registered ignores part of the problem. (And thirdly, there may be extra measurement errors involved in respondents’ answers to the registration question, as noted above.)

Finally, one extra set of turnout figures are shown. Because of the potential danger of over-claim, we have adjusted the claimed turnout figure for different age groups based on the British Election Study voter validation exercise, which compares whether people said they voted after the election against marked-up registers to provide an indication of how many people said they voted against those who actually did. This showed that younger voters were more likely to over-claim they had voted than older voters. As might be expected, this reduces the estimated levels of turnout among younger people in our figures. This is not a perfect model – the BES study was carried out after the election so is based on recalled vote rather than predicted likelihood to vote, and in a general election scenario rather in a referendum, when voting patterns may well have been different – but nevertheless it does show that making allowances for different levels of over-claim can make a difference to these estimates2.

  Turnout  Adjusted by BES
age over-claim
 Turnout
  Among total pop'n
%
Among all registered
%
  Among total pop'n
%
Among all registered
%
All (GB) 66 72 All (GB) 66 72
Gender     Gender    
Male 67 74 Male 67 74
Female 64 71 Female 64 71
Age     Age    
18-24 53 64 18-24 48 60
25-34 54 68 25-34 52 66
35-44 64 71 35-44 64 71
45-54 69 73 45-54 70 73
55-64 76 78 55-64 77 79
65-74 78 80 65-74 81 82
75+ 66 70 75+ 70 73
Men by Age     Men by Age    
18-34 54 66 18-34 54 64
35-54 69 74 35-54 69 74
55+ 76 79 55+ 78 80
Women by Age     Women by Age    
18-34 53 67 18+34 50 64
35-54 65 70 35-54 65 70
55+ 72 76 55+ 74 76
Social Class     Social Class    
AB 74 79 AB 74 79
C1 68 75 C1 68 75
C2 62 70 C2 62 70
DE 57 65 DE 58 64
Men by Class     Men by Class    
AB 78 81 AB 77 81
C1 69 75 C1 68 75
C2 61 70 C2 61 70
DE 58 67 DE 59 67
Women by Class        Women by Class    
AB 70 76 AB 70 76
C1 68 74 C1 68 74
C2 63 69 C2 63 70
DE 56 63 DE 57 64
18-34s by Class     18-34s by Class    
AB 63 73 AB 61 71
C1 58 69 C1 55 67
C2 46 61 C2 43 58
DE 41 57 DE 38 54
Housing Tenure     Housing Tenure    
Owned 75 78 Owned 76 79
Mortgage 70 75 Mortgage 70 75
Social renter 54 61 Social renter 54 61
Private renter 53 65 Private renter 52 65
Ethnic Group     Ethnic Group    
White 68 74 White 68 74
All BME 47 58 All BME 46 57
GE2015 Vote     GE 2015 Vote    
Con 82 85 Con 83 85
Lab 73 77 Lab 73 77
Lib Dem 80 81 Lib Dem 80 81
UKIP 86 88 UKIP 86 89
Did not vote (but not too young) 30 45 Did not vote (but not too young) 30 45
Educational Level     Educational Level    
No qualifications 64 70 No qualifications 66 71
Other qualifications 64 71 Other qualifications 64 71
Degree or higher 71 78 Degree or higher 70 78

Note 2: The adjustment makes minimal difference to the voting projections – at most one percentage point and usually less.

Technical note
Base: 7,816 GB adults aged 18+ (of whom 5,955 were classed as voters, as defined below), interviewed by telephone during the campaign. All those who were ‘absolutely certain to vote’ or who said they had already voted, and said they were registered, were classed as voters. The proportions of remain voters, leave voters and non-voters was then weighted to the actual referendum results by region according to Electoral Commission figures (given below). The data were also weighted to the population profile of Great Britain.

Regional voting figures (source: Electoral Commission/ONS/House of Commons library)

   Voting  Turnout
   Remain
%
 Leave
%
 Among total
population
%
Among all
registered
%
All (GB) 48 52 66 72
Region        
East 44 56 70 76
East Midlands 41 59 68 74
London 60 40 56 70
North East 42 58 64 69
North West 46 54 65 70
Scotland 62 38 62 67
South East 48 52 71 77
South West 47 53 72 77
Wales 47 53 66 72
West Midlands 41 59 66 72
Yorkshire &
Humberside
42 58 65 71

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
  • Glenn Gottfried Research Manager

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