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Brexi-Trump and the continuing myth of the 'revolting left-behind'

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Dec. 8th, 2016 | 11:16 am

The BBC reports on new research into the identity of Leave voters:


I do wish journalists would link back to the research they are reporting on:


The thing about newspaper preference being a stronger predictor than poltical affiliation is interesting, in the light of this:


I would like to see the breakdown of party support vs newspaper of choice for the Leave vote to see, for example, what proportion of Daily Mail reading Labour voters voted Leave (it's slightly astonishing that 14% of the Mail's readership are Labour voters). NatCen do provide a data table spreadsheet but it's summary data only so no drilling down into the finer detail.

The way journalists all love to lock on to the same narrative that may only bear a limited relation to the truth is fascinating and depressing. In the case of Trump and Brexit it's the "Revolt of the Left-Behind", struggling poor people lashing out at the elites. The problem with this narrative is that in the case of the 'Trump-quake', a majority of people earning less than $30K per year voted Clinton. Trump was elected by the comfortably well-off who want more.


The BBC's spin-laden take on NatCen's research is as follows:

"The people most likely to vote Leave were:

Those with no formal qualifications (78%)
Those with an income of less than £1,200 a month (66%)
Those in social housing provided by councils (70%) or housing associations (68%)"

This is a careful and deliberate choice by the BBC to support the narrative of an Anti-Establishment revolt by the impoverished. But those percentages tell you how likely people belonging to the groups who were most likely to vote Leave, were to vote Leave, not the actual composition of the Leave vote. (Read that sentence again).

The NatCen report includes a cluster analysis, in which they identify the three main groups of people who composed the Leave vote.

"We find three distinct groups that made up the vote to Leave:

Economically deprived, anti-immigration

Those with least economic resources and who are most anti-immigration and nationalistic. Various labels can be attached to this group, such as the ‘left behind’ or ‘just about managing’. They form the bedrock of UKIP support and have been politically disengaged in the past.

Affluent Eurosceptics

This group are more Conservative than UKIP and more middle class. Yes, they are anti-immigration but they are also interested in Britain’s independence and are noticeably anti-welfare

Older working classes

They are on low incomes and have little in the way of formal qualifications – but don’t feel poor or badly educated. They are concerned about immigration and changing identity but are socially different to the first group.

So, the Leave vote was underpinned by the campaign’s ability to draw together a broad-based coalition. It is much more wide-ranging than the ‘left behind’."

The BBC's reporting carefully avoids mention of the latter two groups because they don't fit the narrative. The "older working classes" on low incomes are often asset-rich because they got on the property ladder many years ago before the housing boom. And they are more likely to read newspapers, most of which are Pro-Brexit.


Based on the survey data for party support vs newspaper of choice, and multiplying that breakdown by current circulation figures


we find that there are more Labour voters who read the Daily Mail, than Labour voters who read The Guardian: 222,526 vs 101,781.

The influence of newspapers reaches further than their immediate readership: many people are influenced in their opinions by peer contact, and some 70-80% of blogging and social media discussion is driven by mainstream media narratives.

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