A statistical analysis of factors influencing voter preferences in the 2016 Brexit referendum found higher education to be “the predominant factor dividing the nation.” A new article published in the journal World Development estimated that an increase of about 3 percent in the number of adults accessing higher education in England and Wales could have reversed the results of the referendum, in which voters voted by a 51.9 to 48.1 percent margin in favor of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
The analysis by Aihua Zhang, the director of a master’s program in actuarial science at the University of Leicester, found that areas with higher proportions of university-educated adults tended to vote in support of remaining in the E.U.
“This analysis demonstrates highly significant evidence that university-educated British people tend to vote consistently across the U.K. for remain,” Zhang wrote in the article, titled “New Findings on Key Factors Influencing the U.K.’s Referendum on Leaving the E.U.”
“It can be speculated that, as much of the leave campaign was characterized by emphasizing detrimental factors (such as immigration or the recession of the economy …) the university-educated voters seem to be more immune than those who do not have university education, to this kind of campaign,” Zhang wrote.
The analysis found that the relatively high turnout for the vote — 72.2 percent — was a significant factor influencing the results, as many enthusiastic supporters of leaving the E.U. showed up at the polls. It also found that income levels and the proportion of British-born people in the local population were not statistically significant factors in influencing voter preferences, but that gender was. Zhang found that areas with higher proportions of adult British males tended to have higher percentages of leave votes. As for age, Zhang found that “a higher proportion of elderly British contributes to a higher percentage of leave votes, but does not lead to leave outcomes on their own.”