Is support for Brexit explained by personal and area-level economic struggle? A longitudinal analysis using 8 waves of Understanding Society

Publication type

Conference Paper


S. Doebler

Publication date


Area-level and individual economic struggle and austerity in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis have been intensively discussed as possible drivers of the Brexit vote. Analysts found a correlation between low economic performance of areas and strong leave support in the EU referendum, particularly in suburban and rural areas in England and Wales. This paper aims to understand to what extent individual support for Brexit in 2016 is explained by long-term exposure to area-level and personal economic struggle, controlling for immigration. Are people living in local district authorities that experienced economic decline after the financial crisis more likely to support Brexit than people living in consistently wealthier areas? How does long-term exposure to poverty influence people's inclination to support 'leave'? Due to a scarcity of large-scale longitudinal data, previous accounts are largely limited to cross-sectional and aggregate level data and did not analyse attitudes of individuals nested within regions. This paper presents preliminary results from an ongoing study, linking longitudinal socio-economic data on the level of local authorities/counties to the UK Household longitudinal Study (UKHLS). The analysis uses the most recent UKHLS data (wave 8) on Brexit support available to this project, as well as previous panel waves on individuals in households and regions. Key findings are that Brexit support is strongly related to long-term exposure to individual and area-level economic struggle and that the link between long-term experiences of poverty and support for Brexit is partially explained by the fact that poverty erodes people's sense of political agency.


Politics, Area Effects, Geography, Elections. Electoral Behaviour, Economics, Poverty and Social Stratification