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How Brexit has shaped our politics

New analysis uncovers the six political groupings of Britain

01 October 2017

• Voters no longer simply distinguished by ‘left’ vs ’right’, ‘middle class’ or ‘working class’
• Brexit has helped create a new distinction between ‘social liberals’ and ‘social conservatives’
• Age and education are now key dividing lines in British politics 

New analysis published today by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) reveals that Brexit and the 2017 election have helped create six new political groups. 

The battle between the Conservatives and Labour used to be mainly about ‘left’ and ‘right’, with middle class voters more inclined to back the relatively right-wing Conservatives and their working class counterparts more likely to be attracted to Labour’s relatively left-wing message. 

But Brexit has added a new dimension – between social conservatives who fear that immigration threatens British culture and who voted to Leave the EU, and social liberals who like living in the more diverse society brought about by immigration and who voted Remain. 

Attitudes towards this issue vary by age and educational background rather than class. Younger voters and graduates tend to be social liberals, older people and those with few, if any, educational qualifications tend to be social conservatives. 

This new dimension influenced how people voted in the election in June. As a result, as analysis of data collected by NatCen’s unique random probability panel shows, rather than just having two main political groupings, Britain now has no less than six. 

Just two of these groups are distinguished by how left-wing or right-wing they are: 

• Comfortable Britain (27% of the electorate): Mostly older people in professional occupations and who own their own home. They typically have relatively right-wing views, but are not especially concerned about immigration.
• Traditional Working Class (14%): Older working class voters who are relatively left-wing but are not especially socially liberal. 

Three of the groups are distinguished primarily by their age and/or educational background and by how socially liberal or conservative they are:

• Liberal Elite (18%): Mostly graduates in professional occupations who are socially liberal and voted heavily to remain in the EU.
• Liberal Youth (15%): These are mostly younger people in middle-level non-graduate jobs and tend to think of themselves as working class. They are relatively liberal and positive about immigration.
• Anti-Immigration Working Class (11%): Middle aged and older working class voters (together with some small employers) who are not particularly right-wing but are socially conservative, concerned about immigration and nearly all voted Leave. 

Meanwhile, one group consists of young voters who are relatively disengaged from any kind of politics:

• Young JAMs (16%): Younger working class voters with mixed views whose main distinguishing characteristic is that half did not vote in 2015. 

These six tribes voted very differently in 2017 – and swung very differently too. 

 
% voted 2017
Change in % since 2015
 
Conservative
Labour
Conservative
Labour
Comfortable Britain
56
22
+2
+1
Anti-Immigration Working Class
45
27
+11
+8
Traditional Working Class
35
31
-2
0
Young JAMS
14
35
0
+12
Liberal Elite
21
41
-6
+10
Liberal Youth
13
53
-4
+14

 

Source: NatCen Mixed Mode Random Probability Sample. Those who did not vote are included in the denominator upon which the percentages here are calculated.

Labour support was highest – and increased most since 2017 – amongst the two most socially liberal groups in Britain – the Liberal Elite and Liberal Youth. Meanwhile, although the Conservatives retained their support amongst the relatively right-wing voters who belong to Comfortable Britain, the party advanced most amongst a very different group - socially left behind voters who are concerned about immigration who hitherto had been the bedrock of support for UKIP.

Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research, said: 

“Brexit has dramatically shifted political loyalties. We are now a country increasingly divided by age and social liberalism versus conservatism, rather than simply class or the economics of left versus right. 

While the Conservatives are predominately the party of leave voters and Labour of remain, each has substantial minorities of the other side in their corner. Both parties are in for a tough time keeping their leave and remain voters on board as we move from the warm words of Brexit to hard choices”​


ENDS

For more information please contact Leigh Marshall:Leigh.marshall@natcen.ac.uk 0782 803 1850 or Sophie Brown: Sophie.brown@natcen.ac.uk 07734 960 069. 

Notes to editors

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone. 

2,184 members of the NatCen Panel were interviewed in July 2017, either via the internet or over the phone. All respondents were originally interviewed as part of the random probability face-to-face 2015 or 2016 British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys. The data have been weighted to take account of differences between the composition of the sample and that of the original BSA sample, as well as to ensure that it matches the known demographic characteristics of the population.