Is there really a Brexit divide?

  • Date

    Thu 30 Jan 20

Group of people

New research has revealed that contrary to popular belief ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ agree on more than they disagree on.

A study led by Dr Paul Hanel, who has recently joined the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, shows that 90% of the time the two groups agree on important topics including poverty, climate change, housing, life satisfaction and the importance of communities. 

Even on subjects viewed as the most divisive, such as attitudes to immigrants and national identity, the two groups showed more than 50% similarity. With responses from over 1,700 people who completed online questionnaires, the findings point to high similarities across fundamental values such as security, tradition, helpfulness, and freedom. 

Dr Hanel explained: “It has been claimed the Brexit referendum of June 2016 revealed a divided, rather than a United Kingdom, with growing tensions among those who voted ‘leave’ and those who voted ‘remain’. These tensions are exemplified by the main political parties with Labour and the Conservatives quarrelling, both between and within their parties, about future relationships between the UK and the EU.

“Previous research has concentrated on the differences between the two sides, but our study shows that in fact there is more to unite them than divide them.”

The research, carried out with Dr Lukas Wolf, from the University of Bath, explored the differences between the two groups to get a better understanding of why people voted the way they did. They then looked at the level of overlap, looking for similarities rather than differences. Finally, they assessed whether presenting a more balanced picture, highlighting the similarities, rather than just accentuating the differences, could improve social cohesion. 

“While we found differences between ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’, the similarities were substantial and strongly outweighed the differences. In many areas they shared the same values, attitudes and needs. Given it is more difficult to argue against someone who shares the same views as you, we conclude that presenting a more balanced picture would go a long way towards healing rifts.”

The paper, Leavers and Remainers after the Brexit referendum: more united than divided after all? was published by The British Journal of Social Psychology.