Did Brexit REALLY make a difference to the election outcome?

The effect Brexit had on the results varies wildly from place to place and can’t be distilled into a simple conclusion, says Gemma Gathercole

In the early hours after an election and before the results come in, you hear various commentators coming up with their own ideas about what has happened with the vote. In the aftermath of an election result which has delivered a hung parliament, those debates will certainly continue.

One of the stories of election night will be the massive fall in the UKIP vote share, down 10.8 per cent in the popular vote.

The implications of Brexit and how that affected the election result should not be underestimated, but as with the referendum result itself, it’s difficult to come to a single definitive conclusion.

In polls conducted by YouGov since the referendum there’s been a largely consistent picture of those who think Britain was right or wrong to vote for Brexit. When Article 50 was triggered, 44 per cent thought Britain had been right to vote for Brexit, and 43 per cent thought it was wrong. YouGov pinned these narrowing figures on those who didn’t vote in the referendum being more likely to favour remain. However, in poll figures released on June 7, both were tied at 45 per cent.

The implications of Brexit and how that affected the election result should not be underestimated

So can we assume that voters’ views on Brexit played an important part in their decisions at the general election?

Let’s examine the results in a few seats. Although the referendum results weren’t taken at constituency level, we can work from the closest overlapping areas.

Despite being knocked from its traditional first-seat-to-declare position, the result for Houghton & Sunderland South gives us an insight. Although the seat remained Labour, the vote saw a significant increase (11.3 per cent) in favour of the Conservatives. While not mapped to constituency boundaries, the Sunderland referendum vote was 61.3 per cent in favour of leaving the EU. This suggests that at some level, Brexit may have impacted the overall vote in Sunderland, despite the seat not changing hands.

In Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg lost a seat that has been held by the Liberal Democrats since 1997 to Jared O’Mara from the Labour party. The Lib Dems presented the most pro-EU option in this election. While Sheffield as a city voted narrowly (51 per cent) in favour of leaving the EU, the Labour vote gain in this seat was +2.6 per cent. While still comfortably in third place, the Conservative vote increased by 10.2 per cent. Could this indicate a lack of appetite among Clegg’s constituents to continue fighting the referendum result?

In Cambridge, a seat won by the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and 2010, and a city that voted overwhelmingly in favour of remain, the Liberal Democrat vote share actually decreased. The Conservatives made little headway, with an increased Labour majority being the headline.

There are 650 seats in parliament and we don’t have the space to go through all the results, but here are just a couple more to paint a larger picture.

The Lib Dems retook Bath and North East Somerset from the Conservatives, after Bath recorded almost 60 per cent in favour of remain.

Bristol voted in favour of remain by over 60 per cent. Yet Bristol North West was a Labour gain with an over 16 per cent increase on their vote and a fall in the Conservative share.

So the referendum and party responses had no impact?

It would be difficult to argue that. After all, one of the stories of election night will be the fall of UKIP’s vote share. However, there hasn’t been a universal swing back to another party.

And there’s another referendum that seems to have had a significant impact on the results: the proposed second independence referendum in Scotland. The resurgence of the Conservatives in Scotland and the return of Labour seats, a net loss for the SNP of 21 seats, suggest a rejection of another referendum. Sometimes more voters are like Brenda from Bristol!

With voting patterns varying hugely from place to place, it may be that the only conclusion is that there’s no easy conclusion. There will be many factors that we’ll debate over the next weeks and no doubt Brexit will still be front and centre.


By Gemma Gathercole, Head of funding and assessment at Lsect as part of our 2017 election coverage

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One comment

  1. Graham Ripley

    Interesting article about politics and well written, but a diligent search of this article has failed to reveal any link, express or implied, to FE or even educational matters!

    No doubt these issues do affect the purview of LSect and probably Gemma’s role as Head of Funding there, but it would be good for the relevance to FE be made more clear!