Croydon didn’t vote the way you think it did on Europe

By - Thursday 21st July, 2016

Robert Ward dives into the voting data from the EU referendum, and finds Croydon bucked some expectations

Graph author’s own.

The EU referendum was divisive. How could it to be otherwise? We were asked a very tough question. The divisiveness was certainly not helped by wilful misinterpretation and stretching of the truth by both sides, but the good news is that voters thought hard and voted in large numbers.

Yet again, experts were proved wrong in their predictions. Croydon voted to Remain, as did London as a whole, along with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, but together this was insufficient to overcome the vote from the rest of England and Wales to Leave. The high turnout, thought by those same experts to favour Remain, did not.

A detailed nationwide survey is available from Lord Ashcroft polls to help us understand what happened. This indicated that the younger, more educated and further up the economic pyramid you are, the more likely you were to vote Remain. Ethnic minorities were more likely to vote Remain, although some sub-groups favoured Leave.

What has been highlighted in the media has been the correlation with age, which is actually quite a poor one

Statistics of the actual vote are coarser than we are used to. There’s not even a parliamentary constituency level break down. Croydon is a single data point. We can, however, glean something about the Croydon vote by comparing the Leave share with local demographics.

The best correlation I could find is with the proportion of working age people (not voters, data for which I could not find) with a degree or equivalent (graph shown above) for London’s boroughs. In Richmond (31.7% Leave) almost 70% of working age people have a degree, whereas in Havering (69.66% Leave) it is only 26%. Croydon, shown in red, (45.71% Leave) is 40.6%.

What has been highlighted in the media has been the correlation with age, which is actually quite a poor one. It improves if we take only the proportion of voters in the 25-44 age range but is still worse than the education level correlation.

The younger you are the more likely you are to have a degree

A clue on how the weaker age correlation might come about can be found by looking at how our education system has changed. Someone now in their eighties had a tiny chance of going to university. In 1950 only 20,000 degrees were awarded at UK universities. In 2011 the figure was more than 500,000. The younger you are the more likely you are to have a degree.

Treading carefully, because the existence of a correlation does not imply one causes the other, it is possible to construct a narrative that the better educated perceive the EU as creating opportunities for them. Those without that advantage perceive it as a threat through increased competition for jobs.

Claims, valid or not, that the EU protects working conditions were discounted by this group. Their concern is not employment conditions, but that the jobs there are will be taken by EU migrants. This pressure is felt less in London where job creation is highest.

As Londoners we should recognise that London isn’t the rest of England

Analysis published by Bloomberg indicates the extra voters that swelled the turnout above the 2015 general election strongly favoured Leave. Essentially where there was a large increase in turnout above the 2015 general election there was a strong Leave vote. The London data supports this conclusion although more weakly. Who exactly this group might be needs more research but the suspicion is that they are habitual non-voters from the same socio-economic background as the rest of the Leave cohort.

Amongst some of the (degree-qualified) young the (weaker) age correlation has created a sense of grievance. Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, yet remarks that would have caused outrage had they been directed against a particular race or gender passed almost without comment. This is somewhat ironic since it is the generation that was unable to go to university itself that enabled their children and grandchildren to do just that. Gratitude would seem more appropriate than opprobrium.

As Londoners we should recognise that London isn’t the rest of England. Compare the Midlands, where I was brought up: of 70 districts, 67 voted to Leave, some by more than a 2:1 majority. The Midlands alone was more than sufficient to outweigh London’s preference for remain.

The data is not adequate to tell us whether the local campaign had any impact

Looking at the correlation, Croydon might have been expected to vote Leave. The data is not adequate to tell us whether the local campaign had any impact but local politicians, both Labour and Conservative, have expressed how pleased they are that Croydon voted to remain.

That’s as may be, but 46 out of every 100 Croydoners and 52% of the UK voted otherwise. I, and I hope they, voted for a better future for all of us. I hadn’t thought of it as something to be proud of, in my opinion it was just the right thing to do.

The challenge now, as it would have been had the vote gone the other way, is to make this work, to deliver that better future, for everyone, no matter who they are, how old or well educated they are or where they put their cross on referendum day.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Anne Giles

    I don’t think having a degree means that one is better educated at all. Many people are very well read and do a lot of research, gaining knowledge all the time. A piece of paper is no indication of a person’s intelligence. A relation of my husband’s gained a degree, but appears as thick as two planks. He would have voted Leave and is incredibly racist. Difficult to understand him when he speaks as well. John Major was Prime Minister with no degree, after all. My husband is an unqualified accountant and extremely good at his job.

    • Robert Ward

      Thanks Anne.

      Not sure what your point is here. Data is available on the level of education of the population, as measured by GCSEs, degree, etc. I hope I do not suggest that one cannot be intelligent unless one has a degree. That is patently not the case.

      • Anne Giles

        Thanks. Some people think that though!

  • Charlotte Davies

    Croydon is different from the poor areas of the North. I have just been up to Liverpool, parts of it just feel hopeless; the poor do not feel welcome in the town centre – the toilets are guarded to stop people who cannot afford to pay from getting in, that sends out a clear message; the parking is expensive; the shops are for the overseas students and for visitors to the town. In Croydon there is a lot of poverty, I know people who live in massively overcrowded accommodation and work silly hours; but they have hope and aspire; if not for themselves for their children. That ethos of “Croydon vs the World” sums it up: there is a positive belief in ourselves and that whatever the obstacles we can find a way through.

    • Robert Ward

      Thanks Charlotte.

      I agree, Croydon is indeed very different from poor areas of the North, not least because Croydon is not a poor area. That’s not to say that there is not poverty.

      I have little knowledge of Liverpool, but I would caution about drawing too many conclusions from a flying visit. Portrayal of anywhere North of Watford Gap as populated by grim-faced Northerners is something that rankles with me to this day, even though I left the Midlands more than forty years ago.

      By the way, the city of Liverpool actually voted Remain by a much bigger margin than did Croydon.

  • Robert Ward

    Analysis in greater detail of how the statistics on the EU Referendum voting have been manipulated to fit a narrative.