The recent Hansard Society’s political audit has been published and has reveal a disturbing support for authoritarian populism. The study found that significant numbers of people supported leaders who were “rule breakers”, supported stronger executive branch of government over parliament and supported the rise of radical parties. This had been argued by the Guardian newspaper, somewhat hyperbolically that Britain was on the path to embracing authoritarianism. This is something to talk about another day. What is most interesting point from the research however is the political asymmetry between Leave voters and Remain voters.
Remainers and Leavers are well known to have strong differences when it comes down to demographics. Age for example tends to separate Leavers and Remainers, with older voters have a stronger tendency to have voted Leave in the European Union referendum whilst younger people are more likely to vote Remain. Another more interesting difference has emerged from the Hansard civic engagement audit. Remain voters are significantly more likely to be engaged in politics than Leave voters. In elections, 80% of Remain voters were certain that they would vote compared with just 64% of Leave voters, or 20% more likely to vote. Remain voters are significantly more interested in politics also, with 72% of Remain voters being interested in politics compared with just 47% of Leave voters. Knowledge of politics is also higher among Remain voters, with 68% of Remain voters having knowledge in politics compared with just 46% of Leave voters; 63% of Remainers have knowledge of parliament compared with 43% of Leave voters. This civic unevenness has never really been analysed before, most likely because it is rather provocative to argue Remainers know more about politics than Leave voters. Why does this asymmetry exist?
The Brexit supporting argument would probably suggest that the Leave vote was a vote for change. Many Leavers had not voted prior to the EU referendum; Ipsos Mori found that 58% of those who had not voted in the 2015 election voted to Leave the European Union. The Leave voters may not be engaged in politics and their turnout in the EU referendum showed that many people wanted a significant change in British politics. There is a parallel between social class asymmetry of political interest and knowledge and differences between Leave voters and Remain voters. Around 78% of those from professional jobs such as doctors, teachers, barristers had interest in politics compared with just 34% of those from low skilled jobs such as unskilled factory workers, cleaners and shop workers. These may explain why Leave voters lack interest in politics; Leavers are disproportionately from working class people. The Leave vote could be explained as a vote for significant change among an underrepresented and ignored part of the electorate. This vote for change could be seen as an emancipation for a significant part of the voters,
However, I do not feel this fully explains the asymmetry of Remainers and Leavers. Remainers and Leavers may differ on interest, knowledge and tendency to vote but that is how far their diverge. In civic involvement, Remainers and Leavers are similar in that both have dissatisfaction with the current way government is run, with 22% of Leave voters satisfied with the current system of government compared with 27% of Remain voters. A far more Remain supporting argument is that higher political knowledge and political interest is correlated with Remain support precisely because an increase in political knowledge and political interest would make someone more likely to support remaining a member of the European Union. Increased political knowledge. Why is this difficult to argue? It is difficult to argue this position because it is perhaps seen as condescending to say that Remain voters are more knowledgeable and interested in politics than Leave voters. Nevertheless, it is an important question to ask; why is it that people with a higher knowledge and interest of politics vote so differently in the European Union referendum compared with those with less interest in politics? If political education was better in the United Kingdom would the referendum outcome have been different? Knowledge on the European Union analysed by the Hansard society in 2016 and found that education was directly linked to knowledge about the European Union. 22% of those with no qualifications and 30% of those with just GCSE qualifications had a fair or large amount of knowledge of the European Union compared with 59% of those with a degree level of qualification. In the European Union referendum, according to Ipsos Mori exit-polls 70% of those with no qualifications voted to Leave whilst 68% of those with a degree voted to Remain. The differences between Remainers and Leavers suggest more should be done by the government to inform and educate people about politics. The lack of political education may have significant consequences on elections and democracy in the UK.