People’s feelings about their own financial situation had the greatest influence on them voting to leave the EU, according to new research.
Academics at the Universities of Bristol, Warwick and ETH Zurich analysed the views of 8,000 prospective voters over a 12-month period before and after the 2016 referendum.
They say UK citizens’ feelings about their incomes were a substantially better predictor of how they planned to vote than their actual income.
Those who described themselves as “finding it very difficult” financially were 13% more likely to vote for Brexit compared to those who said they were “living comfortably”.
After considering the effects of financial feelings, only the youngest UK citizens – particularly those under 25 – were substantially pro-Remain.
Professor Eugenio Proto, of the Department of Economics at the University of Bristol, said: “Our research suggests Brexit was not caused by the attitudes of older people, despite this being a commonly held belief.
“Only the very young were disproportionately pro-Remain.
“Our insights show there was little difference between being aged 35, 55 or 75. This was not what we had expected to observe in the data.
“Instead, people’s feelings about their finances – rather than their actual income – were shown to be the strongest predictor of their views on Brexit.
“This is an important message for economists and political scientists, stressing once more how the bad feelings created after crisis austerity policies, and spread via the media and social media, have sparked the current wave of populism, and how important it is to take into account human feelings along with material factors.”
Those who said they were “doing all right” financially were 3% more likely to vote for Brexit, while those who were “just about getting by” were 7% more likely.
People who described themselves as “finding it quite difficult” were 8% more likely than those “living comfortably” to favour leaving the EU.
Life satisfaction was also not found to be a major influence on how people voted.
Those with a university degree or equivalent were 16% more likely to vote Remain, while women were 6% more likely than men to want Britain to stay in the EU.
Those who classified themselves as black or mixed race were less likely to vote for Brexit compared to those who described themselves as white.
Unemployment, marriage, having children or living in a rural area did not have a significant effect on voting intentions.
The paper, due to be published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, used data collected by Understanding Society – the largest longitudinal household panel study of its kind.