A new survey
Last week, we carried out a different kind of survey on over 7000 representative British voters with YouGov. The survey asked people to rank up to 13 priorities for the UK over the next five years in order of importance to them. We then used rigorous mathematics to combine these into overall priorities for different political parties and by referendum vote.
Leave voters prioritise sovereignty over immigration and economic growth
Leave voters regard the UK taking control of its laws and regulations as the most important priority for Britain in the next five years, followed by the ability for the UK to make its own trade deals.
Limiting immigration only to high-skilled workers came third in the list, with a second immigration option to reduce the overall numbers of immigrants to the UK even lower down in fifth place (economic growth placed fourth).
Leave voters preferred control and trade to immigration by 67% to 33% and 59% to 41% respectively. They preferred control and trade to strong economic growth by 69% to 31% and 61% to 39% respectively.
The overall importance of the UK controlling its own laws held true for both Conservative and Labour Leave voters. Issues such as pressure on public services, housing or jobs and wages came much lower down in ranking (7th and 8th).
Economic growth is most important for the whole population – not sovereignty
There is however no overall majority for Hard Brexit outcomes, given the UK Government’s own assessments that Hard Brexit would adversely affect economic growth.
Remain voters favour strong economic growth over control, trade deals and immigration by very large margins (77% vs 23%; 79% vs 21%; 84% vs 16% respectively). So, although a majority of Leave voters do prioritise Hard Brexit, the closeness of the referendum result meant this does not translate into a majority in the country as a whole.
The top ranked priority overall was ensuring that the UK has strong economic growth, with a majority of people believing this was more important than the UK having control over its laws and regulations (54% vs 46%), being able to strike trade deals outside the EU (59% vs 41%), and reducing immigration (66% to 34%).
Labour and Conservative Remain voters share almost no priorities – new third party doomed?
Conservative Remain voters ranked strong economic growth as their top priority, followed by the UK having control of its own laws and trade deals (2nd and 3rd). This suggests that Conservative remain voters believed that staying within the EU was the best path to growth but (perhaps reluctantly) were prepared to accept the consequent trade off in sovereignty. Public services and jobs ranked 5th and 6th but other social issues such as reducing inequality ranked bottom.
On the other hand, the top four priorities for Labour Remainers were reducing inequality, ensuring there were enough jobs, strong economic growth and reducing the pressure on public services. Control over laws and trade ranked only 9th and 10th.
The only areas of commonality were economic growth and having little concern about immigration. There has been much speculation about setting up an anti-Brexit party bringing together Labour and Conservative Remain voters, but beyond prioritising economic growth over any of the Brexit options, our survey suggests that these two groups of voters have little in common.
Conservative Leave and Remain voters agree on more than they disagree?
Conservative Leave voters look very much like Conservative Remain voters, except that they disagree on the relative importance of economic growth and sovereignty but both groups have these issues in their top four.
Conservative Leave voters grouped strong economic growth together with the sovereignty options, suggesting that they believe sovereignty is a route to economic success. Conservative remain votes considered the economy as separate from sovereignty, although they still believe that sovereignty is relatively important.
This suggests that Conservative remain voters believed that staying within the EU was the best path to growth but (perhaps reluctantly) were prepared to accept the consequent trade off in sovereignty.
The only other area of disagreement is on immigration where Conservative Remain voters are relatively relaxed about immigration compared to Conservative Leave voters. However, both groups agree that social issues such as reducing inequality, affordable housing and benefits are less important.
Labour Leave and Remain voters disagree on almost everything
Unlike the Conservatives, Labour Leave and Remain voters disagree on everything in their top 6 priorities apart from strong economic growth (ranked 3rd for both groups) and ensuring enough jobs (4th for Leave voters and 2nd for Remain voters).
Labour Leave voters give a high priority to sovereignty and immigration, whereas Labour Remainers are profoundly unconcerned by both of these issues, ranking the immigration options 11th and 13th, and ranking the sovereignty options 9th and 10th.
On the other hand, Labour Remainers regard reducing inequality (both individual and regional) and reducing the pressure on public services as being very important priorities, neither of which rank in the top 6 for Labour Leavers.
Labour Leavers are a much looser coalition than the Conservative Leavers, with at least two distinct subgroups. There is one group of Labour Leave voters, who tend to be younger and better educated, who prioritise reducing inequality, economic growth with immigration a low concern, whilst a second group of Labour Leave voters rank the options dealing with sovereignty and immigration as their top four priorities while reducing inequality comes bottom.
This suggests that Labour might have a harder time than the Conservatives in holding together its coalition of voters.
Implications for the Chequers Agreement
Our survey confirms recent polling that sovereignty rather than immigration is the main priority for Leave voters. All realistic soft Brexit options involve a continued role for the European Court of Justice in British law and compliance with some EU regulations.
Neither Remain advocates nor the current Government have done much to address the concerns of Leave voters over the UK’s perceived lack of control within EU structures.
Prominent Brexiteers have already condemned the Chequers agreement as turning Britain into a “vassal state” while other commentators have criticised its potential impact on slowing the economy.
The difficult reception of the Chequers Agreement compromise reflects the picture of a deeply divided Britain which our survey has painted and there seems little prospect for a Brexit outcome that pleases even half the country.
By Dr Christina Pagel, Reader of Operational Research, UCL and Christabel Cooper, data analyst. You can read the full report here. Christina Pagel tweets at @chrischirp and Christabel Cooper tweets at @christabelcoops.