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Leave and the Left Behind

I arguedat the end of last year that immigration was an attractive issue for the right, because it offered the possibility of capturing votes from those who would vote left on economic grounds, but who were also socially conservative. It was particularly attractive if you could convince leftish social conservatives that voting to reduce immigration would improve their economic situation. The EU referendum vote exemplified how successful that strategy could be. The socially conservative vote went to Leave, irrespective of where those voters were on a left right spectrum (see here).

In this situation, it is understandable that a lot of focus goes to the left/social conservative voters. As voting left clearly correlates with income and areas of social deprivation more generally, we get stories about the economically left behind Leavers. At the same time, some social scientists object, saying that voting Leave clearly correlates with socially conservative views, like hanging for example. There seems to be a contradiction here, but there is not. As I argued here, it is the fight over whether left social conservatives vote on economics or on their social views that swings these votes. The same point could be made for the US as the UK, particularly if we add in race as an issue.

Those controlling right wing media understand all this. Another postfrom last year looked at how economists had shown clear evidence that Fox news was not in the business of reflecting their viewers beliefs and voting patterns, but in moulding them. They did this by looking at what economists call natural experiments: events that in this case influenced whether people watched Fox that had nothing to do with their politics. Over Wren-Lewis Christmas we were talking about whether there were any natural experiments for assessing the influence of the Mail or Sun in the UK. One possibility we discussed was whether the Liverpool boycottof the Sun over Hillsborough might be a useful natural experiment.

I then read this twitter thread from @marwood_lennox. They first note the clear correlation between measures of deprivation by constituencies and votes in the 2017 general election. They then show the imputed EU referendum vote against measure of deprivation: apart from the least deprived areas voting to Remain, there is no clear correlation. So far much as we would expect from the analysis above. But it was these two tweets that really caught my attention:

“Deprivation doesn't clearly correlate with strength for Remain either. There are eight >60% Remain seats in most deprived decile …. Two of those eight are in very white working class Liverpool. What happened there?”

Is this the ‘natural experiment’ of Sun readership at work?

If only social science was this easy. There are, unfortunately, plenty of other explanations. First, cities tended to vote Remain, it was the towns that did not. Liverpool’s Remain vote was not that different from Manchester. True Manchester has less acute deprivation, but if deprivation and voting Leave are uncorrelated, so what? One reason that cities voted remain is that they have large universities.

Furthermore, as a result of twitter (thanks everyone), I learnt that the local papers had made much of EU funding for the docks and elsewhere. There is also a legacy of Irish immigration. Liverpool has a strong international tradition based on its port and football club, recently reinforced by being a European city of culture. Thus plenty of other reasons why Liverpool might be unusually Remain, if that is what they were.

Despite all this, I have learnt from experience not to let such difficulties get in the way of a potentially interesting result. So I would be very interested if by chance anyone who did proper multivariate analysis of the Leave vote is reading this, and noticed that Liverpool constituencies were, or were not, unusually Remain (given age, education etc). Or if anyone else has any ideas about natural experiments that might affect recent newspaper readership.     

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