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Access to Higher Education played a major role in the Brexit outcome

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Access to higher education has been deemed the ‘predominant factor’ that divided voters in 2016’s Brexit election, a new study suggests.

Carried out by Dr Aihua Zhang of the University of Leicester, the study entitled “New findings on Key Factors Influencing the UK's Referendum on Leaving the EU” used "multivariate regression analysis" to determine the main factors that affected the outcome of last year’s referendum.

The study found that a 3% increase in British adults' access to higher education could have swayed the result in favour of the ‘Remain’ vote, whereas a decrease of overall voter turnout by 7% would have also seen a different outcome.

This can be visualised in the below map provided by Dr Zhang. It can be seen that no areas where 34% of the population or above do not have access to higher education voted ‘Remain,’ whereas the majority of regions with above 34% access, such as Brighton and Hove, did.

According to Dr Zhang, gender also played a more significant role in the referendum than first thought. The study revealed that "geographical areas with a higher proportion of British male adults" had a "higher percentage of leave votes".

Dr Zhang said that “simple data analysis examining individual factors” failed to accurately predict the outcome of the election, hence much of the shock at the overall result. She also notes that the voter turnout of 72.2%, the highest in a British election for over a decade, was an unexpected factor that “came as a surprise to most observers”.

The study's findings were also reflected in the recent general election, as Zhang argues that "elements of the population with a higher education were mobilised more effectively to vote and so had a measurable effect on the eventual result." This can be seen through the significant Labour gains that were made in student areas.

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