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lDo I stay or do I go?

Exploding demographic profiling myths about social


media use in the Referendum
l
Britain's EU Referendum, remain or leave, was decided overwhelmingly by the over 50s, the less
educated and by lower social groups, all voting strongly for Leave. The young, graduate voters and the
upper middle classes were far more likely to vote for Remain. And social media activity by campaigners
and voters alike probably played a key role in the result.

This profile of Remain voters closely matches that of social media users as a whole predominantly
young, better educated and although less tellingly in higher social groups. We would expect,
therefore, social media traffic during and after the campaign to be dominated by by Remain traffic.

Our study of around half a million referendum-related interventions on Twitter found the opposite.
'Brexit' traffic overwhelmingly dominated the tweets. Moreover, our expectation that social media
conversations would be about 'facts' the economy, immigration, money also proved false: almost all
Twitter traffic dealt with emotional responses to the campaign. Furthermore, our comparative analysis
of the profiles of Leave and Remain users on Twitter showed almost no difference in terms of age group,
social class, location or education.

lVoting profiles
In most of the media reports, key demographic markers for leave voters were age and social class. The
older a person was, and the lower the social class, the more likely they were to vote leave. According to
Lord's Ashcroft's figures1, 64% of voters in social groups C2 and DE, and 60% of voters aged 65 or
more voted to leave the EU. The Telegraph2 cited ONS data showing that education was also a key
factor: the ONS data was based on voting areas and showed a strong correlation between areas with
high levels of graduates and a majority of Remain votes. These findings were corroborated in the
Guardian's own analysis3, which showed that people with no formal qualifications were more likely to
vote Leave, although only by a small margin. The New Statesman4 reported anecdotal evidence that 181
2
3
4

http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/24/eu-referendum-how-the-results-compare-to-the-uks-educated-old-an/
http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2016/jun/24/the-areas-and-demographics-where-the-brexit-vote-was-won
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/06/how-did-different-demographic-groups-vote-eu-referendum

24 year olds were less likely to have voted, noting that the sources for this claim (only 36% turnout,
compared to over 80% for anyone over 55) could not be verified.

lSocial media blamed


According to Oxford University research cited in New Scientist5, a substantial proportion of the Leave
Twitter traffic was bot-generated, while comparatively little came from the Remain side. Many news
outlets seemed to be sourcing content from their articles from Twitter feeds: for example the Evening
Standard6 claiming that Twitter had gone into overdrive after debate comments from Boris Johnson
about Haggis. Another example was the Guardian's story7 about young people's reaction to the result,
based on studying tweets. Twitter reactions to the Referendum result made the news in their own right:
on example was the poignant reaction of a Twitter user to a Financial Times article8, retweeted 30,000
times; this story was covered by the Guardian9, Mirror10 and many overseas news outlets.

A more detailed study from Imperial College, London11 found that Twitter users who were prepared to
engage in debate on the Referendum topic, were more likely to influence other Twitter users. This
study, though, was not picked up by any of the mainstream media.

5 https://www.newscientist.com/article/2094629-beware-the-brexit-bots-the-twitter-spam-out-to-swing-your-vote/
6 http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/eu-referendum-boris-johnson-sends-twitter-into-overdrive-with-haggisremark-during-debate-a3277641.html
7 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/26/young-people-vote-anger
8 https://next.ft.com/content/f4dcdf62-399d-11e6-9a05-82a9b15a8ee7
9 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/young-angry-eu-referendum
10 http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/comment-three-tragedies-brexit-sums-8276080
11 http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_23-6-2016-10-1-35