You're wrong about Leave voters - four surprising facts about the 52 per cent

Leave voters are not as anti-immigrant as you think. 

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He is an old man from a coastal town. He’s uneducated by modern standards, and worked for an industry that is now defunct. He spends his retirement shooting suspicious looks at anyone who looks “forrun” and wincing at the sound of Polish voices. He voted to quit the EU. He’s Mr Leave.

In the aftermath of Brexit, this caricature has haunted the imagination of many a Remain voter. But a new report from the think tank British Future shows it is a false one. Just as a quarter of Remain voters also backed the Tories in 2015 (sorry, progressive alliancers), Leave voters have different views on immigration, sovereignty and the economy. 

Here are some of the most surprising insights from the polling, which was carried out with pollsters ICM:

1. Leave voters cared most about sovereignty

While a quarter of Leave voters cited immigration as their number one reason, more than half said they were motivated by “taking power back from Brussels”. 

In contrast to the caricature of the ancient xenophobe, the older a Leave voter, the more likely sovereignty was their motivation. 

2. Leave voters also hated Nigel Farage’s poster

For those who hated the Leave campaign’s focus on immigration, the lowest point was UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s unveiling of a poster showing refugees crossing Europe and the caption: “Breaking Point.”

It was also the low point for many Leave voters. Roughly a third said the poster overstepped the mark, and this rose to half of voters who only made up their mind to quit during the campaign. A majority of Leave voters and UKIP supporters felt the debate on immigration got dangerously overheated.

Overall, three-quarters of the British public agree with the statement:

“What we need now is a sensible policy to manage immigration so we control who comes here but still keep the immigration that’s good for our economy and society, and maintains our tradition of offering sanctuary to refugees.”

3. Leave voters want EU migrants to stay

The new prime minister, Theresa May, is refusing to guarantee the right of EU citizens living in the UK to stay – which makes her more extreme than most UKIP voters.

Three-quarters of Leave voters and 78 per cent of UKIP voters think EU migrants should be able to stay. 

In fact, a fifth of those who feel confident about the benefits of immigration to the UK, voted Leave.

4. Leave voters have to wait longer for the bus

While voters in the farmlands of Eastern England were most likely to vote to Leave, in some areas with similar demographics the vote was much stronger than in others.

South Holland, where 73.6 per cent voted to leave, is a rural, agricultural area with poor transport links. The jobs are low-paid, and often only zero-hours contracts. Many were filled by EU migrants. 

By contrast, nearby South Kesteven has three market towns, and the jobs market is less reliant on the food production industry. The transport links are better. Just 59.9 per cent voted Leave. 

A similar pattern can be seen in Stoke-on-Trent (69.4 per cent Leave) and Knowsley (51.6 per cent Leave). Both places have experienced industrial decline, but Knowsley is much better connected to Liverpool city centre.

So what should we make of all this? The British Future report concludes:

Even on a disagreement this big, we – Leave and Remain, old and young, graduate and non-­‐graduate, metropolitan and provincial -­‐ still have more in common than that which divides us, to quote a maiden speech that tragically gained a new poignancy with the murder of its author, Jo Cox MP.

"Build bridges, not walls" has long been a slogan of internationalists. But preserving and strengthening the 48 per cent and 52 per cent tribes will not build a bridge, it will build a wall. It is time to tear it down.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.