In Depth

Fact Check: Did UK’s ‘better educated’ vote Remain?

Labour MP’s linking of education levels to pro-EU votes sparks outrage

Labour MP Barry Sheerman has been criticised for claiming that most better-educated people voted to remain in the European Union in last year’s Brexit vote.

Conservative MP Pudsey Stuart Andrew accused Sheerman of snobbery. Social media pundits speculated uncharitably about Sheerman’s own IQ. But was the Labour MP right?

What exactly did Sheerman say?

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, the Huddersfield MP and former chair of the Education Select Committee said: “The truth is that when you look at who voted to remain, most of them were the better-educated people in our country.”

He added: “You can actually see the pattern, nearly all the university towns voted remain.”

Sheerman was taking part in a debate about a controversial letter sent to universities by Conservative whip Chris Heaton-Harris, in which he requested the names of lecturers teaching courses about Brexit.

Following the debate, Sheerman, whose constituency voted Leave, tweeted that he was pleased his comments “on the link between Brexit support and lower educational attainment had stimulated debate”.

What was the response?

The Sun claims the veteran MP “branded Brexit voters stupid”, while LBC presenter and political commentator Iain Dale accused him of elitism.

Some on social media came to Sheerman’s defence, however.

“That’s not what he says,” journalist Chris Hemmings replied to Dale on Twitter. “As for what he actually says, he’s factually accurate.”

The former president of the YouGov polling company, Peter Kellner, also argued that the evidence supports the Labour MP’s claims.

“I would not use Barry Sheerman’s choice of words, but the facts are broadly on his side,” Kellner told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

What are the facts?

Research carried out by leading polling companies in the wake of the referendum found that educational attainment was strongly linked to whether voters supported EU membership.

According to YouGov, 68% of voters with a university degree wanted to remain in the EU, while 70% of voters with only GCSE qualifications or lower voted to leave. Those with A levels and no degree were evenly split. 

These findings largely tally with the results of an Ipsos Mori survey published in September, and with polling conducted by Lord Ashcroft on the day of the referendum.

Of the 30 areas with the fewest graduates in the UK, 28 backed Brexit, according to the BBC. “By contrast, 29 out of the 30 areas with the most graduates voted Remain”, including the City of London, Belfast South, Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh, it adds.

Who is right?

Polling data suggests that Sheerman is correct; voters with higher qualifications were more likely to vote to remain in the EU.

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