One of the very first subjects I saw last Friday morning was the blaming of the older generations for the eave vote. This, alongside the denouncing of all leave voters as racist, selfish and / or stupid. People may think that this point of view is based on “facts” and statistics, but a closer look at the numbers doesn’t quite back this up as clearly as you might think.
For me this was a little surprising and disappointing. In all of my thoughts about political and social issues, I try and stick to a value of understanding, thinking about what could be the cause of someone’s situation or attitude and giving them the benefit of the doubt.
This is in the hope that I will continue to believe that most people are good and do whatever they do for the right reasons.
I struggle with the perspective that you can stand up one minute for groups groups of people, insisting that just because some Muslims are terrorists doesn’t mean all are, for example, and in the next minute exclaiming that the older generations together with those less educated than some have let us all down.
A major issue I find with the media, including, if not especially, social media in the presentation of “facts” and statistics to support points.
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Let’s take a look at the numbers
A lot of numbers have been bandied around, but few take the time to really ask what they are based on, what they are really saying and what other conclusions could be drawn.
Who has seen this one?
The good thing about a summary table is that the information is easy to absorb. The bad thing is that without due care and attention, you will miss what you are actually reading.
Firstly, this is not based on the result of the referendum, noting the citations under the table, you’ll see that these are the results from a YouGov poll carried out the week before the referendum even took place. Is it reflective of what happened in the referendum? Maybe, maybe not, we don’t know.
Secondly, a quick check of the percentages, none of the rows add up to 100%. 64% + 24% = 88%. Where are the other 12? Well, without looking at the YouGov data directly, I’ll assume that they are the undecideds. Or maybe those who weren’t going to vote? The point is, this table does not explain a full picture.
If anyone knows where you can actually get your hands on this poll data though it’d be great if you could highlight that source.
OK, so how did people of different ages vote?
First thing to mention here is that if you voted, you’ll notice that you didn’t need to write your name or age on the polling card. Or any other personally identifiable information for that matter. So the one conclusion that can be taken from this is, what a surprise, we don’t know.
But what do we know?
The Financial Times (FT) have quite a sensibly laid out set of figures. Check out the graphs below. What this says is that looking at the different voting areas, the trend is that the higher the proportion of people in the “older generations”, the higher the proportion of people voted Leave last week. That’s it, that’s all it says. It doesn’t actually say that more older people voted Leave than younger people.
You’ll also note that it shows where a smaller percentage of people have university degrees, more people voted leave. Also the fewer people who have passports in an area, the more people voted leave. Where people have a lower income and lower proportion of people in professional jobs, higher proportion of Leave voters.
The FT also highlights that the more an area depends on EU funding, the higher proportion of people voted leave…
But what about voter turnout?
The counter argument to blaming the older generation for voting leave is to blame the younger generations for not voting at all.
The Guardian report that Young remain voters came out in force, but were outgunned, only to go on to say that the turnout of young voters was low, and a fleeting mention, easily missed in a skim read, that actually, again, we don’t actually know who voted in what age groups or how they voted.
Back to the FT, they highlight that in areas where a higher proportion of people are older, turnout was higher, as a general trend, but actually said specifically that “The relationship between between median age and voter turnout is far from clear cut. But on a very general basis, areas with younger populations had lower turnout”.
Three areas bucking the trend were Oxford and Cambridge who had a high turnout and comparatively young age, and Glasgow – comparatively old with lower turnout.
I don’t have an data on education levels in Glasgow, but Oxford and Cambridge clearly will have higher levels, suggesting that education could be more important than age – ? So we could blame the stupid people, or if that bothers us maybe vote for people in elections based on better education for those who need it. That’s up to you.
Sky Data also published some turnout figures, this seems to be based on a poll conducted via telephone over night after referendum voting had closed, although I actually can’t find the details of the survey. If you have a source for this, please do let speak up.
Here’s what Sky posted:
Well, actually that proves the point about the turnout of different age groups doesn’t it.
Or does it?
It’s time to crunch some numbers
Just for fun, because I love a bit of number crunching, let’s add in how the population of the UK breaks down into these age bands, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics last summer.
|Age From||Age To||Turnout||Population||Voted|
So the first thing that jumps out at me here is that the population of the youngest group with by far the lowest turnout is about half the size of the oldest age group with the much higher turnout. This means that in terms of number of people, there were actually about the same number of people who didn’t vote from each of those groups.
If you combined the two youngest groups, between them they’d have a turnout of about 49%. Still much lower than the older people but suddenly you’re looking at a gap of 34% instead of 47%. And if you combined the younger three and the older three groups, you’d be looking at 57% VS 80%, a difference of only 23%.
Does this really matter? Potentially not, but depending on how you slice the numbers up, you can choose to show a larger or smaller difference between the generation’s respective turnouts.
There is another problem with the stats provided by Sky. The savvy of you may have noticed that these figures result in a total of 35,836,585 voters voting in the referendum. Adding together the 17,410,742 leave voters and 16,141,241 remain voters you get 33,551,983, so somewhere we’ve gained 2,284,602 voters. That’s 1.8 times the difference between the Leave and Remain totals. This is of course all despite the BBC’s published number of total voters who turned out, unless I’ve missed something, I have no idea where the 45.5m number has come from…
Does this change much? Maybe not, but the point is that these turnout figures don’t add up to the actual result, by some margin, and further illustrates why you need to take care drawing conclusions from numbers you see in the media, especially if it is driving you to denounce entire age groups, many of whom share the same point of view as you.
So who did actually vote for what?
Taking some of these numbers on a little bit further you can start to see that although what people are saying is likely to be correct, you can actually pull a number of different conclusions, if there was a point you were trying to make.
Here we go. Let’s keep the Sky stats, with the caveats that we know all of it’s flaws already, and we’ll add in the Remain / Leave vote split according to the YouGov survey. We need to make some adjustments though:
- We need to split You Gov’s 25 – 49 and 50 – 64 into Sky’s 10 year age splits to make this work. Not perfect, but overall you end up with the same number of people.
|18 – 24||36%||5,878,472||2,116,250||64%||24%|
|25 – 34||58%||8,822,757||5,117,199||45%||39%|
|35 – 44||72%||8,378,302||6,032,377||45%||39%|
|45 – 54||75%||9,196,082||6,897,062||40%||44%|
|55 – 64||81%||7,452,381||6,036,429||35%||49%|
- Also, remember all the people that I assumed were undecided? Well, let’s assume that they all did vote, and they voted in the same proportions as the rest of their age group. So we need to increase each of the Leave / Remain percentages proportionally. Then we know how many people in each group voted for what. Also, just removing the turnout percentage and population for a smaller table!
|Age||Voted||Remain %||Voted Remain||Leave %||Voted Leave|
|18 – 24||2,116,250||73%||1,539,091||27%||577,159|
|25 – 34||5,117,199||54%||2,741,357||46%||2,375,842|
|35 – 44||6,032,377||54%||3,231,631||46%||2,800,747|
|45 – 54||6,897,062||48%||3,287,235||52%||3,609,827|
|55 – 64||6,036,429||42%||2,515,179||58%||3,521,250|
So here’s some conclusions supported by this data. According to the ONS, the median age in the UK is 40, so feels like a reasonable mid-point. I won’t say “young and old”, let’s say “younger and older“:
- It does appear that those over 55 provided more than their fair share of leave votes, 51% of all leave votes with just 37%% of the population
- BUT more than half of the remain votes, 55%, with 55% of the population, came from those over 45. Considering 40 is the middle age, it seems that the older lot did their fair share to keep us in as well
- Add another age group in there and you see that 75% of the remain vote came from those over 35 years old with 71% of the population. Come on, where were the spring chickens then?
- Just under half of all the leave vote, 49%, came from those under 54. Whilst a little over or middle age, potentially not all that old.
There we have it
Hopefully what you take away from reading this is that the numbers aren’t that clear cut. There are sweeping statements being made about whole groups of people based on misleading numbers, conclusions drawn from figures that are filled with untold assumptions, or in some cases are flat out not based on the actual vote itself.
Whether leaving the EU is a good idea from an economic or democratic point of view aside, this is the biggest reasons I voted remain was to vote against generalisations about whole groups of people that encourages negativity and prejudice.
I’d call on everyone to check what they are reading and not get sucked in by the headlines and memes, take numbers and “facts” with a pinch of salt if you don’t have time to research them thoroughly yourself. And most of all, give kindness and the benefit of the doubt to our fellow humans.
Stay in touch folks.