back to top

If The U.K. Was As Diverse As The U.S., Brexit Might Have Lost

The Brexit coalition was — like Donald Trump’s — older and whiter than the population at large. A 4% difference, roughly speaking.

Posted on

In the U.K.’s Brexit referendum Thursday, “Leave” voters outnumbered “Remain” voters 52% to 48%, a coalition built on older, white English voters.

Donald Trump seized on the Brexit Friday on a Scottish golf course, and compared his movement to the “Leave” campaign, and they do have a lot in common: immigration as a central theme, and opposition from the establishment of all major parties. The countries also have deeply different political cultures and systems, and turnout in the U.S. in November is very unlikely to hit 80%.

One major place the analogy falls apart is demographics. And it’s not the relative age: The U.S. population is approximately as old as the U.K.’s — 44% of voting-age residents in England and Wales were age 50+ in the 2011 census, while that figure in the U.S. was 42% in the 2010 census and growing.

The U.S. is far more diverse, and indeed, if you — very roughly — superimpose America’s demographics on Britain, you probably wouldn’t have gotten a Brexit.

Here’s the data:

A recent British Election Study survey — it polled 22,000 voters through early May — found that Brexit opinions varied substantially by ethnicity. Specifically, white Brits said they were much more likely to vote “Leave” than non-white Brits:

Britain’s population is much whiter than America’s. In England and Wales’ 2011 census, nearly 88% of voting-age residents identified as white. In America’s 2010 census, only 67% of voting-age residents identified as white and non-Hispanic (the category demographers typically consider to represent non-minorities).

A back-of-the-envelope calculation — factoring in only white vs. non-white population and turnout rates — suggests that American demographics would have given the “Remain” coalition roughly a four percentage-point boost. That difference would have kept Britain in the EU.

Jeremy Singer-Vine is the data editor for the BuzzFeed News investigative unit and is based in Washington, D.C. His secure PGP fingerprint is E2B0 63DB 0601 D634 1E9E F9AE 9F24 768F 9B4A EFB0

Contact Jeremy Singer-Vine at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.