‘Vote Leave’ result shows a nation divides along generational lines

October 09, 2019 by Leela Bozonelis

The United Kingdom has voted to 'Leave' the European Union (EU) by more than one million votes; 51.9% of the UK voted Leave, while 48.2% voted Remain. Voting turnout was significant – 72.2% – with more people voting than in the general election last year. Age more than any other demographic, had the biggest impact on division between voters.

Prime Minster David Cameron resigns after a heated campaign

The votes have been counted and the UK has voted to leave the EU.  As expected the result was close: 51.9% voted to Leave and 48.1% voted to stay.

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he will be stepping down as Prime Minister by the Conservative Party Conference in October, saying that "fresh leadership" is needed to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – which will give the UK two years to withdraw from the EU – and to carry out withdrawal negotiations with the EU.

After David Cameron confirmed an EU Referendum in February, the UK has been subjected to a heated 125-day debate with both Remain and Leave campaigners choosing to focus on the failings of the other side's argument rather than the benefits of their own.  Strong and passionate opposition in live debates and TV appearances prompted arguments between both sides, often above the delivery of facts to the voting public.

Campaign trails were tailored for specific voter demographics.  Remain's high profile campaigners concentrated on urban areas across the UK while Leave focused on rural and suburban England. The terms of engagement narrowed as time went on; the referendum became less about overarching issues and more about the economy versus immigration.

Results show a divided nation




  • While the Remain campaign dominated in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • The Leave campaign was successful in England and Wales, particularly in the north and the south east.  Nine areas voted to leave by more than 70% including Boston, South Holland and Great Yarmouth in the east of England. 
  • Remain was successful in just three regions.
  • The Leave campaign was successful in nine of the UK's regions.
  • Scotland had the highest vote for Remain at 62%.
  • The West Midlands had the highest vote to Leave at 53.9%.

More significant than regional variations, the final YouGov poll before voting showed age, more than any other demographic, had the biggest impact on division between voters.




  • 72% of those aged 18 to 24 supported a Remain vote
  • Only 19% of the 18 to 24 age demographic backing Leave. 
  • Support for Remain from those aged more than 65 fell to 34%
  • 59% of those aged more than 65 backing Britain's exit from the EU. 

A wave of younger voters registered to vote in the final moments of the campaign, crashing the voter registration website and forcing an extension on the deadline to register.  Whilst the final poll did not accurately predict the result of the referendum, it did demonstrate a conclusive trend that younger voters backed the UK Remaining in the EU.

Social and online media: the complete picture

LexisNexis has been tracking 'Buzz Over Time', 'Share Of Voice' and 'Sentiment' across online and social media from the start of the campaign in the LexisNexis EU Referendum Tracker.  Online and social media support for Remain grew steadily over the campaign to the point where 'Share Of Voice' has been close to 50:50, 'Out' has consistently outperformed on 'Buzz Over Time'.

In the days leading up to the referendum, Remain pulled ahead in the tracker and throughout voting day it appeared a Remain vote would be successful.  It's 'Share Of Voice' had pulled ahead to slightly more than 50% at 09:00, gaining another percentage point by 11:00 and reaching 52.52% over Remain by 17:00.

Age: still the central consideration for social analytics?

So why the disparity in online and social media coverage during referendum day – favouring the ultimately unsuccessful Remain campaign? Younger generations are more likely to be active social media users.  The following statistics are from the latest Pew Research Centre:

post chart

This difference must be accounted for if social media analytics are to provide an accurate indication of voting intent, particularly for election results with campaigns as widely debated as the UK EU Referendum.  Pew Research Centre statistics show a clear upwards trend in social media use across all ages.  Perhaps as the mid-to-younger generations get older this disparity will decrease to the point of statistical insignificance.

The LexisNexis EU Referendum Tracker begins to tell the same story of the polls after the announcement of the result.  Leave has more than 70% 'Share Of Voice' and 'Buzz Over Time' has moved ahead by more than 100,000 articles.

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