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The 2016 EU Referendum: Explaining Support for Brexit Among Would-Be British MPs

Townsley, Joshua; Trumm, Siim; Milazzo, Caitlin


Joshua Townsley

Associate Professor


The outcome of the 2016 referendum on European Union membership took many by surprise and has continued to define the political discourse in Britain. Despite there being a growing body of research focused on explaining how voters cast their ballot, we still know little about what motivated our politicians to do the same. In this article, we draw on individual-level survey data from the British Representation Study to explore support for Brexit among parliamentary candidates who stood at the 2017 general election. We find that candidates' political views on immigration and democracy were key determinants of their decision to vote Leave. In addition, more optimistic views of how Brexit was expected to impact British economy and democracy are associated with greater likelihood of voting Leave. These findings highlight that, while politicians were less likely than voters to support Brexit overall, their motivations for doing so were quite similar. Interestingly, however, we also find that candidates contesting constituencies with higher Leave support were no more likely to vote for Brexit themselves. Taken together, these findings have important implications for elite representation of voters' policy preferences on the issue of Brexit.


Townsley, J., Trumm, S., & Milazzo, C. (2020). The 2016 EU Referendum: Explaining Support for Brexit Among Would-Be British MPs. Political Studies, 68(4), 819-836.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 17, 2020
Online Publication Date May 21, 2020
Publication Date 2020-11
Deposit Date Jan 22, 2020
Publicly Available Date May 21, 2020
Journal Political Studies
Print ISSN 0032-3217
Electronic ISSN 1467-9248
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 68
Issue 4
Pages 819-836
Keywords Brexit; parliamentary candidates; immigration; democracy; economy
Public URL
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