Uncertainty descended over Britain’s economic and political landscape on the 23rd of June following a historic referendum that determined the UK’s European fate. Deemed the most important vote in a generation, this referendum saw the electorate bombarded by statistics and arguments as both camps attempted to convince the nation what was in their best interests. Five months on from the pivotal decision to leave the economic and political bloc, some of the feelings of uncertainty seem to have dampened down even if British consumers remain divided on what Brexit truly means for the UK.
Prior to the referendum, many financial advisors and economists warned of an instant and significant impact upon consumer confidence and the economy should the UK vote to leave the EU. Such predictions, however, have not yet materialised with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that the economy grew by 0.5% in the first three months following on from the referendum. Spurred on by low levels of inflation and record-low interest rates, ONS data also reveals that retail sales figures in August 2016 had actually risen 6.2% when compared to August 2015. Perhaps then, it is of little surprise that by September consumer confidence had returned to pre-referendum levels.
Although the immediate signs after the Referendum have been encouraging, consumer confidence has not immediately translated into confidence into the wider British economy. When asked about the current strength and stability of the UK economy, less than a third of British adults (29%) believed that the economy was in a good position. Beyond this, only 38% considered themselves to be in a comfortable financial situation.
In terms of the political landscape, it would appear that the middle ground of the British political spectrum is flourishing with 45% of voters placing themselves within the centre, as opposed to 25% on the left and 30% on the right. While these figures provide a useful snapshot of the political climate as we embark down the path towards Brexit, they do not reveal the full story. The apparent strength of the centre diminishes when attitudes towards specific policies are examined. There is solid support for numerous policies that are traditionally associated with the political right, such as reducing immigration to fewer than 100,000 a year and requiring benefits claimants to do compulsory work placements. There is also a strong endorsement for multiple policies that would normally be regarded as left wing – including banning zero hour contracts and introducing a mansion tax. Significantly, many of the same people who conveyed support for the right wing policies also backed the left leaning proposals. This demonstrates a weakness in the left/right wing categorisation and may suggest that an alternative method of political classification should be adopted to better reflect post-referendum political viewpoints.
By asking voters whether they supported or opposed a series of topical policy proposals, and through grouping those who shared similar viewpoints together, Opinium has discovered eight political “tribes” which broadly offers an alternative approach to categorising the British electorate. These tribes range from the Ethnic Nationalists and people with more traditional right wing views, through to a range of groups across the centre and the left including the Democratic Socialists. Segmenting the British electorate in this way has shown the future looks promising for those on the right, as the two largest tribes (accounting for approximately half of the population) hold a collection of traditionally right wing views and tended to support the Leave campaign. The analysis made for less cheerful reading for those on the left or centre, with the next largest tribe outside of the traditional right only containing 11% of the population and the remaining 5 groupings each containing less than 9%. This fragmentation serves to demonstrate the division and uncertainty in the electorate in the aftermath of the referendum as we head towards Brexit.
Managing Director at Opinium