Should I stay or should I...? UK creative clusters and the EU referendum

In the Referendum of the 23rd of June, 52% of voters opted to leave the EU. How did people in creative clusters vote?

Answering this question is important for two reasons.

First, and according to many accounts, the referendum result reflected a ‘split’ between those parts of the UK population who feel the benefits of a globalised, knowledge intensive economy, and a larger group of people who don’t see the situation that way (see for example, these articles in the Centre for Cities LSE Brexit blogs, and this blog by Stian Westlake here at Nesta). 

This split between voters may be influenced by the industrial landscape around them - when they look at their city or town, can they see sectors able to generate good jobs or not? If the creative industries can make local communities feel more economically empowered and optimistic, then they can play an important part in government attempts to rebalance the UK's economy, addressing the needs and aspirations of those parts of the country that feel left behind.

Second, the voting decisions of people working in the creative industries represent, at least in part, a ‘revealed preference’ between different policy regimes: one based on free trade in Europe and open access to talent, and a less clear set of alternatives selected by most people who voted in the EU Referendum. By learning about how the creative industries voted, we are learning about their hopes and concerns about Brexit. The government should take this information into account when it manages its negotiations with the EU, given the increasing importance of the creative industries for the UK economy.

What's the starting hypothesis?

My hypothesis is that areas with a stronger creative industries presence voted Remain, and that this link will hold even after we control for other local factors, such as average levels of employment, education or ethnic diversity in the population.

This prior sounds reasonable: Polls of the sector by the Creative Industries Federation suggest strong support for Remain among respondents. The creative industries have grown fast in recent years, and they have a strong export orientation. As Stian Westlake points out in this blog, workers in innovative, intangible-intensive sectors such as the creative industries tend to have personality traits such as openness to new experiences that, according to opinion surveys, correlate with a propensity to vote remain. A Nesta paper by Bakhshi, Frey and Osborne shows that creative industries workers in the UK are less at risk of having their jobs automated, a technology trend that has worsened the economic prospects of workers in many other industries. 

Findings: There is a positive link between creative industries clustering and a location's propensity to vote Remain

The chart below plots “creative industries clustering” (the relative importance of creative industries businesses in the local economy compared to the UK average) in the horizontal axis, and an area’s “Remain Propensity” (total of population voting remain over total voting leave) in the vertical axis.[1]

A score above 1 in creative clustering indicates that an area is relatively specialised in the creative industries. A score above 1 in Remain propensity indicates that more people in the area voted to Remain in the EU than to leave.[2]


Juan Mateos-Garcia

Juan Mateos-Garcia

Juan Mateos-Garcia

Director of Data Analytics Practice

Juan Mateos-Garcia was the Director of Data Analytics at Nesta.

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