Towards a More Polarised Britain?

  • Jonathan WheatleyEmail author


In this chapter, I explore how patterns of political competition in Britain changed after the 2016 vote to leave the EU by comparing the ideological profiles of party voters in 2017 with those of party voters in 2015. The aim is to see whether party voters became more polarised after the EU referendum and, if so, along which dimension polarisation occurred. I go on to investigate whether the electorate as a whole became more polarised with respect to each dimension. I find that while groups of party voters became more polarised with respect to one another along the cultural dimension between 2015 and 2017, overall polarisation of the electorate as a whole, insofar as it occurred, was much more gradual. Another finding is that in Scotland the issue of independence became framed as an economic left–right issue after the 2014 independence referendum.


Polarisation Immigration Scottish independence referendum Vote choice 


  1. Clery, E., Curtice, J., & Harding, R. (2017). British Social Attitudes: The 34th Report. London: NatCen Social Research. Available online at:
  2. Hooghe, L., Marks, G., & Wilson, C. J. (2002). Does Left/Right Structure Party Positions on European Integration? Comparative Political Studies, 35(8), 965–989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Kriesi, H., Grande, E., Lachat, R., Dolezal, M., Bornschier, S., & Frey, T. (2006). Globalization and the Transformation of the National Political Space: Six European Countries Compared. European Journal of Political Research, 45(6), 921–956.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kriesi, H., Grande, E., Lachat, R., Dolezal, M., Bornschier, S., & Frey, T. (2008). West European Politics in the Age of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Lipset, S. M., & Rokkan, S. (1967). Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments: An Introduction. In S. M. Lipset & S. Rokkan (Eds.), Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives (pp. 1–64). New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  6. Phillips, D., Curtice, J., Phillips, M., & Perry, J. (Eds.). (2018). British Social Attitudes: The 35th Report. London: The National Centre for Social Research. Available online at:
  7. Wheatley, J., Carman, C., Mendez, F., & Mitchell, J. (2014). The Dimensionality of the Scottish Political Space: Results from an Experiment on the 2011 Holyrood Elections. Party Politics, 20(6), 864–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations