A new electoral map? Brexit, realignment and the changing geography of party support in England

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Critical elections theory has linked fundamental changes in electoral geography to realignment. In the UK there has been much debate over whether Britain is going through a period of realignment and the extent to which this can be attributed to Brexit. In this paper we assess how far the 2016 EU referendum has contributed to creating a new electoral geography. The 2019 UK General Election was characterised by far-reaching changes to geographical patterns of support for the major parties, with Labour losing many of its ‘red-wall’ seats to the Conservatives, especially those which voted strongly for Brexit. Meanwhile, Labour strengthened its position in the Remain-leaning metropolitan heartlands. We provide a detailed examination of how the geography of support for the ruling Conservative Party changed over-time, before and after the referendum, and the extent to which the new electoral map reflects the geography of Brexit. We find that geographical patterns of party alignment did change abruptly after the 2016 referendum, a pattern which is not consistent with the gradually evolving electoral geography. Moreover, the changes appear to be driven almost entirely by the electoral sorting of voters on either side of the Brexit divide. This suggests that the Brexit electoral shock was a major contributing factor to the reshaping of England's electoral geography.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102862
JournalPolitical Geography
Early online date8 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


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