Six Degrees of UKIP – the link between university qualifications and voting intention

According to the analysts at, who have analysed bookmaker’s odds for each seat in the upcoming General Election, there are seventeen constituencies where UKIP have a 25% or greater chance of winning election to the House of Commons. These include the two seats that they are defending; Clacton, and Rochester and Strood. Also on the list are a number of seats in Kent and Essex, including the seat Nigel Farage is targeting of Thanet South, as well as a couple of seats in the West Midlands and a seat in Cornwall; Camborne and Redruth.

I wanted to see what stood these constituencies apart in terms of their demographic makeup, to see if there are other potential UKIP targets that the bookmakers have missed. I took these constituencies and looked at a range of data from the 2011 census to see what differentiated them from other constituencies, where the bookmakers don’t believe that they pose a credible threat.

Considering that UKIP have placed immigration at the heart of their manifesto, it is perhaps ironic that the areas where they are strongest are amongst the areas in the UK with the lowest levels of immigration. The average percentage, in England and Wales, of people born in the 2004 EU accession countries (Poland, Lithuania, etc.), Asia, the Middle East, Africa or the Caribbean is 9.2%. In the seventeen seats where the bookies make UKIP competitive, the average number of immigrants from these areas is 4.6% (4.1% if the outlier, Thurrock, is excluded). It is apparent that concern over immigration appears to be strongest in areas where immigration is the lowest.

Another demographic factor that indicates propensity to vote UKIP is unemployment, or economic inactivity. Economic inactivity will be closely related to age, which is another indicator of UKIP-propensity. Across England and Wales, the average level of combined unemployment and economic inactivity is 29.2%; in the UKIP-leaning seats, this rises to 34%. UKIP favouring areas are also more working class than the national average. The average number of those in the C2, D, or E NRS social grades in England and Wales by constituency is 46.8%, whilst in the seventeen UKIP targets this rises to 56.4%.

So whilst country of birth, economic activity, age and class are all signs that a seat may be a potential UKIP target, there is one demographic factor that trumps them all; education, or specifically, the percentage of the adult population that holds an undergraduate degree or higher. The UKIP leaning seats have, on average, 17.8% of the population with a degree, as opposed to the national average of 25.4%. Of the 18 constituencies in England and Wales with the lowest number of degree holders, six of these are on the list that could go to UKIP according to the bookies.

In this election, there has been a range of polling carried out a constituency level. Nationwide polling was a useful way of gauging the electoral weather when the British electoral system was a two-party system (with a few token Liberals and Nationalists). Now, with the rise of UKIP and the Greens, combined with the Liberal Democrat’s highly localized tenacity in holding on to support in defiance of the national trend, there is more of a focus on the fact that the election is 650 first-past-the-post contests, and not a nationwide election between Labour and the Conservatives.

I took the results of 78 local polls, primarily the results of polls commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, but including other pollsters too. I then plotted the forecast UKIP share in each constituency on the y-axis, and the percentage of adults who hold a degree on the x-axis. There is a surprisingly strong trend.

Degrees v UKIP

There is a clear relationship between the number of people in a constituency holding a degree, and the numbers that UKIP have polled in constituency polls over the last year. There are, of course, a number of outliers; the dot with UKIP numbers of nearly 50% is Clacton, where UKIP have a sitting MP. There are also a number of constituencies where UKIP poll a lot less strongly than the number of degree holders would indicate, such as Bradford East, which has high levels of immigration. UKIP support has fluctuated throughout the year, but it is apparent that UKIP support is concentrated in areas with both low immigration and low levels of those with degrees.

So, are there any other constituencies which fit the profile of a potential UKIP target, but the constituency pollsters and the bookies have both missed? Setting a filter of immigration levels less than average of 9.2%, and the percentage of degree holders less than the 18% level which the curve would indicate that they could be competitive at, leaves 52 seats where UKIP could be competitive. These include Plymouth Moor View, where an Ashcroft poll put UKIP neck and neck with Labour, Rother Valley, and intriguingly the Doncaster North seat of the Labour leader, Ed Miliband (of course, Mr Miliband is likely to have a high personal vote, and isn’t really at risk).

Whilst it is unlikely that Mr Farage’s party will net anything in May much more than the seven seats where the bookmakers rate UKIP a 50% chance or higher, it is very possible that they could net over 100 second place finishes, and set themselves up for a run at the Westminster seat in the following election. Many sitting MPs, in both historic Conservative and Labour heartlands, will be feeling very nervous in 59 days’ time.

All data used in this analysis can be found in a Google spreadsheet here.

A qualified accountant and data analyst, interested in politics, economics and data. Twitter: @peterdonaghy

  • David Crookes

    Once again, Salmon, many thanks for a fascinating article.

  • Kel

    Having a smaller amount of immigration in an area does not mean that that area doesn’t feel the affects of it, nor does it mean that the local population don’t see it. One thing your article does show me however is that I am NOT a typical UKIP supporter if your breakdown is correct. The party has a much wider appeal than this article suggests.

  • Dan

    Salmon of data, aka Emily Thornberry

  • Korhomme

    Fascinating, but I’m slightly confused. You refer to ‘seven’ seats at the start, then ‘In the seventeen seats where the bookies make UKIP competitive’ in the third paragraph. A difference between 25% likely, and ‘competitive’, or a typo?

  • salmonofdata

    D’oh! Typo – fixed now, thanks.

  • Reader

    Salmon Of Data: So, are there any other constituencies which fit the profile of a potential UKIP target, but the constituency pollsters and the bookies have both missed? Setting a filter of immigration levels less than average of 9.2%, and the percentage of degree holders less than the 18% level which the curve would indicate that they could be competitive at, leaves 52 seats where UKIP could be competitive.
    Does that make West Belfast a UKIP target? How about East Belfast? Or, to put it another way, who are the local equivalents of UKIP?

  • Mike Adie

    I’m not a typical UKIP supporter either…far from it…I wonder who exactly gets polled in areas of high migration density ? The unskilled, badly educated , lazy, racist indigenous British citizen? Or the Phd holding,super skilled vital cog in the economic miracle only available from E.Europe or the Indian sub continent via the axle of an HGV from Calais ?

  • LordFarquaad

    While I imagine there is a legitimate link between level of education and propensity to vote UKIP, I imagine the link is a complex one.

    Social mobility, income levels, job security, proximity of family, traditional values, received wisdoms of social group and peer pressure are all likely factors behind the correlation, not to mention other factors like what kind of environment one chooses to live in, and an accurate and sympathetic assessment of a seat’s likely voting patterns would therefore seek more complex data points rather than more reductionist ones.

    But we all know that at the heart of the left’s (and therefore most of the academic community’s) assumptions are the simple equation:

    UKIP don’t like internationalism = UKIP are bigots = UKIP are stupid = UKIP voters are stupid = UKIP voters are uneducated and working class = UKIP smells.

  • dave_moon

    I don’t know why you think it so strange that areas of low immigration are more favourable to UKIP. Generally, immigrants vote Labour. Labour is primarily the party most attractive to immigrants. There are areas which used to be low immigration which are now high immigration – especially in cities. The indigenous peoples of ‘low immigration areas’ do not want them to change do they. Makes sense!

  • Gingray

    Excellent work salmon – do you only publish on slugger or do you have your own website?

  • Gingray

    dave_moon, interestingly the BNP did well in areas with more immigrants, specifically from pakistan. What salmon has shown here is that UKIP are not picking up much of that vote, and indeed in local areas where immigration is having an actual impact on public services (GPs, education, social cohesion etc) UKIP tend to poll poorer than average.

  • Gingray

    Exactly Anon, that makes sense, what I find strange is that following the BNP collapse, why has UKIP not made any headway in those areas?

  • It would be interesting to see the age profile of these constituencies. I would imagine that the average voter is significantly older than the national average. OLder people are much more likely to have something to hold on to or to lose. For this reason they are more likely to vote centre right. Also, older people are less likely to have gone to uni than the well educated, generation rent, whose lack of a proper stake in the nation’s wealth makes them more likely to vote on the left.

  • Practically_Family

    Young people are more likely to swallow “moon on a stick” balderdash though…

  • politikalme

    next you’ll be publishing some research on areas with the most crime vs ethnic minority population… nah, didn’t think so

  • salmonofdata

    Thanks, I also blog occasionally on but have not had time to update it much recently.

  • Pasty2012

    DUP have indicated to the voters in North of Ireland that they will insist on all references to “GB” being replaced with “UK” as one of their demands to provide backing for a Government at Westminster, along with additional money from the English towards the Stormont budget. At the Giants Causeway there is a taped broadcast that claims the causeway and the World was Created 6500 years ago – in line with the DUP/Free Presbyterian Church religious beliefs, and this taped claim of the World being Created only 6500years ago is to be broadcast at all National Heritage sites in the “UK”.
    No more “Team GB” then. The Important things in life being put first by David Cameron’s new coalition partners.