29 OCT 2018

How "overwhelming" was our Referendum vote?

The vote to leave the EU was a national vote as is the way of all referenda. Votes are cast in the usual counting areas and then pooled for an overall result. Neither the voting nor the counting areas were parliamentary constituencies. They were based on local government areas which in our case was the area covered by South Oxfordshire District Council. In the shockwaves that have been felt among those who voted to remain in the EU, some have tried to get breakdowns of the vote in a range of different ways. I cannot see the merit of this as it does nothing to change the outcome of the vote or add anything constructive to negotiations. The important thing to me is to recognise that a large number of people, like me, voted to remain but that we must now do all we can to get a good and fair deal.

However, mindful that some people are quoting various statistical analyses to try to get to a result constituency by constituency, I have looked at the analysis conducted.

Up until recently, the only source of information on constituency votes was a statistical analysis undertaken through the University of East Anglia. The BBC has tried to obtain data based on individual wards and was successful only in about a quarter of constituencies. The Henley constituency was not one of them. Electoral returning officers are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation and many councils mixed all ballot boxes before counting. The only ward disclosed by SODC was one which showed a large percentage of people who wanted to Leave. The BBC figure for South Oxfordshire as a whole was 54.9% Remain.

We are, therefore, forced back to the University of East Anglia data which suggests that the Remain percentage in the Henley constituency was 56.9%. However, as the House of Commons Library have made clear these figures are only "an indirect way of estimating what the results by constituency may have been. The actual results at constituency level may have been different."

That difference comes about from the fact that the "model was built by first examining the relationship between the demographic characteristics of local authorities and their referendum results, and then estimating what the results may have been within each constituency given its demographic characteristics."

 Analysis of the known data compared with the work done in East Anglia has led to questions over the reliability of the university data. In Birmingham, for example, it over-estimated the Leave percentage by close to 10% and 24 constituencies had a difference of 3% or more. Six constituencies had their result outcome under this model swapped. Four constituencies had been estimated to have voted remain when they voted leave while 2 constituencies had been estimated to have voted leave when they voted to remain.

This assessment suggests that such manipulation of the referendum data is not reliable and I have to wonder why such effort is put in to it. We had a national vote and the result is an overall result. No amount of playing with the data can change that.

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