Rationale: A cultural divide may exist between a set of people who accept and a set of people who reject the advice of experts. This cultural divide may have important consequences and policy implications, especially in times of severe crisis. Objective: Ecological study of whether there exists a significant conditional correlation between two variables that appear unrelated except for attitude towards experts: (1) Proportion of people voting in favour of remaining in the European Union in 2016 and (2) COVID-19 outcomes measured by death rates and vaccination rates. A significant conditional correlation would indicate that polarized beliefs have important consequences across a broad spectrum of societal challenges. Methods: This study uses simple descriptive statistics and multiple linear regression, considering confounders suggested in the related literature, with data at the District level in England. Results: Districts where people voted most heavily in favour of remaining in the EU (top quintile) had nearly half the death rate of districts in the bottom quintile. This relationship was stronger after the first wave, which was a time when protective measures were communicated to the public by experts. A similar relationship was observed with the decision to get vaccinated, and results were strongest for the booster dose, which was the dose that was not mandatory, but highly advised by experts. The Brexit vote is the variable most correlated with COVID-19 outcomes among many variables including common proxies for trust and civic capital or differences in industry composition across Districts. Conclusions: Our results suggest a need for designing incentive schemes that take into consideration different belief systems. Scientific prowess – such as finding effective vaccines – may not be sufficient to solve crises.

Cite as

Phalippou, L. & Wu, B. 2023, 'The association between the proportion of Brexiters and COVID-19 death rates in England', Social Science & Medicine, article no: 115826. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.115826

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Last updated: 15 March 2023
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