Populist referendum: Was 'Brexit' an expression of nativist and anti-elitist sentiment?

Evgeniia Iakhnis, Brian Rathbun, Jason Reifler, Thomas J. Scotto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Was the outcome of the United Kingdom’s ‘Brexit’ referendum to leave the European Union a visible and consequential manifestation of right-wing populism? After all, skepticism in the UK towards the EU predates the recent rise of European right wing populism. Original survey data show, however, that the interaction of nativist sentiment and anti-elitist attitudes, the cocktail of right-wing populism, led to widespread support for Brexit, even while controlling for other factors. Although hostility to immigrants was an important factor, nativists were particularly prone to vote ‘leave’; if they also did not trust political elites, a crucial element of populism. Further underscoring this explanation is the conditional effect of anti-elite sentiment. The relationship between anti-elite sentiment and support for leaving the EU only exists among those with high nativist sentiment; among those low in nativist sentiment, anti-elite feelings did not increase support for Brexit.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalResearch and Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2018


  • Brexit
  • populism
  • public opinion
  • referendum voting


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