To leave or not to leave? Understanding the support for the United Kingdom membership in the European Union: identity, attitudes towards the political system and socio-economic status

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

August 1, 2020


This article proposes a decision model of the British support for leaving the European Union (EU) that includes both identity aspirations, attitudes towards the political system and economic interest and test it on the Understanding Society 6th, 7th and 8th surveys. Current studies tend to interpret the British Euroscepticism as a combination of attachment to British identity, lack of economic opportunities and dissatisfaction with the political class. Using this approach where factors are additive, it is not possible to account for the substantial portion of socio-economically advantaged individuals which prefer to leave the EU, and for those who, despite their low attachment to their British identity, the relatively high educational level and satisfaction with domestic democracy, prefer to leave the EU. I use a theoretical approach which considers both economic and cultural considerations as rational considerations and conceptualise their interaction in terms of trade off. I use classification tree analysis to evaluate the relative importance of the main explanatory factors and of their interaction. The results show that the negative evaluation of the political system makes certain groups, which otherwise tend to support European integration, lean towards Euroscepticism. It helps to explain the Euroscepticism of those who are less attached to their British identity and of advantaged classes. The results have also showed that anti-establishment attitudes are not associated with disadvantaged socio-economic groups. The dissatisfaction with domestic democracy is relevant mostly for the advantaged classes, and the lack of political efficacy affects equally the attitudes of advantaged and disadvantaged groups. Last, disadvantaged groups’ support for European integration is driven by identity aspirations not by economic interest.

Published in

Rationality and Society

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 32 , p.255 -277






Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (



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