Not just self-selection or self-interest - taking education seriously in the study of political behaviour

In seeking to understand the motivations of voters in the EU referendum it is now clear that the ‘education’ effect (whereby those with degrees are much more likely that those without to have voted ‘remain’) was one of the strongest influences on individual voting behaviour in the referendum. At the same time education, rather than income or social class, anchors the ‘new’ or ‘other’ dimension of British politics with those with degrees substantially more liberal than those without. In 2017, the Labour party drew support from a higher proportion of graduates than from those with low levels of educational qualifications. Some have suggested that this may represent a new cleavage in electoral politics but exactly how education and values are connected remains poorly understood. This paper uses data from the 1970 Birth Cohort Study to understand the developing connection between education and values across the life course and the British Election Study to explore how values connect education to voting. The paper will argue that to understand these connections we need to take education seriously and unpack the experience of education as well as its outcomes.