There are certainly similarities between the referendum and the campaign. Both are largely driven by immigration – the Brexit supporters tried to slow the massive influx of Syrian refugees, and the Trump supporters have antagonist attitudes toward both Hispanic and Muslim immigrants. Both are nationalist movements. Both are an instance of the will of the people going against the wishes of the elite – the British against their Parliament and the Republicans against their party leaders.
And their demographic support looks quite similar too. According to their poll numbers, Brexit and Trump supporters both tend to be male, older, conservative, and less educated compared to their opponents.
But that leads to the natural question: what can the Brexit results tell us about the presidential election? If Brexit won when it was expected to fail, could Trump do the same?
Fortunately or unfortunately, the result can’t tell us a lot. It doesn’t mean Trump can win here, but it also doesn’t mean he can’t. Largely at issue here is demographics.
The British electorate is overwhelmingly white – 87 percent of its population is, according to its 2011 census. That’s compared to the United States’ 74 percent in 2014. That difference is significant for what direction each country votes.
Just like more minority-dense areas in the United States, like cities, tend to vote Democrat, minority-dense areas in the United Kingdom tended to vote to stay in the EU. In London, where 60 percent of citizens are non-white according to the 2011 Census, 60 percent of votes went against Brexit, compared to 48 percent nationwide.
It’s hard to say whether, as a rule, nativist movements tend to happen in more or less diverse areas. The movements tend to be spurred by an increase in diversity – like an influx of refugees or illegal immigrants – yet seem to be dampened in areas, like cities, where people are already used to seeing a broad spectrum of faces.
Neither Brexit nor Trump have deviated from this pattern, so it’s far-fetched to say Brexit’s success changes what we know and makes Trump seem inevitable. And since the U.S. is far more diverse than the U.K., Brexit’s predictive power is even weaker.
YouGov, one of the primary British polling firms covering the Brexit referendum, said its prediction of defeat was incorrect because turnout in pro-Brexit areas was higher than expected. So rather than taking this as evidence of victory, maybe Trump supporters should get out the vote.