Membership of the British National Party (BNP) is higher where whites and non-whites live separately in segregated areas, research has found.
Oxford University academics used the BNP database posted on WikiLeaks that contained 12,000 members' details and then matched them with census data on more than 200,000 neighbourhoods in Britain to make the findings.
Whites are more likely to belong to the BNP in a highly-segregated city like Bradford where just under a quarter (22%) of the population is non-white, compared to a well-integrated area like Brent in London where over half (55%) of the population is non-white, they found.
The research discovered that whites are less likely to belong to the BNP where they had a substantial proportion of non-white neighbours. When the non-white category was divided into ethnic groups, BNP support was higher in towns and cities where British Asians lived rather than Black British. When religion was analysed, BNP membership responded primarily to Muslim communities.
BNP membership was found to be higher in areas with lower education levels and with more self-employed people and small business owners. Membership was also higher where people live in overcrowded housing and rented from private landlords, rather than owning their own properties or living in council houses. White people were also more likely to belong to the BNP in Labour constituencies, the research claimed.
Whites might perceive a political threat from concentrated non-white communities, with Labour being perceived as favouring minorities, the researchers said.
Dr Michael Biggs, a sociologist at the University of Oxford, carried out the research with a graduate student, Steve Knauss. Dr Biggs suggested that some white people felt threatened by segregated minority communities. Close contact among neighbours, however, broke down racial prejudice. The research, surprisingly, found that higher unemployment actually reduced the probability of BNP membership. This finding suggested that economic competition is less of a threat than cultural difference when people decided to join the party.
"The BNP thrives where the non-white, particularly South Asian or Muslim, population is large, but only if this population is also highly segregated," Dr Biggs explained. "Segregation means that white British people are less likely to have contact with non-whites beyond the immediate neighbourhood. It also creates a greater sense of cultural or even political threat."
Within Britain, the BNP's heartlands were the Pennines, Leicestershire and Essex, the data found.
The researchers noted that BNP voters were not always concentrated in the same areas as its members. The membership database revealed significant levels of support for the party in Wales and even in Scotland, which was not apparent in voting figures. Therefore, membership would not necessarily translate into electoral success.
Support for the BNP has grown ten-fold in the past decade. In 2001, it won 47,000 votes at the general election, the paper said. In 2010, it won over half a million (563,000) votes.
The researchers' paper, called Explaining Membership In The British National Party: A Multilevel Analysis Of Contact And Threat, will be presented at the British Sociological Association conference in London today, and will be published online this month by the European Sociological Review.