The Generation Gap at the June General Election

The 2017 UK election threw up data indicating  that Age is more important than Class in voting in Westminster elections. The big issue was that the older a voter was the more likely to vote Tory*. The youth surge was real, with 2/3 of first time voters voting Labour. Its  not clear if this is a long term shift – in 1979 42% of first time voters went Tory, youth is not always radical. Student debt was a big issue in university towns, but now Labour has clarified it will not automatically wipe it out may not be a motivator. This age  distribution of voters makes appeals on the basis of age the most important factor at elections in England and Wales. How do progressives deal with this?

  The Role of Age and Class in Voting in Britain 

The YouGov poll after the election (fieldwork 9-13th June, sample over 50,000) (TABLE 1) showed that both the turnout to vote and willingness to Vote Tory increased with age, two thirds of first time voters voting Labour in 2017, but only 19% of over seventies. First time voters were least likely to vote, over seventies the most likely to vote – a stable population able to use postal votes which have now become an alternative way to vote.  TABLE 2 emphasises that class is no longer the key determinant of voting. How this is broken down geographically has yet to be established.

Table 1

Age % age per party Turnout
Tory Other Lab
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84

Table 2

Age % age per party Turnout
Tory Other Lab
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84

The Old are voting for the Tories thus there is a bias to the Tories but this has slipped in Labour’s favour in 2017 – the tipping point was age 47 – it had previously been 34 according to YouGove.  A key issue is to maintain and improve the role of youth in future elections which cannot have much to do with the call by Ed Miliband and others for a voting age of 16. There is no reason to think youth will always vote centre left, and the policy agenda is key to this happening. Another key issue is why the over 60s vote Tory.

The Liberals failed to recover from the Coalition, and their future depends in part on whether the Remain position favoured by the young becomes a viable issue. The politics of Brexit was not an issue at the 2017 election but Labour’s de -facto pro Brexit position is likely to become relevant if it becomes better known to the Glastonbury generation.

Who votes – an age related issue – signing up

The voting figures are not the whole picture, as there is a big issue of people not being registered to vote – and this too is age related. With a very mobile young population, many do not register and as we are now being told, students can register twice, though they can only vote once. It is now clear that millions of people do not get to vote – and if some did vote twice, students being the culprit, it is unacceptable and illegal but only part of a bigger problem created by New Labour’s change to individual registration. The figures produced by the pollsters  only show those who were registered. Old people do not move and use postal votes, which can be organised and give a high participation figure. Younger people esp students and renters tend to move.

The Independent  of 22nd May, registration deadline day, said that 7m people had been unregistered, but 2m did so on registrations day leaving 5m unregistered. If there were five million unregistered people and this has to be checked, then the task tracking and registering students and renters, to ensure that they have the chance to vote is crucial to any progressive movement. Assuming that the older people are registered as they are a  more stable population, then there is a built in bias in the system to the Tories (and UKIP which  had an elderly core vote). This is a democratic and political issue. The old appear to be Brexiteers and it was the postal votes that lost the Plebiscite over the EU in 2016.

The issues are not merely students, who are always transient but can be tracked through student unions and university processes, but renters.  The Independent on 22nd May – Registration Day –  suggested 30% of students were not listed but this was almost equalled in the rented sector, 28% of renters  not being registered. Those who live in rented accomodation, often live in hot spots for non-registration. In one ward in Leeds where 80%  are renters, the participation rate almost cost Labour the seat – so few people were eligible to vote. So getting people’s details so if they move house they can come back to vote will be crucial to future results.

After the June election the ability of students to vote is likely to be increasingly controversial, with the ability to vote at home or in the university seat clearly becoming one of the unknown factors in outcomes. Long term, changes in the registration system are needed plus how we vote will be essential. If students have two places to vote at, they will have to make a choice and this has to be checkable. But also there has to be  reconsideration of postal voting. There is a strong suggestion one reason for the Tories getting more elderly voters is the use of postal voting. This is OK where this registers a real preference…. but who checks on the valdity of the voting papers? Multiple voting by students is unacceptable, but it is the tip of the iceberg of manipulation.

This will become increasingly important as the row over students voting more than once develops. It is illegal and cannot be defended. But there can be checks on students voting in two places on the same day, and right so. But how can the carers voting for the elderly – or community activists ‘helping’ fill in forms be checked?

Trevor Fisher

August 2017

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