Regardless of our leaders, each generation seems to fall under an old adage. Photo: Getty.
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You are probably becoming more conservative

New research suggests we are defined by the political events we experience between 14 and 24. But they may only shape us so much – voters appear to drift to the right over time.

"I’ll always hate the Tory party. The only problem now is that I hate Labour too."

This recent confession by James Bradfield – frontman of the Manic Street Preachers, one of Britain’s biggest bands in the 1990s – has highlighted how we choose our political identities.

Most people choose a political side. Bradfield’s irritation came from no longer having one to support. “I hate the idea there’s no one left to vote for”, he said, referring to Russell Brand’s ambitious polemic from the autumn.

Some voters may feel a similar despair, but most are likely to have already chosen their team in next year’s general election. Two-thirds of voters had already done so before the election campaign started in 2010.

And it appears that around a third of voters will never vote for a particular political party.

Many of us clearly form set political identities. We define ourselves by being for or against a particular party, who we take as best or worst representating our idea of how to run a country.

But when does this happen? Research published this week by the New York Times has shed light on the issue.

They suggest we are defined by what happens to us between 14 and 24. Events do not affect us evenly throughout our lives. By our mid-20s we have already been affected by our most formative political moments.

Things that happen at 18 have three times the impact than those we experience at 40. We become almost impervious to new information or ideas in our mid-40s, and although we register a little more in our 50s, we are still less affected by events then than when we were 10.

We are, therefore, shaped by the administrations we grow up with far more than those we work under. The views of the next generation can often be heard in the cries of their bands – as the Manic Street Preachers once represented for some of those formed under Thatcher.

But the legacy of Thatcher – and any specific political event – may not be quite as impactful as it appears. People seem to move to the right over time regardless of the individual experiences of their generation.

Those formed by the Thatcher years were born in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They are the generation now reaching their early 40s and winning positions of influence in many fields. 

And yet, despite Thatcher’s cultural unpopularity, that generation does not appear to be especially left-wing.

They are half as left-wing as today’s 18-24 year olds, who were shaped under New Labour and might have been expected to react against what became a stumbling government.

66 per cent of 18-24 year olds support Labour, the Greens or the Lib Dems, while just 27 per cent support the Tories or UKIP. In comparison, 58 per cent of those over 60 support the latter - the traditionally right-wing parties - with just 40 per cent of them supporting the more left-wing parties favoured by younger voters.

The Times' data suggests that generations become more conservative. Baby boomers, those now aged between 49 and 68, have largely moved to the right including those who, thanks to JFK and the Democratic dominance of the decade, were well to the left in the 1960s.

The generation shaped by Thatcher also appear to have moved away from the well-documented discontent of the 1980s.

Specific political events may partly shape each generation, but they seem to come up against an immutable fact: most of us start on the left and drift to the right. 

 


[1] The age breakdowns come from averaging YouGov's two most recent Sunday Times and two most recent mid-week Sun polls. 

 

This is a preview of May2015.com, an affiliated site launching later this year. You can find us on Twitter.

 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism