Labour, not the Conservatives, was the largest party among low-income workers in 2019

The Tories owe their large majority to support from retired voters, not working-age ones.

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Contrary to numerous post-election narratives, most low-income voters of working age supported Labour at the 2019 general election, not the Conservatives. 

Data from the British Election Study’s 20th Wave, flagged in a tweet-thread by analyst and Hammersmith Labour councillor Christabel Cooper, shows how those on low incomes in general voted Conservative in 2019. But these figures included those out of work and, most importantly, retirees. As Cooper highlights, when the retired are excluded, the figures for working people on low and mid-level incomes are markedly different.

Retired voters gave the Conservatives their majority in 2019
Data from the British Election Study, Wave 20, asking respondents to recall their vote in the 2019 general election

To take one example, when looking at support in 2019 among households that earn £20,000 to 25,000 a year, the data shows that 44 per cent voted Conservative and 39 per cent voted Labour. This is less than the gap between the parties among all voters, but when retirees are omitted, the numbers are dramatically reversed, with Labour on 47 per cent and the Conservatives on 35 per cent. 

Retired households with low incomes were the primary driver of Tory gains in 2019
Data from the British Election Study, Wave 20

This discrepancy is impressive. It illustrates one of the more established dividing lines in the UK: between the retired and working-age voters. But it should be noted that Labour’s 47 per cent share was 7 percentage points lower than at the 2017 general election – a similar swing to that across the country.

Among working households earning £25,000 to £30,000, the collapse in support compared to 2017 is even more pronounced at 12 points. The Tories’ vote share, by contrast, rose by 3 percentage points among this demographic.

Labour’s fall from grace among low-income voters is more complicated than it first appeared. Among those in work it is still the largest party, but experienced significant losses when compared to 2017.

Among low-income retirees, however, Labour has little presence. This data point should not be viewed with equanimity by Labour, or dismissed as old people doing as they have always done. Many key constituencies and battleground regions include a growing share of older voters, in line with the rest of the country. 

As is becoming increasingly apparent, elections cannot be won without sizeable representation among Britain’s old.

 Ben Walker is a data journalist at the New Statesman

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