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23 June 2023

Millennials are breaking the oldest rule in the political book

They’re not turning Tory.

By Ben Walker

Older people (those over the age of 65) currently make up 31 per cent of the electorate. By 2080, that will rise to 45 per cent. Younger voters (18-24-year-olds), meanwhile, will by then constitute just 6 per cent of all voters.

This would normally mean that by 2040 there would be a touch under two million extra Conservative voters on 2019, and just one million extra for Labour, as voters tend to age into conservatism. Net benefit to the Tories. But is it right to assume more older voters means more Conservative voters?

Maybe. Or maybe not. First, I direct you to work by John Burn-Murdoch in the Financial Times and Andrew Marr in the New Statesman, who record that millennials are defying one of the oldest assumptions in politics: they are not ageing into conservatism. Millennials are 10 points less Conservative than their Gen X and boomer counterparts at the same age. By the time they turn 60, there won’t be one million more Tories net. In fact, the net gain might prove vanishingly small, if it exists at all.

One of the most important shifts in the 2017 general election was in both the registration and turnout of younger voters, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. While ageing homeowners are consistently high-turnout voters, renters are not. In 2017, the turnout jump that helped Corbyn outperform expectations came from both renters and 25-34-year-olds – two groups that traditionally turn out less.

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Generally, older voters vote. That’s already baked into the millennial-ageing equation. We don’t know how elderly millennials will swing to Conservatives when they’re in their sixties, but we can be sure of this: it won’t be the same as past generations. The assumption that more old people means more Tories ten years down the line is not guaranteed. It’s more complicated than that. It’s a new unknown, both exciting and terrifying.

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