The 2017 election was a triumph of age over class

by Trevor Fisher

The 2017 UK election threw up data suggesting that age is more important than class in voting in Westminster elections. While there is still a class element, the big issue was that the older a voter was the more likely to vote Tory*. The youth surge, though still unexplained, particularly in the university towns, is sufficiently important to panic the Tories into considering modifying tuition fees according to the Mail on Sunday of 2nd July.

As I said in my blog on voter registration, published on Labour Uncut and on the ProgPol site, “for the future, the bias in the system has to be tackled. For the future, its voter registration, Stupid!” What won the first Clinton election victory was famously the economy. For the UK, the ability to get the young to register and vote, which will have to be repeated constantly as ‘youth’s a stuff will not endure’, must be woven into the DNA of progressive activity.

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.

As the old are therefore willing to vote in larger numbers and for the Tories thus there is a bias to the Tories but this moved in Labour’s favour in 2017 – the tipping point was age 47 – it had previously been 34 according to YouGov, presumably on 2015 data.  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 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.

Whether the return to 2 party politics in June 2017 continues is an unknown: we can only look at the current data.

This shows that the 4m UKIP votes of 2015 split largely between the 2 main parties with Tories appearing to benefit more than Labour. 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.

Registration is key to participation, and this is also age-related. The figures produced by the pollsters  only show those who voted. Old people do not move and use postal votes, which can be organised and give a high participation figure. Younger people, especially 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 5m 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 if it makes a comeback, not unlikely). The old appear to be Brexiteers and it was the postal votes that lost the plebiscite over the EU in 2016.

Auditing constituencies to discover where the unregistered live is a democratic issue. However the Tories have little reason to respond to a situation which benefits them.  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.

However rented accommodation, one of the big changes that New Labour pushed through and as problematic as voter registration as such, is now becoming a hot spot for non-registration. In one ward in Leeds where 80% are renters, the participation rate almost cost Labour the seat – 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. But the Tories won’t change systems which work to make their electoral advantage more solid.

For the short term, the initiative will have to pass to progressives at constituency level for whom voter registration must become part of regular activity. The situation is different constituency by constituency, but there is no constituency where it is not a problem, making canvassing (Voter ID) increasingly irrelevant. Moreover, only 69% of people voted on June 8th and this is for those who managed to register. Counting in the estimated 5m people who did not register, it is clear that non-participation is a major issue for democracy and an unglamorous door-knocking routine will become as vital activity as voter registration was for the Civil Rights Movement in the USA in the 1960s.

*This is a relatively recent development. In 1979 after the Winter of Discontent 42% of 18-24s backed Margaret Thatcher at the ballot box. Industrial action was not popular.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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9 Responses to “The 2017 election was a triumph of age over class”

  1. Ex Labour says:

    Some observations from my daughter – a Uni student…

    1. The general increase in Labour’s ‘yoof vote’ was due to a snowball type effect – certainly within her Uni as a group of general protest began to form – anti austerity, anti government, anti Brexit, anti fracking etc, basically anyone who was anti-something united around Labour.

    2. Very few of the ‘anti-group’ understood the Labour position e.g. Corbyn is anti EU, they will not go against the public Brexit vote etc. They somehow mistook Corbyn’s jam tomorrow policies as aligning with their own, which was not necessarily the case.

    3. My daughter and many of her friends received 2 voter registration cards. One for her home constituency and one for her Uni constituency. They thought this was hilarious and chance to double vote Labour – hence a significant contribution to labour vote numbers.

    4. There were specific issues in other areas such as Sheffield Hallam where students were determined to oust Clegg following his volte face on tuition fees – so a bump there.

    There is another issue going forward. Labour generally have an inbuilt advantage based on current boundaries and if the Tories manage to get boundary change through before the next GE it could look different again. Also would the student masses back Labour again ?

  2. Eddie Clarke says:

    No point in appealing to the votin’ old baskets, then?

  3. Tafia says:

    I would suggest looking at hat,that Labour lost to the tories right across the working class spectrum.. The Tories won . C2, D & E – meaning that Labour is no longer the party of the worker. It is a middle class party – and that is nothing to be proud of in the slightest.

  4. John Wall says:

    @Ex Labour – I wondered if there might be an element of double voting amongst students which is, of course, an offence. Individual Electoral Registration – previously the head of the household was responsible – was supposed to reduce opportunities for that sort of thing. I presume your daughter had a postal vote for “home” and voted in person where she was studying?

    Generally, I wonder if the ‘yoof’ vote might be transitory, “I voted Labour in 2017 but I’m still paying tuition fees, stuff this for a game of soldiers”?

  5. john P reid says:

    even if the age group over 65 was the same as 18-24 and its not ,a lot more people in the older age gap, voted, maybe 80%

  6. Janine Edwards says:

    Young people don’t want Labour to be Tory-lite.

  7. Ex Labour says:

    @john Wall

    I think the double voter registration was less of an issue than the ‘anti’ brigade. Referencing my time as a student there was always some with a ’cause’ and in this GE they went towards labour presumably with some sense of solidarity with Corbyn – a professional protestor most of his career. I think this is transient as it seems a right of passage for students to rebel at something or other, irrespective of the facts.

  8. John P Reid says:

    What Tafia said, post Grenfell, the terror atacks the increase in stabbings, labour has adopted 3 working class concerns, before going back to Glastonbury,

    But they suited the marrtive, idiot wasblue collar workingclass,patriots,who had suffered sueto Tory cuts not inner city kids stabbing each other, then labour wouldn’t care about socially conservative wo king class people’s concerns,

    There will be a middle class, sympathy issue soon, where, the attitude of the guardian readers, canshoe how outraged they are,those Tories dontcare about, student dent, or the oppressiveness, of the snoopers charter,

  9. James says:

    So when these students leave university and can’t get a decent job in relation to the debt that have, are spending the majority of their income on rent and see their public services (which they use) in decline, they are gonna switch and vote Tory. Please. This is clearly absurd. I know half this site is horrified that the tories didn’t win a huge majority at the last election and are on secondment from Conservative Home but you will have to come up with valid theories rather than fairy tales.

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