Long term support for the Tories in decline – or is it? Part II

An Ipsos-Mori poll suggests that Generation Y is more economically liberal than previous ones. Part I looked at this claim and Part II will speculate on the causes of this.

Part I summary: the two-party state declined considerably between 1945-2010, much of it at the expense of the Conservative party. Are the Conservatives in long term decline? A recent Ipsos-Mori research project into generational divides suggests that support for the Conservative’s is higher amongst Generation Y than previous generations. What have been the causes of this?

One of the most fiercely contested areas of David Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ of the Conservative party was over gay marriage. Cameron publically apologised for supporting homophobic legislation, such as Section 28, earlier in his career and promised to pass gay marriage if he became Prime Minister. The coalition agreement proposed gay marriage as a point of agreement between the two parties. Since then, Cameron has had to fight internal party critics for continuing to support gay marriage against the wishes of many within his party. One of the political motivations for passing gay marriage (due to the fact that it did little to change the lives of gay people due to the fact that civil partnerships had been created) was that support for gay marriage is substantially higher amongst the younger generation. Could support for gay marriage be a contributing factor to the increase in Conservative support amongst Generation Y? It seems unlikely that many people would switch to the Conservative because of gay marriage due to the fact that the Liberal Democrats and Labour party also support gay marriage. Support for gay marriage could also be a factor that has led to a decrease in Conservative support amongst the older generations as voters switch to UKIP. Nevertheless, supporting gay marriage could well be a factor in preventing many people from Generation Y from not supporting the Conservative party.


One of the most notable and consistent trends in recent polling is an increase in economic, as well as social, liberalism. Ipsos-Mori’s recent mega-poll is no exception. It shows that all generations are decreasingly supportive of higher taxes to fund a larger welfare state. However, on top of this common trend, support for a larger welfare state is lower with every generation. Generation Y is no exception, and members of Generation Y are the least likely to support higher taxes to fund a larger welfare state. Moreover, Generation Y are the least likely to express pride in the welfare state by a considerable degree (with a majority expressing ambivalence) and the least likely to believe that the government should be responsible for paying for elderly residential care. This suggests that Generation Y is likely to be more receptive to the Conservative’s recent welfare reforms. This is certainly a good explanation for why Generation Y is the only generation in which Conservative support has continued to grow since the Coalition was formed.

Altogether, this points to a generation that is more individualist than previous ones. The Conservative message of individual responsibility rather than looking towards the state resonates more with Generation Y. Nevertheless, the fact that the majority of Generation Y neither agree nor disagree with the idea that the welfare state is one of Britain’s proudest achievements suggests that Generation are pragmatic and unattached to ideology rather than actively anti-statist libertarians. Nevertheless, it should be a relief for economic liberals that the suggestion that the state should operate corporations, such as coal or steel, no longer even comes up on the political radar of all but the most far left of Generation Y.

However, it could also be argued that Conservative support remains surprisingly low considering how economically liberal Generation Y are. A large portion of Generation Y are Conservative, they just don’t know it. The answer is in my opinion simple (and has implications for the future ): much of Generation Y grew up under the Thatcher and Major governments and thus perceive them as the party of austerity. This only applies to the eldest of Generation Y though (who are now in their early 30’s), thus when the members of Generation Y who did not grow up under Conservative government’s became eligible to vote (in the latter days of Gordon Brown’s government up until the present) their perception of the Conservative party was less toxic. This is only a postulation though, and more precise polling of the difference in voting intention of different ages within Generation Y would be needed before confirming or denying this hypothesis.

So what of the future? You’ll have to wait for Part III to find out!

Will Archdeacon


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