An Ipsos-Mori poll suggests that Generation Y is more economically liberal than previous ones. Here I shall speculate about the implications this has on voting intention and policy.
Part 1 and 2 summary: A recent Ipsos-Mori research project into generational divides suggests that, due to a cultural shift, the youngest generation of voters are more receptive to Conservative policies than any other in history. Nevertheless, the Conservative party is as toxic amongst this generation as any other. What are the implications of this?
Whether the Baby boomers and Generation X were artificially likely to oppose the Conservatives, or whether Generation Y is artificially likely to support the Party, is mere semantics. Either way – Generation Y are more likely to hold Conservative views on major issues, such as the welfare state, than their parent’s generation. They are both more likely than their parents were at Generation Y’s age and more likely to hold them overall. As far as the welfare state is concerned, they may well be the least statist in British history. The future may well be Conservative then (libertarian even). Support amongst Generation Y has outstripped the Baby Boomer generation and Generation X and the unusually high support for the Tories amongst the under 33’s may well be the boost in support the Tories need to return from the wilderness.
The first implication of this concerns Cameron’s modernisation agenda: was it worth it? In particular, gay marriage has been a particularly controversial issue within the Conservative party. In the short term, socially liberal attitudes to gay marriage may well have decreased support for the Conservative party. Many Conservatives shifted to UKIP and the decision of many to do so was undoubtedly influenced by Cameron’s support for gay marriage. Nevertheless, Ipsos-Mori’s poll was unequivocal: every generation is becoming more accepting of homosexuality and none more so than Generation Y. A party that does not modernise and accept liberal laws regarding homosexuality will not survive in the long term. The Republican Party in the USA (which has not undergone similar modernisation over gay rights) has recently been warned by party analysts that support for gay marriage is seen as a ‘gateway issue’ for many younger voters, which strengthens Cameron’s decision to support gay marriage in the face of internal criticism.
The second implication concerns future welfare reform. Currently, the coalition is reforming the welfare state, claiming that their reforms will make the welfare state fairer and more efficient. The British public is broadly supportive of this (supporting measures such as capping the amount that can be claimed by a single household, and removing child benefit from wealthy families), though Generation Y is particularly in favour of these reforms. Moreover, the generation that is most in favour of a larger welfare state and is most proud of the welfare state (the pre-War generation) is increasingly shrinking as a proportion of the population. It therefore seems clear that either the population will shift increasingly towards the Conservatives or Labour will shift to the right on welfare reform. It is currently too early to tell which of these paths will happen due to the fact that it is highly dependent on decisions made by the Labour party. Many within the Labour party (broadly Blairites, such as Liam Byrne) have argued that Labour must convince voters that it is not the party of ‘scroungers’ and must support some of the Coalition’s welfare reforms whilst also suggesting it’s own path of reform along contributory lines. Meanwhile, others (on the left of the party) wish to see the repeal of the Coalition’s welfare reforms and even an expansion of the welfare state.
The third implication concerns Conservative ‘toxicity’. ‘Toxicity’ is the term applied to phenomenon of people agreeing with Conservative policies though nonetheless not voting for them due to their negative perception of the party. YouGov’s Anthony Wells wrote an article debunking the view that Generation Y had suddenly become pro-Conservative, pointing out the fact that Labour remained the larger party amongst younger voters. Whilst voting intention for the Conservatives has increased substantially amongst Generation Y in the last decade, voting intention for the Tories remains remarkably low amongst Generation Y considering the widespread support for Conservative policies. Whilst this is true to some extent across all generations, it is most pronounced amongst Generation Y. Thus, whilst Generation Y is more likely to vote Conservative than ever before, the Conservative’s are still toxic. In the previous part I postulated that the reason for this is that older members of Generation Y are less likely to support the Conservatives than younger members of Generation Y due to the fact that they grew up under the ‘dark days’ of the Major government (though admitted that more precise polling would be needed to prove it). Whether the younger members of Generation Y come to the same conclusion of Cameron’s government could well be determined by whether or not the Conservatives win the next election or whether Miliband (like the Labour government’s of the 1970’s) has to govern during a period of austerity.
These articles have sought to speculate whether demographic trends are favourable to the Conservative or Labour party. It is by no means an exhaustive account and there are many other trends that could be examined (such as lower levels of home ownership in the future, etc). In the end, looking at trends cannot predict by far the most important factor: the decisions made by party leaders and the influence of third parties. Combining this with the fact that young people are less partisan towards any one party than previous generations, perhaps the only thing that can be predicted of Britain’s political future is its unpredictability.