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

For many years, it has been speculated that the Conservative party, along with the two party state, is in terminal decline. Yet a new Ipsos-Mori poll suggests that, on the contrary, the next generation is the most conservative in history. 

It used to be simple: as you got grayer, you became more Conservative. As the old died off, they were replaced with new Tory voters as the passionate radicalism of the young abated with age. Whilst Labour’s support remained remarkably consistent between generations, the gap between Conservative support between generations was enormous. At its peak (2007) the gap between the pre-War generation and ‘Generation Y’ reached 20%. As UKIP became increasingly popular with the pre-War generation, this divide has closed.


However, another important factor in the gap closing has been the doubling of support for the Conservative party amongst Generation Y. This, coupled with Generation Y’s radically different views on the size of the welfare state have brought into question whether support for the Conservative party is in long term decline or about to make a rapid comeback.

The view that support for the Conservative party is about to enter a large upswing is a fairly unconventional one. It is the commonly held belief that support for the Tories has been in long term decline. Three years ago, on the eve of the 2010 election, John Ross wrote an article for the Guardian regarding this apparently inevitable decline. Using graphs of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal shares of the vote, he illustrated that two trends were clear: the Tories were declining and the Liberals were rising. He predicted that in 2010 the Conservatives would win between 33% and 39%. In the end, the Tories won 36%, demonstrating his research had some validity.


Ross wrote a similar article on the eve of the 2013 Eastleigh by-election. This time, (using his formula that the Tory vote declined by 0.2% a year with a swing factor of up to 5% in elections) he predicted that in the 2015 general election the Tories would win between 34.6% and 29.3%. Due to the fact that winning a majority would be almost impossible even at the upper end of this estimate, one could reasonably assume that, if Ross is correct, the Conservative party will never again achieve a majority.

Such a view is, in my opinion, only half right. Several features of Ross’ graph (such as choosing the unrealistic starting point of the 1931 landslide in which he also combines the vote of the Conservatives and the National Liberal Party) greatly exaggerates the Tory decline. Ross also makes the mistake of looking at purely the Conservative party. As this graph from the BBC clearly shows, the decline in the share of the electorate won by the winning party also takes place under Labour governments and, if anything, slightly rises when Conservative governments are elected. What this shows is that Labour’s share of the electorate declines too and is proof that rather than being evidence of the decline of the Conservative party, his graphs demonstrates the decline of the two party state, albeit at greater expense to the Conservative party than the Labour party.

However, there is no reason for such a trend to be a permanent feature. The recent collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats may well be evidence that the rise of the Lib Democrats was dependent on remaining a party of protest. By entering government, the UK could be entering psychologically uncharted waters. If this is the case, then the new question is which trends in public opinion shall determine the new trends in voting intention and which parties shall be the beneficiaries?

Young Conservatives

These questions could be answered by a new major Ipsos-Mori poll. Having analysed an almost unbelievable half a million people, the poll tracks the views of the public since 1996, split generationally amongst the pre-War generation (pre-1945), Baby boomers (1945-65), Generation X (1966-79) and Generation Y (born 1980-2000). The poll tracks many factors, such as the opinion of the acceptability of homosexuality, the size of the welfare state, and voting intention. In voting intention, the Conservatives peaked in 2008 (as Gordon Brown’s government reached its nadir) whereupon it declined every year until the present. However, these trends were not replicated identically in every generation.

Though Conservative support increased in every generation after the recession, it increased the most, both proportionally and in gross terms, amongst Generation Y. Moreover, whereas support for the Conservatives amongst every other generation has declined since 2008, support for the Conservatives has continued to increase amongst Generation Y and in 2012 has never been higher. Indeed, it has broken the age old stereotype of generations being more likely to support the Conservatives the older they are. Support for the Conservatives amongst Generation Y now exceeds the level of support amongst the Baby boomer generation and Generation X. Such a result is rare, and as such the causes of this increase in support is likely to receive great speculation.

Will Archdeacon


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