At various HBF member meetings over the last month, there has been discussion about the outcomes, voting trends and impact of demographics on future polls. This following is a summary of key research by third party organisations which has provided some insight into potential voting patterns.
From the lead up to the snap 2017 General Election, which was initially predicted to be a landslide for the Conservative Party, to the aftermath of the election results, which resulted in a hung parliament, the demographics of voters and their political affiliations have become a key focus for the media and political commentators.
A last minute spike in young people registering to vote has been seen as an important turning point for the Labour Party which ultimately led to an increase in votes for the party. In line with this, the Financial Times notes that there was “a small but notable link between increased turnout and Labour gains.” However, despite an increase in youth turnout, YouGov’s survey of over 52,000 voting age residents of which nearly 49,000 actually voted, shows that young people were still noticeably less likely to vote than older people with only 57% of 18 and 19 year-olds having voted in comparison to 84% amongst those over the age of 70. The 25-29 age group was found to be more likely to vote than the next cohort of 30-39 year-olds with 64% and 61% respectively.
Role of housing tenure
The YouGov dataset reveals that the Conservatives still hold a strong lead amongst owner occupiers with 53 percentage points to Labour’s 32 but that Labour has an equal lead amongst the growing number of renters (52-31) and those who don’t identify as either which may include those living with their parents (51-32). With the well-publicised sharp rise of young people in the latter two tenure groups the age of voters, discussed in more detail below, is likely to play a significant part here on the divide between the Conservatives and Labour. Labour’s manifesto pledges on housing which, arguably, were more targeted at first-time buyers including the proposed first dibs policy and the extension of Help to Buy, were, potentially, also more attractive to younger voters.
YouGov found that “in electoral terms, age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics” replacing the significance previously assigned to class to indicate voting intentions, for example, amongst first-time voters (those aged 18 and 19), Labour was 47 percentage points ahead while amongst those aged over 70, the Conservatives had a lead of 50 percentage points. The Financial Times, however, further analysed the class divide and concluded that “while the Conservatives lost out to Labour with the middle class in both rural and urban areas, they were more efficient at winning working class voters in rural than urban areas”.
YouGov research concluded that for every 10 years older a voter is, their inclination to vote for the Conservatives increases by around nine points. This indicates that this balance is not solely related to party loyalties existing independently of the 2017 election campaigns but that the demography of voters was affected by the campaigns of the respective parties is given by the movement of the tipping point age for voters more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour from the start of the campaign to the exit polls from 34 to 47.
The influence of age is also evident in the analysis of employment status of voters with the Conservatives 39 points ahead amongst retirees and Labour 45 points ahead amongst full-time students. Labour is also ahead amongst those in work: 4 points ahead amongst those working part time and 6 points ahead amongst those working full time, illustrating the Conservatives increasing reliance on the grey retired vote despite some campaign proposals which could have alienated that vote. The Financial Times also highlights conclusions drawn by LSE professor Ben Lauderdale that particularly the 25-to 44-year-old urban Remain voters appeared to have swung away from the Conservatives during the 2017 election with the biggest rise for Labour among the 25-34s, who were 15 per cent of Labour voters in 2015 but 19.2 per cent in 2017. It is noteworthy that this age group would not necessarily benefit from the much-publicised Labour policies around University fees and may instead have been swayed by other life-stage relevant policies such as Labour’s housing pledges as well as personality politics.
Potentially somewhat related to the question of age is the importance that education levels have played in the analysis of key electoral demographic dividing lines, for example, while the Conservatives’ support decreases the more educated a voter is, the opposite was true for Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This translates to the Conservatives beating Labour by 22% amongst those with low-level educational qualifications (defined as GCSE or equivalent or below). However, amongst those with high-level educational qualifications (defined as degree-level or above) Labour led by 17%. This can be partially linked with the voting trends of specific age groups as, due to the expansion of education, on average, the young have more qualifications than the old. However, the lack of appeal of the Conservatives for graduates means commentators are also pointing to the Conservatives having a “graduate problem” while Jeremy Cliffe from The Economist notes that the Conservatives have alienated the fastest-growing segments of the population of the UK: the culturally diverse, urban and university educated. The Financial Times, additionally, makes the distinction that Labour made gains in “areas where people tend to identify more as British than English” as well as diverse urban areas.
Gender played a minor role with only a small gender gap between men and women, with women being equally split between Labour and the Conservatives (43% to 43%), and men slightly more likely to have backed the Tories (45% to 39%). With 2016 research by the Higher Education Policy Institute indicating that women in the UK are 35% more likely than men to go to university this slight gap in gender voting intentions may also be influenced, to some degree, by the education and age factors discussed earlier.
As the Financial Times highlights, “the Conservative and Labour parties won 82 per cent of the vote… the highest two-party share since 1979” to the detriment of all smaller parties including UKIP which saw a significant decrease in its percentage of votes with both the Conservatives and Labour benefitting from this to some extent. Other parties including the SNP also saw significant declines and lost electoral seats.
Home Builders Federation
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