It’s a fascinating irony that the Conservatives – whose best-known manifesto promise was the social care pledge (and un-pledge) – are so dependent on older voters to deliver the landslide that Theresa May is hoping for.
The poll of polls for over 65’s gives the Conservatives a lead of more than 45 percentage points, and this astonishing figure has barely changed since the campaign began. Meanwhile, the 18-24 vote accounts for much of Labour’s success in narrowing the poll gap. With this group, Labour’s lead of around 15 percentage points at the start of the campaign has, on average, more than doubled in recent opinion polls. BritainThinks’ focus groups tell us that younger people have felt energised and excited by Corbyn’s campaign, while older voters have felt reassured by May.
The question is, which group of voters can be relied upon to deliver votes – and, more specifically, votes that translate into seats. A quarter of a million young people registered to vote on the deadline day. Even so, given that the most likely tool for predicting future behaviour is past behaviour, the fact that just 43% of 18-24’s turned out in 2015 – despite similar excitement about Labour’s leader and campaign (remember Russell Brand and Milifandom?) – does not inspire confidence.
Although we have seen some ‘herding’ as we move closer to election day, pollsters still vary: those who are optimistic about youth turnout predict a close result. Certainly, it hasn’t always been the case that young people do not vote – the turn out gap (35% in 2015) was only 12% back in 1992. Yet the highly respected social research organisation, Nat Cen, find that only 53% of younger voters say they are certain to turn out, compared with 79% of older voters.
But even if young people do turn out, Labour faces two further challenges. Firstly, sheer numbers - there are just 5.7 million 18-24 year olds, but a massive 11.3 million over 65’s. Secondly, to win seats we also need to look at how the votes are distributed. Pollsters who place most store on younger voters actually voting cite Labour’s tuition fee pledge as a key motivator. These young voters may well cluster in unhelpful places, with Labour piling up votes in safe seats that are university towns. By contrast, the Tories’ older voters, many of whom voted for Brexit, are more likely to live in Northern and Midland seats, currently Labour held, and vulnerable to changing hands as the UKIP vote collapses.
We’ll know for sure in a few hours, but my money is on the reliable older voters rather than the youth.
Labour Hopes Rest On An Uncertain Youth Vote A Thought For Election Day 080617 PDF