Labour can't win the next election without older voters, according to new research

The next election hinges on older voters, new research shows. Credit: PA

I've written before of Labour's immense challenge in trying to win the next election. To win even a tiny majority, it needs to climb an electoral mountain and win an additional 123 additional seats.

According to the Fabian's those seats are spread across the country in areas that each present an enormous challenge - like in Scotland where Labour has to reverse a catastrophic decline, in the so-called 'Red Wall' where millions of leave voters abandoned the party in 2019 and in the south of England where they need demographic change to loosen a Tory stranglehold. Ahead of the local elections and with some talk (though be wary of it) of an early general election, the Fabians have published another excellent piece of research - this time focused not regionally, but on one type of voter who Labour must woo to have any chance - older people.

Labour may have defied the old cliche - if you're not a socialist at 20-years-old you have no heart, and if you're not a Tory by 40-years-old you have no brain - but it is well known that the party has somewhat of an issue with the over 55s, even when it was at its height. The chart below shows Labour's vote share, in green, over time - and then support among 55-64-year-olds in blue, and over 65s in pink. You can see that even in 1997 - fewer older voters backed Labour than the proportion overall- but the gap was pretty small.

But look how that gap has widened in recent years - with support of over 65s, in particular, absolutely tanking in 2019.

Labour's vote share, broken down by ages. Credit: The Fabians

And that is a massive problem for the Labour Party because while the proportion of over 55s in the seats it won in 2019 is quite low (25.1%) you can see that in the 125 seats the Fabian's says it needs to now target in England and Wales to win the next election - that proportion is 31.8%, slightly higher than the national average. Moreover, in 40% of seats it's over a third. (The Fabian's didn't include the 25 target seats it identified in Scotland in this particular analysis because of complex dynamics within the seats). That means that in dozens of seats, the older vote could prove absolutely critical for Keir Starmer. To put it bluntly - he can't win without it.

% of older voters in Labour seats. Credit: The Fabians

Now the good news for the Labour leader in the Fabian's report is polling that suggests there could be two million older people who didn’t vote Labour last time, but are seriously considering it now. They worked that out by polling around 3,000 people, asking them how they voted previously, and then getting them to score between zero to 10 on how likely they are to consider Labour this time.

Those who scored over six out of 10 were considered to be seriously considering Labour.

Net Labour lead on key policy issues. Credit: The Fabians

But can Keir Starmer win them over? Other polling suggests there could be a big challenge. This asked people over 55 to choose which parties they think are better on specific issues.

While Starmer does well on poverty, levelling up, housing and the NHS - the Tories retain a big lead among these voters on key issues that could define the next election, crime and defence, but also immigration and the economy.

The last two are issues Labour is doing remarkably well on with the overall population, according to polling (it even has a lead on the economy) but is badly trailing among this key group. All of which explains Starmer’s focus on tough language around Nato, supporting the prime minister on Ukraine, and being careful about how he criticised, for example, the Rwanda asylum policy.

Often the economy can come to dominate elections, so those figures will worry Labour strategists, but there is one finding in there they will be very happy with. Among this polling of voters aged 55, they have a slight lead on the question of which party will improve living standards for people like you. A critical question in the face of a growing cost of living crisis.