Conservatives' loss of support among young people is 'ticking time bomb' for party

Research conducted by Savanta for ITV News suggests the Conservative's appeal among voters between 18 and 25 has now dropped below the levels of 1997

Words by Anushka Asthana and Lili Donlon-Mansbridge

The Conservatives have suffered a devastating loss of support among young people in recent years that is significantly worse than during the party's 1997 landslide defeat - according to the latest polling for ITV's Youth Tracker.

In what is being described as a "ticking time bomb", a new survey from Savanta suggests Rishi Sunak's party is trailing Labour by a massive 47 points among 18 to 25-year-olds right now with only 14% saying they intend to vote Conservative in the next general election.

Meanwhile the PM's personal approval rating among this age group has also taken a hit - slumping from -17% in April 2023, and then -20% in September 2023, to -44%. Labour leader Keir Starmer has also seen a decline in support - with his approval rating shifting from +4% a year ago, to +7% last Autumn - and now down to -5% - but nothing like his Conservative counterpart.

Although it is true that young people have always tended to lean more to the left politically, the size of the gap between the two biggest Westminster parties suggests this trend has become much more pronounced in recent years.

Even back in 1997 - when Tony Blair won a huge victory - Labour's lead among the youngest voting group (compared to 18- to 24-year-olds) was only 22 points - according to data from Ipsos. And in 2010, there was no gap at all.

The poll is the third in a series carried out by Savanta for ITV's Peston and ITV News.

It reveals major disillusionment with politics of all colours - as young people struggle with the cost of living, with many giving up any hope of ever getting a foothold on the housing ladder.

The figures suggest that housing is now seen as the most critical issue by young people alongside mental health concerns.

Savanta's Chris Hopkins said: "Young people not voting Conservative is hardly a new problem, but the sheer scale of their disenfranchisement towards them is a ticking time bomb for the party.

"All three of our Peston Youth Tracker polls have shown just one in seven young voters would back them, a trend that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon."

While just 14% of young people said they would vote Conservative at the next election, 61% said they will support for the Labour party.

That is down from 15% for the Tories in September last year, and up from 56% for Labour.

In 1997, 27% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted Conservative, while 49% backed Labour.

Meanwhile - in 2010 - young people split evenly in three - with 30% voting Tory, 30% voting Labour and 30% opting for the Lib Dems.

Have you heard our podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

The trend was quite pronounced in both 2017 and 2019 when 62% of the youngest group backed Labour - but even then support for the Tories was higher - 27% in 2017 - although falling to 19% in 2019 - when Boris Johnson secured a big majority.

Part of the trend maybe linked to Brexit - with the poll showing once again that a massive majority of young people would vote to rejoin the EU if there was another referendum.

Chatting with strategists and advisers who have worked closely with the Conservative Party over years it is clear that they are extremely worried, particularly fearing that the old trend of people shifting Tory with age maybe weakening too. One described the situation as "very serious".

However, they also pointed out that there is far more volatility in politics these days- with voters less likely to be "tribally loyal", and more likely to shift their vote.

"People chop and change their vote whole time," they added. "It can swing back."

They pointed out that the narrative in 2019 was that the Tories would be unmovable for 10 years.

Mr Hopkins agreed that was possible but said it would be a huge challenge- not least given the cost-of-living pressures now facing young people.

“The electorate has been increasingly volatile over recent years, so perhaps all is not lost for the Conservative Party in the long-term. But voting for someone is a habit, and the Conservative’s previously successful strategy of waiting for younger people to become mortgage-owning older people may be about to become dramatically unstuck," he said.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…