Are Conservative voters literally 'dying out'?

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand explores how age has become a defining factor in predicting how people will vote in the upcoming General Election

As in every election, an extortionate amount of money is being spent right now by political parties and pollsters trying to work out how you’ll vote on polling day.

And yet there is a far cheaper way of having a good guess - all I need to ask is how old you are.

In fact, age has quickly become one of the most obvious ways to gauge someone’s political opinions these days, so much so that it is now arguably the most defining divide among the electorate.

In our Fight for ’24 series, we are looking at the people and places that are key to winning this election, and never before has there been such a yawning age gap in how different generations intend to vote.

Drawing on exclusive data and analysis provided to us by the British Election Study, you can see how rapidly the oldest and youngest age groups have diverged over the past 20 years.

We’ve tracked support for the various parties among two groups: 18-30 year-olds and over 65 year-olds.

Ten years ago, the average age of a Labour and Tory voter was more or less the same - but Conservative voters have rapidly aged since then. Credit: ITV News

Looking at support for Labour, both age groups supported the party in 2001 with almost exactly the same enthusiasm. Yet just over two decades later, a huge gulf in opinion has opened up.

The latest data suggests that 60% of 18-30 year-olds will support Labour this time around, compared to just 30% of the over 65s.

But this is far more of an issue for the Conservative party, because while Labour is still reaching significant numbers of voters across all age groups, Tory voters have been growing older and older every year.

Ten years ago, the average age of a Conservative voter was 52, compared to 48 for those supporting Labour – quite a small difference.

But over the past decade, the average age of a Conservative voter has risen to 62, while the average age of Labour voters has barely changed.

As ITV’s election analyst Jane Green points out, this poses an existential threat to the Tories, whose voters are now older than ever before.

“Older voters are leaving the electorate - they are literally dying - in higher numbers. And so the Conservative Party has to replace its vote as its losing voters through that process," she said.

"The fact that age is so important to elections in Britain at the moment has really important implications.”

It isn’t surprising that the voting intentions of different age groups is diverging, when you consider the intergenerational tensions in this election.

At ROARR!, a family-run adventure park in Norfolk, we found it was possible to guess the political allegiance of almost everyone we met just by assessing their age.

Surrounded by models of dinosaurs, the risk of political extinction for the Conservative Party seemed real.

Martin Goymour is 74 and is the third generation to run the business, alongside his son, Adam, who’s in his 30s. They employ many younger staff, some of whom work part time while studying nearby.

The conversation quickly descended into a debate about which generation has had it better.

“Back in their day, I would say they had it easier, because properties were cheaper, you could get a house easier, you could get a job easier," said Saffron Humphreys, who is hoping to start work after completing her university course.

“I don’t know whether we had it easier!” Martin argued back.

“I left school at 15, I’m still working at 74. When I was 18 I was earning about £5 a week! There’s no way I could earn a property at that age", he added.

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand spoke to voters at ROARR!, a family-run adventure park in Norfolk. Credit: ITV News

It is fairly obvious that the parties are attempting to appeal to their most loyal age groups in this election.

The Conservatives in particular have announced policies for pensioners, while to some younger voters the promise of national service has felt more like an attack on teenagers rather than a genuine opportunity.

“They’re going to force a young child to pick up a shovel and go and work," one of the younger staff told me.

“It seems very old fashioned," said another.

Martin is likely to stick with the Conservatives at the election, but all of the younger voters we spoke to in Norfolk were either leaning towards Labour, or remained undecided.

But the party cannot take their support for granted. Across the country, especially on university campuses, Labour has its own age problem.

The conflict in Gaza and Israel is not only of concern to the young of course, but some of the most youthful voters are looking elsewhere at this election due to Labour's stance on the war.

In Cambridge, Inaya told me, “The Labour Party is so disgusting to me at the moment. It wouldn’t be dissimilar to voting Tory. I’ll probably vote Green.”

Credit: ITV News

Others are thinking more tactically. Rebecca told me: “In a wonderful, perfect world, I’d probably vote for Green.

"But I’m also aware that in my own constituency there are some very prominent right wing figures and I know we are very likely to continue to be Conservative or go even further right, and I know that if I vote Green it’ll be a wasted vote.

"I have to go Labour, because anything else will get ‘nasty’ people in.”

When asked how he’d feel if Labour won the election, Mahmoud told me: “I don’t think it’d be a cause for celebration.

"What I’m most concerned about is how big a majority they’ll have in parliament and I want it to be as little as possible.”

But despite that disillusionment among some voters, time is likely to be cruellest to the Conservatives.

A better ability to appeal across the generations may mean this is the election when Labour once again come of age.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every day in the run-up to the election Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…