The latest data makes grim reading for the governing party
The Tories have been tanking with young voters for nearly a decade. According to the latest Yougov poll, just 6% of those aged between 18-24 and 10% of the 25-49 range intend to vote for the party at the next election. The decline is real, and unprecedented, in modern Britain, with a Labour-Conservative age gap only emerging after 2010. What appeared to be a Right-leaning trend among Zoomers has stalled over the past two years.
On both Left and Right, there’s a crowd-pleasing narrative that young people have deserted the party because they can’t attain the markers of adulthood: home ownership, financial security, marriage and parenthood. The centre-Right think tank Onward’s latest offering suggests that all the Tories have to do to fix their woes is build homes, create jobs and wait for young people to get blue-pilled. In reality, this is a pipe dream.
Consider voters aged 35 and under captured in the latest (May 2022) wave of the 30,000-strong, long-running, British Election Study. Only 1 in 10 of this group intend to vote Tory and, as Figure 1 shows, the share varies very little between those on low and high incomes, or depending on marital status. Those who own their own home are five points more likely to vote Conservative than those who don’t, while young people in the top 15% of the income scale are two points more likely to say they will vote Tory than those in the bottom third. Even if you look at home-owning married 18-35s with children who earn in the top 15%, a mere 16% intend to vote for Sunak.
If it’s not the economy, what’s going wrong? This is not so much a matter of demography as of zeitgeist. Rising ethnic diversity or university attendance do not hold the key, since there are no significant differences among young people between white Britons and minorities, or graduates and non-graduates, in their inclination to vote Tory.
Instead, we must look to a liberal post-national drift in the culture of the West which bulks largest among young people. A 2021 YouGov poll found that just 29% of 18-24s would be willing to date someone who voted Conservative in 2019. Discrimination in dating, in which Leftist young people are far more prejudiced against the Right than vice-versa, also correlates with a willingness towards politically biased hiring policies.
The British Election Study shows that when we slice the 18-35s by their cultural views, a wider gap in voting intention emerges. As Figure 2 illustrates, the gap by Brexit vote or religious affiliation is nearly twice as large as the difference between owners and renters, or rich and poor. Even so, only around 20% of young people who want lower immigration or think black, gay and women’s equality has gone too far intend to vote Conservative.
Left-wing parties are capturing 33-41% of culturally conservative young people, but are winning 52-57% of high-earning and homeowning Zoomers and Millennials.
In fact, the Tories have the edge among young people who want lower immigration, support Leave and affiliate as Christian, with 42% of those who fit these three criteria saying they will vote Tory compared to 29% opting for Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Greens. Contrast this 42-29 Tory advantage with the 51-16 Left-liberal advantage over the Tories among young homeowning married parents in the top 15% of the income bracket. Youth culture, not delayed adulthood, is decisive.
The Tories were already dead in the water among young people prior to Partygate and the Truss-Kwarteng mini-budget fiasco, let alone the most recent Boris Johnson developments. The party’s problems are rooted in deep-seated aspects of modern British culture rather than short-term factors such as the cost of living or structural problems like housebuilding.
Chris Clarke comes to a similar conclusion, urging the Conservatives to go woke and embrace leaky borders. In effect, he wants the Tories to dump their half-hearted attempts at being conservative and get hip with progressive Zoomers and Millennials.
Conservatives less keen on selling their soul must face the fact that only a wholesale effort to combat political indoctrination and shape the messages propounded in the education system, public sector and media can move the needle among emerging generations of voters. If today’s cultural trends go unchecked, the Tories are on track to becoming a natural party of opposition.