Voting behaviour in Britain has changed dramatically over the last few decades.
In the past, the best predictor of how someone would vote was their class, as summed up so nicely by Pulzer who said, “Class is the basis of British party policies: all else is embellishment and detail”. This held true for decades but soon deallignment took hold and the concept of the floating voter gained prominence - just look at the massive swings for Labour, UKIP and the Tories at the recent elections to see the fluid nature of the UK's voting behaviour.
Polls continually show that socio-economic status has limited predictive power in determining how someone will vote. Take a look at the recent YouGov/Times poll which put Tory support at 42% with ABC1 voters. 41% said they would back Labour. For C2DE voters, the figures are 40% and 45% respectively. Polls have continually shown this trend since June’s election, something that shows that socioeconomic status is having very little impact on how someone votes.
Instead, polls since the election highlight two great divides in British politics. The first is on the issue of the EU, which has seemingly split the country into two camps. The recent poll suggests that 60% of leave-voting respondents would back the Conservatives, a party committed on taking the UK outside the EU. Just 28% of remainers said they would back the Tories. As for the remain-side, 53% of such voters would back Labour (the same is found for 27% of leave voters). Labour’s position on Brexit is less clear: the party accepts that the UK is leaving the union, but has a seemingly softer “jobs first” approach to Brexit. As for the Liberal Democrats, they get support from 12% of remainers and 2% of leavers.
Brexit is clearly a big issue in British politics, but the age divide is a much more staggering one.
When it comes to voting behaviour, this latest YouGov poll points to the same trend that has been prominent in other polls since the general election campaign. Of the polled 18-24-year-old voters, 60% would back Labour. The same can be said for 59% of 25-49-year-olds.
If only those under the age of 50 were allowed to voter, Labour would win a thumping majority, and the Conservatives would be reduced to a rump.
The reverse is true for poll respondents aged 50 and above. Of those in the 50-64 age category, 43% said they would back the Conservatives, ahead of the 34% who would vote for Labour. This closely reflects the overall polling picture before June’s election, but it is the figures for those over 65 that are truly staggering. 67% said they would vote Conservative, a result which if (allowed to be) repeated in a general election would generate a storming majority for Theresa May’s party.
Age is clearly a significant factor in explaining differences in voting behaviour, but how long will it stay that way? After all, class used to hold that top spot.