Then and now: how has the Tory party membership changed over time?

New data from the Party Members Project reveals a lot about modern party members.

A new report from the Miles End Institute for the Party Members Project reveals key findings about Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Conservative members. The Conservative party is rather secretive about its membership. Former Tory chairman Grant Shapps has called for the party to reveal its membership numbers, according to the BBC, with estimates suggesting the party around 100,000 or fewer, significantly lower than the figures for the other three parties.

The membership project gives an insight into the make-up of the Conservative party, but how do those figures compare to research conducted in the 1990s? The 1994 book “True Blues” by Paul Whiteley, Patrick Seyd and Jeremy Richardson allows for the party to be compared across time.

Age

The new survey data indicates that Conservative party members are old. The mean age of members in 2018 is 57, and 44% of the party’s members are older than 65. This is not new, with 90s data indicating that 43% of the party’s membership was over the age of 66 (page 50).

However, at the lower end up the age continuum, there are promising signs for the party. In the 90s, just 1% of members surveyed said they were aged 25 and under. The latest figures indicate that 5% of Conservative members are in the 18-24 age-group. Interestingly, just 4% of current Labour members said they were in that group.

Overall, the party remains old, but it has attracted younger members.

Gender

The current picture is bleak when it comes to gender parity. 71% of members surveyed said they were male, however, in 1994 there was an almost even split with 51% male and 49% female.

This is a significant shift.

Numbers

As mentioned, Conservative Party membership figures are estimated to stand at around 100,000. A House of Commons research briefing indicates that just over two decades ago, the number stood at something like 400,000-500,00. In 1953, the party reportedly had almost three million members.

The full 2018 membership report can be viewed here.