Older voters hold the key to the next election
Ben Cooper (@BenCooper1995) is a senior researcher at the Fabian Society
Older voters matter. In April 2022, the Fabian Society published analysis showing the Conservatives won the most seats at every election since 2010 largely because of one group: those aged 55 and over. In 2019, the Conservatives beat Labour by 47 percentage points with over-65s and by 22 percentage points with those aged 55 to 64.
Twelve months, and three Tory Prime Ministers later, a lot has changed in British politics. Labour has more than doubled its polling lead over the Conservatives, according to Politico’s Poll of Polls (from 6 percentage points to.15 percentage points). But one thing remains the same: voters aged 55 and over hold the key to winning the next election for progressive parties.
First, the number of older voters is growing. The most recent Census found 31 per cent of the country was aged 55 and over – up three per cent in a decade. They have consistently been more likely to turn out to vote than any other age group. As a result, the Fabians estimate there will be more than a million extra older voters aged 55 and over in 2024, compared to 2019.
While the number of older voters is growing, the number of younger voters is shrinking – estimates suggest nearly 400,000 fewer voters aged under-55 in 2024 than at the last election. An ageing population will likely result in larger Conservative leads that cannot be overcome by progressives appealing to a smaller pool of younger voters.
Second, older voters are also geographically concentrated in key seats. Those aged 55 and over make up over a third of voters in over 40 per cent of Labour’s English and Welsh target seats. Since most of these seats are held by the Conservatives, it makes electoral sense to persuade older voters – the bedrock of Tory electoral success – to switch to Labour or another progressive challenger to the Tories where electorally appropriate.
Labour does not need to win every older voter, or even a majority of them, to win in 2024. But they cannot ignore voters aged 55 and over, as they have been perceived to in the past.
While the Tories have fallen far behind in the polls, progressive parties should not be complacent – especially Labour. The current Prime Minister is significantly more popular with older voters than Liz Truss was, making it even more critical to connect with this group. If polls are narrowing slightly, then it is more critical to connect with older voters to ensure the Tories are defeated at the next election.
This requires Labour to set out a positive and unifying story about the future of our country that contrasts favourably to the government’s inability to fix public services, run the economy well, or the risk they posed to people’s pensions last year. Other progressive parties should consider doing this too.
This should start with prioritising security in all its forms. Voters’ lack of security underpins their top concerns, whether the cost of living, crime and anti-social behaviour, and the NHS, A&E and other public services. As Fabian Society research last year showed, security is a value that can unify different generations.
The party should focus relentlessly on showing how the next Labour government will improve security in people’s lives, from now until the election. A focus on security needn’t be negative – in fact, by showing how life can be more secure, Labour can present a grounded and positive vision of the Britain they want to build.
Labour, in particular, also needs to continue to reassure older voters on fiscal credibility and economic competence. Labour needn’t lower their ambitions for economic reform in order to also show voters they understand responsible finances and value for money. But this fiscal credibility is essential, or Labour won’t be heard on other issues that are critical to changing our country, for example, on the NHS, tackling poverty, or housing.
The next election is no more than 18 months away. Labour must focus on appealing to older voters. There will be no future Labour Prime Minister without at least some of their votes. By focusing on security and fiscal credibility, progressives across the board, and Labour in particular, can show they understand the concerns of many older voters and form the next government.