Is the ageing of those who can and do vote killing social democracy?

This is an (edited) extract from a blog posting this week by Nick Pearce, Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

“Most people are familiar with the inequality in turnout between the social classes. No less egregious is the inequality in turnout between the generations.

This is now a major political cleavage, with hugely significant consequences. In the early 1960s, turnout rates differed little between young and old, but … this gap has widened dramatically over the decades since, and for the 2015 general election it is estimated that the difference will be 35 percentage points (data from the British Election Study data is due to be published in October).

This is of particular consequence for the Labour Party, since it has suffered huge losses among older voters: 47 per cent of the over-65s voted Conservative in 2015, a 5.5-point swing from Labour, who picked up only 23 per cent of this key section of the electorate.

Labour won in every age-group up to those aged 55 and over. Yet its Russell Brand moment never arrived, and barring a major reform (such as compulsory voting for first-time voters), it never will.

Moreover, as Britain ages, the political clout of older generations will inevitably rise, as they become an increasingly larger slice of the electorate. Yet barely any of the Labour leadership discussions has touched on this fundamental point – which is especially glaring in light of George Osborne’s political acuity on the issue.

Indeed, there is an argument to be made that the ageing of northern European societies and the rise of political inequality between the generations has been an important contributory factor to the weakening of European social democracy.

In the US, migration has replenished the population and helped to renew the Democrat coalition – Republicans cannot win elections with older white votes alone. In northern Europe, by contrast, migration and ageing have both worked to the disadvantage of social democrats, splintering working-class voting blocs and pulling politics towards the right.”

The blog posting by Nick Pearce coincides with a new IPPR report on the revitalisation of British democracy.


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