“Class is the idea of British politics; all else is embellishment and element.” So wrote Peter Pulzer, the previous Gladstone professor of politics on the University of Oxford within the Nineteen Sixties. Nowadays, nevertheless, it’s age, not social class, that’s the largest demographic division in Britain’s electoral politics.
According to the British Election Study, on the 2019 basic election, the Conservatives gained the help of 56% of these aged 55 and over, however solely 24% of these underneath 35. Conversely, Labour was backed by 54% of these under-35s who forged a vote, however by simply 22% of these aged 55 and over.
In distinction, help for Britain’s two principal events amongst these in working class occupations was little totally different from that amongst these in skilled and managerial jobs.
But what underpins this age divide? We sometimes consider Labour as a celebration that’s extra “left wing”, extra involved than the Conservatives about inequality and extra supportive of “large authorities”. So does younger individuals’s larger willingness to help Labour imply they’re extra left wing than their older counterparts?
Are they extra involved about inequality and extra inclined to imagine that authorities must be appearing to scale back it? And are they extra inclined than older voters to need the federal government to spend and tax extra?
These questions are addressed in a chapter within the newest British Social Attitudes report, printed by the National Centre for Social Research. Based on the 40 years of knowledge the annual BSA survey has collected because it started in 1983, the chapter reveals that whereas youthful individuals have change into extra involved about inequality in recent times, this isn’t accompanied by larger enthusiasm for extra tax and spend.
Since 1986, almost each BSA survey has often introduced its respondents with a set of propositions designed to measure how “left” or “proper wing” they’re on the difficulty of inequality. People are, for instance, requested whether or not they agree or disagree that “there’s one regulation for the wealthy and one for the poor”, and “authorities ought to redistribute earnings from the better-off to those that are much less well-off”.
Their solutions to those and related statements could be summarised right into a scale measure that runs from 0 to 100, the place 0 implies that somebody may be very left wing and 100 signifies that they’re very proper wing.
Young individuals shift left
When the dimensions was first administered in 1986, there was no distinction between the typical rating of these aged underneath 35 and people aged 55 or over. Both had a rating of 37.
Equally, 30 years later, in 2016, youthful individuals’s common rating of 38 was little totally different from that of 37 amongst older individuals. The development in Labour’s help amongst youthful those that was already in proof by then was not underpinned by a extra left-wing viewpoint.
However, a niche has emerged over the last three or 4 years. In the newest BSA survey, carried out in the direction of the tip of 2022, younger individuals scored 28 – ten factors beneath the equal determine in 2016. In distinction, at 36, the outlook of older individuals has barely modified in any respect.
Yet this doesn’t imply that youthful individuals need extra taxation and spending. Every yr since 1983 BSA has requested individuals what the federal government ought to do if it has to decide on between elevated taxation and spending on “well being, schooling and social advantages”, decreased taxation and spending, or conserving issues as they’re.
In the Nineteen Eighties, youthful individuals have been sometimes extra doubtless than older individuals to say that taxation and spending must be elevated. In 1984, for instance, 42% of these aged underneath 35 expressed that view, in contrast with simply 33% of these over 55.
But for the reason that mid-90s the alternative has been the case. By 2015, 41% of youthful individuals needed extra taxation and spending in contrast with 49% of older individuals.
Meanwhile, the hole has since widened additional. Whereas help for elevated taxation and spending has risen to 67% amongst older individuals – the best it has been within the final 40 years – amongst youthful individuals it’s nonetheless not more than 43%.
So why may need youthful individuals change into extra involved about inequality, but on the similar time much less supportive of extra spending? The reply might properly lie within the distinctive financial place during which these in at this time’s youngest technology discover themselves.
The ageing of Britain’s inhabitants implies that a bigger proportion of presidency spending goes on well being and social care from which older individuals primarily profit. Meanwhile, whereas older persons are in receipt of comparatively beneficiant pensions which have been protected by the triple lock, youthful individuals who have been to college discover themselves in impact paying a better stage of “earnings tax” as a way to repay their scholar loans.
Meanwhile, though the pandemic posed a larger risk to the well being of older individuals, it was youthful individuals who have been extra prone to discover their academic and financial lives disrupted, and to have discovered themselves having to endure lockdown in decrease high quality lodging. At the identical time, house possession has change into tougher, not least as a result of so many are spending a major proportion of their earnings on hire.
There is, then, good motive why youthful individuals have change into extra involved about inequality however appear on the similar time to doubt that elevated taxation and spending would assist them.
The problem to the events on the forthcoming election might properly be to persuade these voters that the subsequent authorities will supply them a brighter future, reasonably than add to their woes. But to try this they could properly have to be keen to suppose outdoors the normal mindsets related to the phrases “left” and the “proper”.
John Curtice receives funding from UKRI-ESRC