What will the “greying” of the electorate do to voting?

What will the “greying” of the electorate do to voting?

Could this provide a hidden boost to Cameron?

On a morning when there’s confirmation that there are now more pensioners in Britain than children I thought it might be useful to look at the potential electoral impact.

This provides a useful peg to highlight a fascinating academic paper by Scott Davidson of Loughborough University which was published in 2006 called “The Grey Battleground”. The above table is from the paper.

We are probably all aware of the key dynamics but it’s a good idea to rehearse them:-

Fact: The grey vote – those 55 and over – is getting more important because people are living longer and they comprise an increasing proportion of the electorate.

Fact: Those 55 and over are more likely than other age groups to be on the electoral register

Fact: Those 55 and over have a much better record of turning out than those in younger segments.

    What I hadn’t fully appreciated until reading Davidson’s paper is that trends could be accentuating to such a degree that at the next election the percentage of 55s and over taking part in the next election could be up by nearly a tenth on 2005 and might comprise 45 per cent of those voting.

So not only are those of 55 and above increasing as a proportion of the population – but their propensity to vote, compared with other segments, is increasing. The result is that in terms of voting power they are more than punching their weight and this is getting stronger.

If the Davidson thesis is correct then it could mean that the significance of this age group is not being fully reflected in the polling. Thus after applying the turnout filters and weightings in yesterday’s Populus poll we find that the headline party shares were based on a “55 and over” proportion of just 37.8%.

And although subsets in different surveys can vary considerably the big picture is that the older you are the more likely you will support the Tories.

The main comfort for Labour in Davidson’s paper is that the seats with the highest proportion of “greys” tend to be Tory-held already – but almost all the other constituencies are getting “greyer”.

The issues that are critical to older voters are surely the NHS, where Labour is probably OK, and pensions where the party might be vulnerable.

Mike Smithson

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