‘Where the electorate leads, politicians follow’

Ben Shimshon responds to Parmjit Dhanda’s article, 2020 vision

The 2015 general election is one of the least predictable in decades. One near-certainty, however, is that older generations will turn out at a higher rate than younger members of the electorate. And as differential turnout combines with our population’s increasingly top-heavy age profile, the upshot is that the priorities and issues of our older generations will have greater political clout. So what are our older voters voting for? What’s the ‘Britain 2020’ that they have got in mind?

January’s Economist/Ipsos MORI issues index reveals that older people’s top priorities for the country align with those of the population as a whole: the NHS, immigration, and the economy. However, the index also shows that, for the first two of these, concern is markedly higher among over-55s than for the younger generations.

Immigration and the NHS are not unrelated issues in older voters’ minds. The impacts of austerity that Parmjit Dhanda describes in his local hospitals and schools are raised spontaneously by older voters in our focus groups. But older people, who often have greater contact with public services, particularly healthcare, often believe the cause to be population pressure brought about by immigration, rather than the spending decisions of the coalition. Continued restrictions on spending, combined with more older people, living longer, and often with long-term conditions, mean that these two issues are likely to stay top of the agenda for older generations in the coming parliament.

A further impact of our ageing population, especially when combined with differential turnout, may be that the centre of the political debate skews away from issues of relevance to working-age adults, and more towards those of the burgeoning retired and semi-retired groups. The Economist/Ipsos MORI index shows that older voters are less likely than younger citizens to cite issues such as unemployment, housing and education among their priorities for the country. Conversely, issues relating to social care and pensions, though still relatively unimportant, are more prominent among the older generations. And where the electorate leads, politicians generally follow.

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Ben Shimshon is co-founder of BritainThinks. He is responding to the article 2020 vision by Parmjit Dhanda

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Photo: David Sim

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