Gender,Age,Ethnicity and Region
Over a long period, there is a slight tendency for more women to vote Labour than men, but it is highly variable and not statistically very significant. It will be interesting in future to observe how gender voting may be affected by the arrival of a second female prime minister. In the 1983 and 1987 general elections, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, there is conflicting evidence- with little clear evidence that women favoured a woman PM.
Taking a longer view of history women had a slightly stronger preference for the Conservatives than male voters did. This may have been because women favoured a stable society and, as the main carers in most households, they responded to the traditional Tory emphasis on the family. In the Blair era the difference between male and female voting habits lessened, with younger women being slightly more likely than men to vote Labour. This may be because, by the 1990s, women were as likely as men to have a job outside the home, so their worlds became more similar. Alternatively they may have been responding to New Labour's more family-friendly policies, such as the provision of free nursery places.
Older women are more likely to vote Conservative than younger women. In this sense they are similar to men. In the 2010 election 30 per cent of women aged 18-24 voted Conservative, while the corresponding figure for women over 55 was 42 per cent. The party leaders recognised the importance of younger women as a constituency, targeting them through platforms such as the parenting advice website Mumsnet.
Turnout does not differ significantly between men and women. In the 2010 election, 66 per cent of men and 64 per cent of women voted. Turnout among men and women of the same social class was also strikingly similar.
Age plays two significant roles in the way UK voters cast their votes:
■ Younger voters lean left, while older voters lean right.
■ The older the voter, the more likely they are to vote.
The percentage of Conservative and UKIP voters increases with age, while the percentage of Labour and Green Party voters drops with age. In theory, this should balance out, but the parties of the left have two disadvantages:
■ The younger the voter, the less likely they are to vote.
■ Britain’s ageing population means the elderly population is growing as a percentage of the total population. This means there are more older people and they are more likely to vote. Social platforms and online polling tend to focus on the young, which distorts the reality of what happens in the polling stations and might explain why the Labour Party often does worse than expected while the Conservative Party quite often does better.
Older people exhibit a greater tendency than the young to vote Conservative. As they are more likely to own property, they will vote for the party that can be expected to protect their material interests. Age means that they are also less likely to vote idealistically, or with the aspiration of fundamentally changing society.
In addition political outlooks are shaped by voters' experiences. Older voters today will remember the difficulties faced by Labour governments in the 1970s, when trade unions enjoyed greater power, and this may influence them to support the Conservatives — not a factor for voters in their 20s. In 2010, 44 per cent of over-65-year-olds favoured the Conservatives, compared to just 30 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds. In recognition of this trend David Cameron refused to cut pensioner benefits, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats argued for the removal of the winter fuel allowance from better-off retired people.
Age is an important factor in patterns of turnout. Older people are more likely than the young to vote — 76 per cent of those over 65 did so in 2010, compared to 44 per cent of the 18-24 age
group. The figures for these two age groups in 2010 were 76 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. The elderly have acquired habits of voting earlier in their lives, and tend to see the outcome of elections as having more impact on their lives. Younger people are more likely to feel alienated from a political system that has not, as they see it, made a significant difference to their lives.
There is a general tendency for levels of Conservative support to increase with age. Even in 1997 and 2001, the party led Labour among the over-65s. Some explain this in terms of a tendency for people to become more con- servative with age (either because they are better-off or because they become more fearful of change), while others use the idea of political generations. Labour, by contrast, tends to do better amongst young voters, although it suffered defections (usually to the Liberal Democrats) amongst 18–25 year olds in 2005. Age was a major factor in the 2016 EU referendum, with sup- port for ‘Remain’ falling consistently with age while support for ‘Leave’ rose.Whereas 73 per cent of 18–24 voters backed ‘Remain’, 60 per cent of 65+ voters favoured ‘Leave’. In the 2017 election, Labour had a 47 per cent lead over the Conservatives among 18–19 voters, while the Conservatives had a 50 per cent lead among 70+ voters.
As with age, race seems to point to a clear partisan divide in the UK, with white voters leaning more to the right and ethnic minority voters leaning more to the left. The tendency for voters from an ethnic minority to favour Labour has two possible sources:
■ The legacy of anti-minority campaigning by the Conservative Party, such as Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (1968), where he criticised the Labour government’s immigration and anti-discrimination legislation, and Norman Tebbit’s ‘Cricket test’ (1990), where he criticised South Asian and Caribbean immigrants for their lack of loyalty to the England cricket team.
■ The concentration of many ethnic minority groups into industrial urban centres, such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Bradford. The mass immigration that began in the 1950s brought a new wave of workers to the UK, who often found themselves in urban areas doing industrial labouring. Although there were tensions within the Labour movement, these new citizens benefited from Labour polices of social equality. During the 1960s and 1970s, many Conservative Party members played on ‘white fright’ and fears about the changing nature of British society to win elections. These actions and the Conservative Party’s association with a rural and higher-class electorate have meant that Labour has continued to hold a great deal of support among ethnic minority voters. However, 87.1% of the UK population is white British, and minority voters are less likely to turn out to vote
During the 1980s, it became increasingly topical to talk of a ‘North–South divide’ in UK politics. Outside London, Labour held only a handful of seats south of a line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash, while Conservative support declined in the north of England and, for a period, the party held no seats in either Scotland or Wales. Although Labour made significant progress in traditionally Conservative areas in 1997 and 2001, these broad regional trends still persist. For example, Conservative gains in 2005 were made almost exclusively in the south. Liberal Democrat support has also traditionally had a marked regional dimension, its support being strongest in the ‘Celtic fringe’. Generalisations about regional party strength nevertheless conceal substantial intra-regional differences and are, anyway, largely a reflection of class factors and the impact of differences between urban (pro-Labour) and rural (pro- Conservative) areas.
There is a strong regional bias to voting patterns, linked in part to class differences. Most voters in the South (with the important exception of London) and in rural areas and suburbs — the most prosperous areas with the highest levels of employment and home ownership — are typically Conservative supporters. Conversely in industrial and urban areas, in the North of England, Wales and (to a lesser extent) the Midlands — the poorer areas of the country — there is much stronger loyalty to Labour.
As it is not easy to see patterns in turnout across the countries that make up the UK. Participation in Northern Ireland has fallen. This may be because the political situation had stabilised by the early 21st century. When conflict was more marked, turnout tended to be higher, possibly because voters were more concerned about the outcome of elections
However, there is a class dimension in relation to turnout in different English regions. In the 2010 contest, turnout in the south-east and south-west was 68.0 per cent and 69.1 per cent respectively, while in the less affluent north-west it was 62.6 per cent.
Class retains some importance as a determinant of voting behaviour. There is a link between voting and the degree to which people feel included in society. The elderly, the better-off, white people and those who live in more prosperous parts of the country are more likely to believe that they can affect the outcome of elections and so protect their interests.