Do We Become More Conservative As We Get Older?
Let’s cast our minds back to 8th June 2017. A great day: fine weather, good breakfast. The results of a general election. Whilst the results may (haha, May) have not been what everyone hoped for, I was ecstatic. Not because there was a hung parliament. Not because Lord Buckethead managed to secure 249 votes in Maidenhead (although that’s pretty damn great). No, I was happy because us youngsters actually turned up and brought the real party to the election. 57% of us cast our vote and made our voices heard, and, despite the fact that number could still be vastly increased, it’s fantastic compared to the withered 43% in 2015.
Why does this happen? Is it simply a difference in generations, or will I slowly be drawn towards the political right as I grow older?
The reasons why so many more of us voted are long and complicated and not what I’m here to write about, but it certainly felt like there was a lot of campaigning done to encourage us to register, and indeed more policies being pushed that would benefit young people. It seemed there was one party that particularly caught our attention, with around 67% of us voting for Labour and our boy Jez. That’s higher than any other age group. In fact, looking at the statistics, the number of people voting Conservative actually increases with age. Which admittedly, as one of the young people who voted Labour, scares me slightly. Why does this happen? Is it simply a difference in generations, or will I slowly be drawn towards the political right as I grow older?
I’ve read heaps of articles in my quest to answer this, and have found there could be a variety of causes: from the changing psychology of the aging brain, to the fact more young people are attending university, often making them more socially liberal. After overloading myself with research, I decided I needed to talk to an actual person. That’s what it’s about, right? Communication. Mutual understanding. So I decided to turn to my own family to pose the question: why are our grandparents so Tory?
I began by calling my Grandad’s cousin, 61-year-old Mark, who I was aware is more politically right wing, in hope of shedding some light on the situation:
After overloading myself with research, I decided I needed to talk to an actual person.
‘I have always voted conservative. My reason for voting that is an aspect of trying not to be selfish. Technically I’ve always been working class, brought up on a tough area in Bradford. But I listened to an influence from my father really, who said you’ve got to think about each individual. My voting strategy has always tried to be: what will be good for the country?
‘I wouldn’t say my political views have changed. Sometimes there have been political leaders that I’m not really affiliated with, but the overriding factor of the budget deficit, health care, and education – like everybody else, they’re still a priority to me, it’s just how you achieve that. Some parties say they’ll put x amount into education, abolish tuition fees; it’s a great vote winner, but having the ability to do that… people are always going to vote for popular statements. Everybody finds education and national health of great importance, but it’s the ability to carry it out. It’s got to be not just a statement, it’s got to be financially viable that they can do it. A lot of young people voted labour [in the 2017 election] because healthcare and education are two big hitters. And the dramatic statements labour made were always going to be a vote winner. I think it was unfair they used that.
‘Generations have changed a little bit in terms of political views, but people do think about the good of the country as a whole; we’ve got this trillion pound debt, and last time Labour were in power they actually made a statement saying, I don’t know what you’re going to spend because the treasury is empty. If that was a business, why would you do that?
‘I think the biggest political indicator for older generations is newspaper. It does give a certain political bias; I read the Mail. It has got a political bias to it, but I try to put that to one side. But the older generation is influenced by that, whereas young people click on their phone, and there’s probably an unbiased opinion. It’s quite a factual statement with not much political spin on it.’
“Generations have changed a little bit in terms of political views, but people do think about the good of country as a whole.”
Mark certainly provided some answers, but I also felt like I wanted to speak to someone who was an exception to the norm; a left wing elder who could give a broader overview of why exactly so many people in the 60+ age group vote Conservative. So with that I rang my grandad, 70-year-old Labour voter Len, for a political chin-wag:
‘Margaret Thatcher said something very strange: there’s no such thing as society, there’s only individuals and their families. She wanted people to become enterprising and to make their money through business and without too many restrictions. The centre point of her policies that really got her into power, and kept her in power, was she decided to sell off all the council houses so people could become property owners. That is where we are now. Housing has gone berserk, as you know, the cost of housing is ridiculous; your generation will never be able to afford houses under your own steam. My generation by and large are fairly comfortable because they’ve been able to upgrade their properties over time and they’ve been able to make money on their properties.
‘That’s what Thatcher was about: favouring business, favouring enterprise over public services, and slowly but surely public services have been undermined. And my generation if you like, and those older than me, have really benefited from these changes and they look back and they see things often through rose tinted glasses. They believe what was in the 50s and 60s is so much better than it is now. And of course, it is a fallacy. Every age has its problems. Every age has its highlights as well.
‘Fewer and fewer people now are believing what’s being said in the tory press and the tory media. The tory media is incredibly powerful, particularly the Daily Mail, The Sun. Murdoch is a very unpleasant man. All he’s interested in is profit and he’s made a heck of a lot of it through influencing the ordinary member of public and politicians as well. But as you saw from the last election, particularly younger people, they don’t read the written press, they read things online. And it’s dangerous because it can be so one sided. But it does act as an antidote for what the right wing press want us to believe: that the rich and powerful have a right to be rich and powerful and should be forever more, and that the rest of us should be grateful. Which of course we’re not. And we don’t want to be grateful either.
‘I think older people generally like to stick with what they have grown up with, what they believe is right, and if they have those prejudices confirmed for them by the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, then they’re happy. And they’re also happy because by and large, and of course this is a gross generalisation, but by and large they have money. The old age pension is so much now on the side of the elderly than on the side of the young. I’ve got my teacher pension and my old age pension, and although I don’t have a lot of money I have enough. We’re very lucky. And because we’re very lucky, people of my generation think “right, let’s keep the status quo. The tories are the party of law and order and the tories are the party of economic good sense.” These of course are myths, but people believe them.’
“I think older people generally like to stick with what they have grown up with, what they believe is right.”
And so we return to our initial question: why exactly are our grandparents so Tory? As Mark suggested, do the older generation have a better understanding of how the government can operate practically? Or, as my grandad discussed, is it the way they consume news? Their comfortable standard of living? Do we just become more resistant to change as we grow older? Whatever the answer, having these conversations has allowed me to grow that little bit older and wiser. Whether or not my political beliefs will indeed change with age… well, watch this space. I’ll get back to you in 50 years.
Support more young people to have their voices heard
Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.
We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.
In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important.
Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.