Conservatives rightly fear the young

After the US mid-term elections, I wrote a piece about some astonishing data from the University of Michigan in which 94% of voters (presumably mostly educated young students) at the university voted for the Democrat rather than the Republican candidate1.

Now a survey from the Financial Times2 has come out which indicates that Millennials3  (aka Generation Y; born from 1981-1996) are the only demographic group in the UK and US among Baby Boomers4  (1946-1964), Generation X5  (1965-1980) and the Silent Generation6  (1928-1945) who are not becoming more conservative as they age.

The survey looked at the UK and US separately and both showed the same trend with Boomers (now 58-76 in age) and the Silents (now 77-92) becoming more conservative in the US at about the same rate, with both groups starting to vote more for the Republican Party than the Democratic Party when they both reached the age of about 50. In the UK, both Boomers and the Silents did much the same, with the Silents starting to lean toward the Conservative Party when they hit about 50, while the Boomers were a little later, only tending to vote Conservative after they hit 60, but tending towards the Conservatives much more strongly after that. Generation X (now 42-57) now seem to following a similar path, with both around the national average in both countries, and generally trending towards a more Republican and Conservative vote as they age, although this seems to be more pronounced in the UK2.

The story with Millennials is vastly different. In the US when they hit voting age they tend to vote much like the older demographics did at the same age. However, once the Millennials hit 30 they dramatically turn away from the Republican Party. In the UK the trend with Millennials is solidly away from the Conservatives as they age2.

A similar trend is happening in Australia. Support for the Coalition is at historic lows among younger people according to the 2022 Australian Election Study released early in December 2022, which paints a dire picture for the Liberal and National parties7. As in the US and UK, younger voters tend to vote left or centre-left and as they age, they tend to become less conservative. Each Australian Election Study conducted since 1987 has found older voters are more likely to support the Coalition and shows a modest decline in Labor’s support with increasing age among voters7.

The 2022 federal election was a shocker for the Coalition, its vote share falling in almost every age group. But the Coalition’s standing among younger Australians (both Millennials and Generation Z [1997-2012]8) has fallen to historic lows. Only about one in four people under the age of 40 reported voting for the Coalition in 2022. At no time in the 35-year history of the Australian Election Study has there been such a low level of support for either major party in so large a segment of the electorate7.

In response to the Financial Times survey, some said it was all about home ownership, with a response like‘it’s things like homeownership that make people more conservative. Fix that, and they’ll come back’ being quite common. However, even among homeowners in the UK, Millennials are less conservative than previous generations, and show no sign of following the old trend2.

A ‘period effect’ is where an external factor impacts people of all ages simultaneously. In the UK the massive cockup that was ‘Trussonomics’ was a classic example, shifting all ages away from the Conservative Party. However, that was a brief shock whereas this survey is looking at a multi-year trend, and ‘Trussonomics’ cannot explain the same pattern in the US2.

What remains is the ‘cohort effect’: a difference that emerges among people who experience a common event at the same time. When you consider that Millennials came of age in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and entered their thirties with homes being less affordable than ever, it starts to feel quite plausible that this context may have shaped this generation different to that of its predecessors. This seems to be borne out by the data. Millennials in both the US and UK favour more left-wing economic policies than previous generations did at the same age. They’re much more in favour of redistribution from rich to poor2. That is anathema to conservatives.

One reply to the Tweets examined above noted that Millennials get their news online and from social media, and not from the ‘legacy media’ (i.e. newspapers, free to air television)2. Despite what you think of it, social media is the ultimate democratic source of news. If you do think that social media is a sewer and that its denizens are sewer rats9, then you are simply following the conservative narrative to try to discredit social media. It is no accident that the abuse people get is mostly directed at women by misogynists, against non-white people by racists, and at others (including me) by conspiracy theorists. Almost all of these groups of abusers are RWNJs, or worse, Trumpettes (Trump enthusiasts). 

One last point; if you are getting more conservative as you get older then you have not been watching what is going on in the world.




  • Marilyn Joy Smythe says:

    Excellent article, agree totally with your comments. I feel Australia is well on the way of being free of conservative dogma and anachronistic thinking. For what it is worth, both my partner and I, the silent generation and a boomer, respectively, are very definitely not ‘conservative. Thank you.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for that. There are many other things I would have like to have said, but then the item would have been too long.

  • James Faulkner says:

    A lovely mess of statistics. I guess I’m one of those gen x-ers who is the exception to prove the rule, because of nothing else, the conservative nature of politics, business, religion and associated social phenomenon has forced me into a more socially progressive and decent frame of mind than the person I might have been.
    Some of us just aren’t so easy to shove into your little concept boxes.

    • admin says:

      It is statistics and it is about people; hardly boxes. Like you, I am supposed to get more conservative with age, but after reading much more than previously about the topics covered in this blog, I have become even more progressive than I used to be. That is why I believe that if you are becoming more conservative with age, you haven’t been listening.

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