Age does not give a blue political rinse

There is a long standing aphorism that people become more conservative with age. A well known example that comes to is Winston Churchill. However, the evidence for age giving a blue rinse to voter’s politics has been uneven. New surveys and analyses suggest that while many people may previously have swung to the right in later life, that is possibly no longer the case. People are remaining liberal thinking longer and later in life. This gives hope for progressive parties as the “Thatcher’s children” generation ages and a more liberal cohort advances in age and remains liberal thinking.

This has implications for all parties. The Conservatives have recently swung to the right, playing to the older generation. Leading Tory politicians seem to believe that voters are made in their own image. That folly means they are losing the younger voter.

There is now a challenge for progressive parties, which need to ensure that they retain liberal thinkers into old age. There are signs that is happening.

Of course, many people reading this post will have been liberal all their politically aware lives, including me. We are talking averages, trends and cohorts, not individuals. There are also regional variations with Scotland being a tad more left learning than England.

This article is largely based on research and analysis by John Burn-Murdoch in the Financial Times and by Portland Communications.

Burn-Murdoch’s analysis suggests that those born between 1928 and 1945 swung ten per centage points to the right after the age of 35. The baby boomer generation born between 1965 and 1980 followed the same path rightwards.

Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, become more liberal as they get towards 40 years old. The same is true in the United States. In both countries, millennials are 10% less conservative at the age of 35 than their predecessors. In the UK, this difference may have been accelerated by the disastrous record of the Conservative government and its swing to the right.

Burn-Murdoch argues this is not just to the calamitous performance and behaviour of the Conservatives in recent years. It is also a cohort effect. The youngest generation of voters just don’t think like their parents and grandparents. They are instinctively more liberal.

This trend is backed up by an analysis by Portland:

“People are increasingly reaching middle age with the views they developed in their youth decades previously. Just as the middle-aged (those in their 40s and 50s) are now as likely to be found on Instagram as people in their 20s, they also share the same beliefs as younger people about the need for businesses to take a stand on social issues or to stop discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. On a host of issues from rights around sexual and gender identity to how they… share much more with their concerned and anxious younger fellow-citizens than they do with older people… More liberal opinions and values seem to be being retained longer into older age.

“The idea that with increasing age comes the adoption of more conservative ways of thinking is losing traction.”

The analysis by Portland is important because it is not a political study. It is based on mapping responses from 9,000 people of voting age asked about attitudes to LGBTQ+, to Britain’s colonial past, along with equality and other contemporary issues.

Like the analysis from Burn-Murdoch, it shows a clear cohort effect. The majority of young people think differently from those who were old enough to vote during Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister.

Yet the myth than people become more Conservative with age persists. It is time to denounce that myth and work hard to engage with the younger audience.

That must ensure that more young people are registered to vote. In 2018, nine in ten people in Britain aged 65 or over were registered to vote. Only two-thirds of those under 25 were registered. After that of course, there is task of ensuring that younger people are engaged sufficiently to vote at an election. Those aged 60 or over are much more likely to vote than young people.

There is a great agenda ahead for progressive parties as the influence of Thatcher’s generation reduces. The challenge for the Lib Dems is to engage with younger people in their own terms through their own channels of communication.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Mel Borthwaite 12th Feb '23 - 1:14pm

    I think the evidence is overwhelming that social class/economic position is by far the most significant factor in determining attitudes to economic issues and many social policy questions, and the rightward drift of voters as they age is directly correlated to the change in social class/economic position that occurs over typical lifespans. There is a huge difference in outlook between a 24 year old, struggling to pay rental costs while seeking to save a deposit for a house, all with a student loan requiring repayment, and that same person 30 years later with solid career progression giving higher salary, now living mortgage free. It is easy to support higher taxes for higher earners when you are not one of them but it takes a person of high principal to continue to argue for higher taxes for higher earners when they are the one who will be paying more.

  • Peter Martin 12th Feb '23 - 1:42pm

    I’d say Mel, as above, has it about right.

    Andy omits to mention the immediate post war generation but we were responsible for “the swinging 60s”, the struggle against American imperialism, the first protests against South African apartheid and supported the first measures to decriminalise homosexuality. I know from personal experience that many of us who would happily have carried a banner then urging the Americans to stop their war in Vietnam aren’t quite so radical now and very likely vote Tory.

    Not me, I hasten to add!

  • Andy Boddington 12th Feb '23 - 2:19pm

    I make it clear that that the trend to the rightwards is the experience from earlier cohorts as you say. Of course people, took part in progressive marches early in their lives. The point is as you say, that they have drifted to the right as they have aged.

  • Andy Boddington 12th Feb '23 - 2:30pm

    Its a fair point that that financial progression may affect political viewpoint. But that is not axiomatic. Previous cohorts have benefited from cheap to buy housing and soaring house prices, among other factors. The Millennium generation have little hope of that. After 13 years of Conservative rule, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. In between are all those that struggle to improve their finances and those who live in fear of not earning enough to survive with any comfort or security.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Feb '23 - 4:54pm

    This baby-boomer dislikes the whole right-left nonsense. She was brought up in a mixed Liberal/tory household and took the Liberal route very early on.

    “I know from personal experience that many of us who would happily have carried a banner then urging the Americans to stop their war in Vietnam aren’t quite so radical now and very likely vote Tory.”

    I wasn’t into protests in the 1960s but was definitely in the anti-apartheid camp and have pointed out sometimes that Harold Wilson kept us out of the Vietnam war – I agreed with him wholeheartedly.

    I think I’ve become rather more radical as I’ve grown older. I even went on the Iraq war march and one of the brexit marches in London.

  • I can well remember my A level History lecturer saying William Gladstone heading in the right to left direction.

  • Ed The Snapper 12th Feb '23 - 6:55pm

    1965 to 1980 are Generation X. Many of them have suffered from the rise of McJobs, an increasingly meagre provision of state provision, tuition fees, graduate underemployment, frequent recessions, the lack of employer supported pension schemes and increasingly high house prices. They are now or will soon realise that retirement might never be possible or not as comfortable as for the baby boomers. Hopefully they will vote in a way that reflects on how badly they have been treated.

  • Neil Hickman 12th Feb '23 - 8:37pm

    The old smugness (frequently misattributed to Winston Churchill) has it that “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”
    There was a nice variant on that in the comments in the Daily Mail the other day as the Hitler-supporting toilet paper struggled to come to terms with the Lib Dem byelection successes: “What do you call a Conservative with a brain? A Liberal Democrat” It got lots of upvotes.

  • nigel hunter 12th Feb '23 - 10:33pm

    If you wish for the younger element to become successful in later life but still remain liberal minded when the wages are low build more SOCIAL houses for rent.More affordable at a younger age.After say 10 yrs and income increases then they have the option to buy.In a new era/century new ways have to come to the fore to obtain votes.I was recycling in the in the70s (The good life tv prog.) it has stuck with me.The party has to look forward, be radical to move on with policies that inspire.

  • Alex Macfie 13th Feb '23 - 9:15am

    Worth noting that in the 1980s, when the Tories last had a large Parliamentary majority, younger voters seem to have been every bit as Tory-leaning as their elders. The present ~40-point gap in % voting Conservative between the youngest and eldest age cohorts is a new thing. 40 years on from Thatcher’s landslide victory in 1983, the youngest voters of that time are today at or near pension age. They are now a strongly Tory voting cohort, but they were never particularly radical to begin with.

    Also although people do traditionally tend to become more economically conservative with age, there is no evidence that they become more *culturally* conservative, except to the extent suggested by Mark Twain, that “the radical invents the views; when he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them”. Tories have previously won the support of people approaching middle age by accepting and even embracing social change. This suggests that for the Tories to ever win the support of today’s youth, they’ll have to ditch all the culture war stuff.

  • I would very much like to vote LibDem (I am an inactive member!) but my overriding priority is to get rid of this dreadful Tory government and it’s supporters – so I will vote tatically – I was born in 1939 and was a Marine Engineer then senior academic manager in further/higher education. No age-related right shift here!!

  • Like most areas of life Brexit changes one’s outlook. I certainly see leave/remain as more important to me than left/right. Reading Benjamin Franklin biography and just come across a quote of his in reference to the 1787 US constitution: “the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgement, and to pay more respect to the judgement of others “.

  • Ruth Bright 14th Feb '23 - 9:04am

    Such an interesting post Andy. I have sent it to my 16 year-old who is studying A’Level Politics. I have a theory that Brexit would not have happened if more of a true wartime generation had been around to vote against it. My grandparents (born during WW1, adults during WW2) would have voted Remain because they actually knew and saw what it meant for Europe to be divided.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Feb '23 - 11:27am

    @ Ruth,

    “……. because they actually knew and saw what it meant for Europe to be divided.”

    There is some level of support for your theory if you go back to the analysis of the 1975 referendum, but it is quite tiny. In any case what we were asked to vote on then, ie a simple trading arrangement, wasn’t at all the same as in 2016.

    In the post war period, most wars could be said to be ‘civil’. In the sense they were about having more divisions on the map. If we go further back to the 19th century the USA lost more lives in its Civil War than in all subsequent wars combined. The pre war unity of the USA didn’t prevent that.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • James Fowler
    Is the Dutch election result the end for PR? The sub text is that the PR debate here is very heavily skewed by the particular electoral history and system o...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Joe, "The reliance on money printing is clearly not working for the Argentine population..." All money is either printed or, more usually, cr...
  • Peter Hirst
    One consequence of the present conflict seems to be the further marginalisation of the Palestinians living in Gaza. They are increasingly seen as collateral dam...
  • Peter Hirst
    Election campaigning and voter behaviour are both influenced by the voting system. introducing PR is essential because it is fairer as seats match percentage vo...
  • Joe Bourke
    Peter Martin, there is always an alternative view in political economy. The course to be adopted is decided by elections. Professor Hanke is an advocate of ...