How can the Conservatives win back younger voters?

Party has identified under-35s as key target group, but polls show less than a fifth of millennials vote Tory

Older Tory members attend last year's party Conference
(Image credit: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

The Conservatives are facing an existential threat to their long-term survival, after new research revealed fewer than one in five millennials currently supports the party with nearly half of Tory voters now over the age of 65.

According to centre-right think tank Onward, just 16% of under-35s said they would currently vote for the Tories, compared with 60% for Labour. The Herald Scotland says “in another stark illustration of the electoral mountain the Conservatives have to climb” the study found the so-called “tipping point” - the age at which people are more likely to vote Conservative than Labour - has increased from 47 to 51 since the 2017 general election.

The average age of Conservative Party members is 72, according to the Bow Group think tank.

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The Daily Telegraph says “the ability to appeal to younger voters is likely to be an important quality during the next Tory leadership battle given Labour’s popularity with voters in their 20s and 30s”.

A flurry of Tory leadership hopefuls came out in support of the Onward report, which concluded voters under the age of 35 are now the key electoral battleground for the Conservatives, and set out a ten point plan to win them over.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the party needed to “act swiftly” to win over the younger generations who were turning away from the centre-right in “unprecedented” numbers.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, also called on the Conservatives to change their “tone” towards modern Britain, while former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said it was crucial the party “broaden our appeal amongst younger aspirational voters”.

Favourite to succeed May, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, insisted last year that the Tories must stop “recycling tired arguments” about Venezuela and talking about how great Margaret Thatcher was if they are to woo them back over to the blue team after 2017's ‘youthquake’ results.

Onward's director Will Tanner, a former aide to Theresa May, told the Daily Mail: “Everyone is focusing on Brexit, but the growing age gap in vote intention is a bigger threat to the Conservative Party's future”.

“Class and income have traditionally been seen as the most important political dividing lines in British politics but at the 2017 general election age was the most accurate predictor of how people would vote” says the Telegraph.

Onward has set out series of policies aimed at rejuvenating the centre-right which its research showed would appeal to younger voters, including low taxes, punishing rogue companies, protecting the environment and controlling immigration.

The Tories “will take heart in the study’s finding that younger generations are most in favour of lower taxes,” says City A.M., “with nearly two-thirds of 18 to 24s believing that people should be ‘allowed to keep more of their own money’”.

There is a similar story with immigration, with 38% of 18-24 year-olds favouring curbs to the number of people coming into the country.

Other policy solutions touted over the past year include radical changes to the housing market, a cut in interest rates for student debt, and an attempt to become less tribal over Brexit.

However, the party faces an uphill struggle.

From plans for a ‘Tory Glasonbery’ to Momentum-style Tory grassroots online youth organisation Activate, “attempts by the Conservatives to respond to Labour's predominance among the young have been roundly ridiculed,” writes Charlotte Edwards in Tatler.

Suggestions to change the Tory party logo from a tree to an aspirational ladder also fell flat.

Nor is the problem just about presentation.

“If you’re the party who raised tuition fees to their highest level and are perceived not to care about the housing crisis this poses a fairly serious problem,” says Vicky Spratt for Grazia.

“As well as a dearth of personalities to inspire the young, there’s also a distinct lack of a tangible ‘crusade’ to match Corbyn's march against austerity,” says Edwards.

“There are no Eighties-style ‘Maggie's Mates’ - those Cold War warriors/ultra-free-marketeers who promoted the idea that everyone can be a winner. The memory of those hustling, have-it-all Eighties political ideals - and the associated images of pink-cheeked mini-Thatcherites self-congratulating with champagne - is something that modern Tories are finding hard to shake off,” she writes.

Citing the two “most pressing issues of our age” as the housing crisis and “the fact that young people aren’t going to have assets as they grow old in the same way older generations did”, Spratt argues “the real problem facing not only May but Conservatism as a whole: you’re not going to be a Conservative if you’ve got no assets to conserve”.

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