The Conservative surge in the opinion polls that killed off the prospects of a November election was built upon a large swing away from Labour amongst older voters. The Grey Vote - which accounts for at least one in four voters if you count just the 65+, or over 40% of turnout if you count in all voters aged 55+ - has proved the be the most volatile age-group in the electorate.
Older voters swung from Labour to Conservative in dramatic numbers in the key polls during party conference season. Here's the evidence. In the ICM/News of the World poll of voters in marginal seats the Conservatives had opened up a decisive 56%-32% lead over Labour amongst voters aged 65+ and were ahead 47%-33% amongst voters aged 55-64. In the same poll Labour led the Conservatives 41%-30% amongst younger voters aged 18-24. But doing well amongst younger voters amounts to very little to any party struggling with the Grey Vote, because if its sheer size, and critically, the much higher voting turnout amongst older voters. In this poll a pathetic 16% of young voters said they were "certain to vote" compared 72% of voters aged 65. It's a clear political calculus that any party who seeks power needs to be polling strongly amongst large groups of voters who actually bother to vote. Doing well with the apathetic counts for very little. Here's some ICM numbers:
Certain to vote:
Lab Con LD
18-24 41% 30% 29%
25-34 46% 45% 8%
35-44 45% 41% 6%
45-54 34% 43% 11%
55-64 33% 47% 13%
65+ 32% 56% 9%
Source: ICM for the News of the World. Published October 7 2007
With all the usual caveats about the fallibility of polls, and not comparing panels of identical voters, look at two other national Yougov polls to show the large swing amongst older voters. The Yougov polls for Channel Four News over the last two weeks (here and here showed a nine point lead for Labour with voters aged 55+ turn a week later into a Conservative lead of four points. Compared to the 35-54 age bracket where Labour's lead only dropped from 11% to 9% over the same period. The Grey Vote appears highly volatile compared to other age groups.
The Grey Vote may not be on the radar screen of our youth-obsessed media, but there are compelling reasons why older voters should be a priority segment for Labour's strategic campaign planning. The Party has lost ground since 2005 amongst this key sub-section of voters.
There are a range of issues where Labour has a good story to tell, but needs to do much more to improve the quality of life for older voters. Labour's investment in the NHS has transformed both the quality of our local health services and dramatically reduced waiting times for operations. But, there are too many reports around of poorer standards in services for older people. Likewise, long term care is far from being a settled issue, too many voters feel the funding arrangements are unfair and too many older people suffer abuse and neglect in care homes, and yes, Inheritance Tax, needs to be looked at. As Neasa MacErlean points out in yesterday's Observer, there are real issues of perceived injustice within the current system.