Older voters feel Labour is moving in “right direction”, research suggests

Elliot Chappell

An estimated two million voters aged over 55 who did not back the Labour Party in the 2019 general election would consider doing so now, according to new research published by the Fabian Society this morning.

The paper, A Mature Approach, reported that 28% of over-55s are open to voting Labour and that, of these potential voters, there are around two million (10%) who did not vote for the party in 2019 but now say there is a good chance they will do so.

According to the Labour affiliate, a YouGov poll conducted in December 2021 found that 32% of people aged over 55 thought that Labour has moved in the “right direction” since Keir Starmer assumed the leadership compared to 28% who felt the party was moving in the “wrong direction”. 39% said they were unsure.

The Fabian Society described the two million voters who would now consider backing Labour at a future general election as “Labour’s new considerers”.

Just 23% of voters aged under 55 told researchers that they felt the party was moving in the right direction, while 28% said Labour was moving in the wrong direction. 49% of under-55s were recorded by pollsters as being unsure.

The Fabian Society held six focus groups with older, working-class voters who are open to voting Labour in target seats across England and Wales as part of its research. All participants were aged 55 and over and reported voting Labour at a previous election before backing the Conservatives in 2019.

The group reported that “while Labour remains behind in the polls among over-55s, the gap is no longer so large that it is an insurmountable barrier to the party winning the next election” arguing that “beneath the headline numbers there are other positive signs for Labour to build on”.

The research found that Labour led the Tories on 13 out of 24 policy areas including: improving the lives of older people; increasing living standards for people like me; the NHS; welfare; and levelling-up. The Tories were ahead on public finances, government debt, crime, immigration, Britain’s reputation in the world and defence.

The Fabian Society argued that the party should “focus its attention” on the policy areas it is felt to be behind on by ‘Labour’s new considerers’ if it wants to “seal the deal” in securing their return to the party ahead of a general election.

The Labour-affiliated group advised that in order for the opposition party to reconnect with these voters, “rebuild trust to govern” and demonstrate that it can “offer a better future”, Labour needs to:

  • “Persuade older voters it has changed and cares about them by demonstrating the party actively wants the support of older voters and speaking to their concerns and priorities;
  • “Reassure on fiscal credibility and economic competence by using every public announcement to show the party understands the importance of responsible finances, value for money and running the economy competently;
  • “Provide clear and sincere leadership on immigration by setting out how Labour will implement a system that rewards contribution, ensures control, and provides fairness;
  • “Appeal to mainstream values but remember ‘woke’ debates are a distraction by having clear lines on controversial topics but focusing on things that actually matter to older voters;
  • “Demonstrate party unity without compromising on antisemitism by utilising a wide team of Labour MPs and candidates that show how the party has changed;”
  • “Set out a positive and unifying story about the future of our country under Labour by providing strong leadership and a clear alternative that contrasts favourably to the current government’s lack of direction;
  • “Prioritise ‘security’ in all its forms – in the workplace, in local communities and in an uncertain world – and put this at the heart of Labour’s vision for the future. Security is a value that can unify different generations, but it requires the party to move away from the language of ‘revolution’ and ‘transformation’ without losing a sense of ambition for the next Labour government; and
  • “Present a progressive, credible and popular policy offer targeting older voters by focusing on ‘signature’ policies, which are authentically Labour and can unite older voters with Labour’s current coalition.”

At every election between 1987 and 2010, the difference between Labour’s overall vote and its vote amongst 55- to 64-year-olds or 65+ year olds was less than 4.5 percentage points, but the gap has widened in elections since Labour left office.

Ipsos Mori research found that 17% of voters aged 65 and over, and 27% of those between 55 and 64, backed Labour in the 2019 general election. According to the analysis, the Conservatives had a 47-point lead over Labour with those aged over 65 and a 22-point lead with voters aged between 55 and 64.

Voters will head to the polls for local elections taking place in parts of England, Wales and Scotland on May 5th. Polling has reported dissatisfaction with the Conservatives over the rapid increase in living costs and the ‘partygate’ row.

Savanta ComRes polling for LabourList in March revealed that an overwhelming 75% of UK adults believed the government is not doing enough to tackle the cost-of-living crisis amid spiralling energy bills and rising food prices.

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