Pensioners, Tories’ Last Line of Defense, Rush to Secure Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Pensioners scrambled to secure their vote in the 10 days before the registration deadline for the July 4 election, a welcome boost for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s beleaguered Conservative Party.

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Retirees are a traditional vote base for the Conservatives and remain the only age group to still favor the party. Their support has been amply rewarded, with pensioner households £1,000 ($1,268) a year better off on average as a result of tax and benefit policies since the Tories took office in 2010, according to the Resolution Foundation think tank.

About 130,000 people aged 65 and over registered to vote following the announcement of the election, nearly twice as many as did before the 2017 election and one-and-a-half times more than in 2019, Bloomberg analysis of data from the UK government’s Register to Vote Service shows.

With opinion polls giving Keir Starmer’s Labour Party a lead of around 20 percentage points, Sunak needs all the votes he can get to avoid what’s expected to be a crushing defeat. In the last two weeks, the Conservatives have pivoted toward warning voters against giving Labour a “supermajority” in the House of Commons.

Both parties have been trying to appeal to older voters with promises to keep the triple lock on pensions, which would see payments rise each year by the highest of inflation, average earnings or 2.5%. Sunak further tried to woo the demographic by pledging to keep pensions out of the tax net and reintroduce mandatory national service.

“The two main parties so far in this election seem to be rewarding the gray vote over working for young people,” said Liz Emerson, chief executive of the Intergenerational Foundation, a non-partisan charity.

Pensioners are more likely to vote than other age groups. In 2019, turnout among 18 to 34-year-olds was less than 60%, according to the British Election Study. The figure for people aged 65 and over was 70%.

“There’s been an age gap in turnout for a number of elections; it’s a longstanding pattern,” said Nick Vivyan, professor of politics at Durham University. “This gives parties electoral incentives to cater higher up the age spectrum than they otherwise would have.”

By contrast, the number of under-35s registering to vote since May 22 was the lowest in the last three elections, the Bloomberg analysis showed.

“They are chasing the gray vote and ignoring the vote of the young,” said Toby Whelton, a researcher at the Intergenerational Foundation. He blamed a general lack of “inspiring” policies for young people, who also object to Sunak’s national service policy and pledge to scrap some university courses.

Labour promises to boost apprenticeships and assistance for getting on the property ladder may not be enough to excite young voters, who were more attracted to the “radical platform” of Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, Vivyan said.

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