The political differences between generations can be existential to political parties. In the United Kingdom, age accounts for one of the strongest political predictors of voting in elections. In the 2017 general election, 64% of 18-24 voters voted for Labour, but 69% of those older than 70 voted for the Tories. Gaining advantages among certain ages can have significant political rewards for political parties. Some certain evidence has emerged that so-called “Generation Z” are now one of the most conservative generations since the Second World War. To what extent does generation Z pose a threat to the political Left across Britain and the USA?
Generation Z are the generation aged 13-18. They are the first generation not to know a life before the internet as they were too young to remember it or born after it. As a result, they tend to be more individualistic than previous generations. As a result, they are politically to the Right of the political spectrum on various issues. They are more likely to want to own a business and have conservative attitudes to money and this may, in fact, lead to conservative values on economics. It isn’t just this, other studies show that Generation Z are actually more socially conservative on various issues. On issues such as LGBT rights, marijuana legalisation, a British survey found that Generation Z is 59% of either moderate or conservative on these issues. Such positions some people argue threaten the Left. This, however, I think this is false.
The problem with looking at social values among voters is they only give a moderate prediction in how voters vote. What do I mean by this? Someone may have socially conservative values but still vote for Left-wing political parties. In the UK, certain ethnic minorities are socially conservative but are still supporters of the Labour Party. Muslims, for example, hold socially conservative positions. 52% would want to make homosexuality illegal, 56% disagree with gay marriage, 45% of Muslim men believe that women should always obey them according to an ICM poll. These social views would put them on the political Right when it comes down to social values. However, 81% of Muslims voted Labour in 2017. Social conservatism doesn’t necessarily mean that people will vote for a Right-wing party. Other factors are at play. Generation Z is said to lean towards the Right on various political issues. Which other group leans to the Right on political issues? African Americans. Only 28% of African Americans who voted Democratic considered themselves Liberal according to Pew Research, compared with 40% who considered themselves moderate and 30% Conservative. This would make them average voters in US elections based purely on ideology. Yet African Americans overwhelmingly support the Democratic party.
The other consideration that is often overlooked is that younger voters haven’t always been Left-wing. In fact, various US presidential elections previously has seen 18-29 voters vote for the Democratic party. In 1976, 51% of 18-21 voters voted Republican, whilst in 1984 61% of 18-21 voters voted Republican and in 1988, 53% of 19-29 voters voted Republican. In the past, younger voters haven’t been particularly opposed to the Republican party. Neither is there a massive difference in the US between different age groups over the age of 30. The 45-60 in 2016 voted 44% for Clinton and 52% for Trump and the 60+ voters voted 45% for Clinton and 52% for Trump, which shows that there is a 1% difference between those who are 45-60 and those 60 plus. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that there was some anecdotal back in 2013 that Millennials actually backed the Tories by 3%. Research by Demos and Ipsos-Mori revealed it was Generation Y that had suspicion of the welfare-state and had a more individualistic outlook on politics back in 2014. Did these people become strong Tory supporters? No, in fact, 18-30s voted 63.3% for Labour in 2017 according to YouGov.
Ideology only gives on dimension of how people vote. Another is political and societal contexts that help shape the future voting behaviour of voters. For example, in the UK, there has been an increase in working class support for the Conservative Party, from 29% in 2015 to 41% in 2017 or a 12% increase in support. This change is not really representative of a sudden ideological change in working-class voters but rather the context of the politics of that election, that the working class heavily influenced them into voting Conservative namely their support for Brexit. What may affect Generation Z’s political context is their impression of politics around them. The evidence contrasts the arguments that Generation Z is leaning to the political Right. In the US, there is strong disapproval among 15 and 34, which is partially Generation Z and Partially Millennial, particularly the fact that 72% were against the idea that Trump represents their values. In fact, 62% of 13-17-year-olds in one study disapprove of Trump. Donald Trump may, therefore, take any benefit away from the GOP of Generation Z being more conservative. In the UK, Brexit will certain taint the Conservatives among younger people to the point in which they have become completely unrepresentative of younger people.
The anecdotal evidence of Generation Z being right-wing should make the Left slightly cautious. If there are any people who might benefit, it may be the centre-Left who appeals to them with pro-business stance mixed with government interference and open-markets. Indeed, Generation Z may, in fact, save the Centrists in the Labour party by shifting the debate towards the centre.
Article by Daniel Clemence