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FUTURE POLITICS

Missing Millennials

Why the Conservatives lost a generation, and how to win them back
James Blagden, Sebastian Payne, Bim Afolami MP
May 30, 2023
Missing Millennials

“With homeownership a dwindling dream, stalling wage growth and soaring childcare costs, it is no wonder that Millennials are becoming less Conservative as they age. To paraphrase Tony Blair, Millennials’ instincts are to get on in life and they think the Conservatives’ instincts are to stop them.”

 

The Millennial generation of 25-40-year-olds represents 26% of the adult population and are already the largest age cohort in 51% of constituencies, or 324 seats. Many areas where the Conservatives need to shore up their support already have a majority of Millennials among voters. But they are also the first generation not to become right-wing as they age.

 

This is translating into votes. New comprehensive research from Onward shows that only 21% of Millennials would vote Conservative in a general election tomorrow. 31% think they are “dishonest,”  and 24% think they’re “incompetent” and “out of touch.” A total of 62% said they believe “the Conservatives deserve to lose the next election.” In comparison, 45% would vote for the Labour party.

But Millennials like Rishi Sunak

There is one silver lining for the Conservatives. Although Millennials take a dim view of the party, they are more favourable towards Rishi Sunak. There is a clear ‘Sunak effect’ among voters in their 30s, where the Prime Minister polls much better than the Conservative Party.

This ‘Sunak effect’ notably only exists among Millennials. 46% of 35-39 year-olds have a positive view of Rishi Sunak. For older voters, the gap between their favourability of Sunak and their intention to vote Conservative is almost zero.

Millennials prioritise housing, jobs, and family

The cost of living and the quality of NHS services are the top two issues that every cohort chose as the most pressing for the country. But look below this and Millennials’ second-order priorities are very different to the generations older and younger than them.

Missing Millennials

Housing and taxation are top-five issues for millennials, but not for the general population. Millennials are the generation that cares the most about taxation (21%), the most about childcare (15%) and the second most about housing after Generation Z (27%).

Millennials are forward-looking and optimistic

Millennials have a strong appetite for change. They are the most likely generation to want this change to happen quickly, taking a more radical stance than the average person. Although they are more radical than average voter, Millennials still show a clear preference for gradualism. A majority (56%) say they prefer gradual change. Even with a slight radical streak, the typical Millennials takes a small-c conservative approach to change – cautious and evolutionary.

Millennials are also optimistic, with 6-in-10 saying they are satisfied that they will have “opportunities to prosper in the years ahead.” There is a sense that things can only get better from here. Just over half (52%) think that opportunities will be better for the next generation than for them, more than any other generation.

Millennials are soft left, not hard left on culture

On a range of social issues, the average adult takes a moderately conservative stance – from favouring longer and tougher sentences for criminals to keeping recreational drugs illegal, and from scepticism of immigration to thinking that raising children is worth the sacrifices you have to make.

Older generations are always more socially conservative on any given issue. Millennials do not stray very far from this, leaning soft left rather than hard left.

Millennials have no time for the culture war

When asked in isolation, 45% of Millennials think politicians should talk more about race, gender and freedom of speech – much more than the 20% of Boomers who say the same. But when put up against tangible economic issues, the economy always trumps. Much of the social media conversation about culture war issues appears to be divorced from what the majority of Millennials think.

Their stated preference, of talking more about culture and less about economics, does not match their revealed preference. When ranking the most pressing issues facing the country, only 15% say that social justice and equality is one of the most important. This is the same as the proportion that chose immigration as a top issue. In fact, more Millennials think that taxation is a top issue (19%) and even more chose housing (26%).

Millennials are shy capitalists

On their general economic values, Millennials lean centre-left. They think equality should be prioritised over economic growth and that a person’s position in society is due to outside factors rather than individual effort.

But, when Millennials are asked about their policy preferences as opposed to the type of society they want to live in, a different picture emerges. They prefer keeping more of their own money over more redistribution. And they are more likely to view businesses as providing opportunities than being exploitative. On economic policy questions, Millennials are more right-wing than average.

Millennial’s concerns and policy preferences mark them out as broadly centrist, aspirational and future-focused. And given their age and life stage, their strong desire for higher wages, secure and affordable housing, family formation, education and professional development is unsurprising. But, at the moment, they feel the Conservative Party is not delivering for them.

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