Engagement with formal politics is an area where generational differences are widely seen as important dividing lines, with a number of studies showing younger generations engaging less with traditional political parties. Previous analysis suggests that as well as a generational effect, lifecycle effects may be important too, as it takes some time for political affiliation to “crystallise” among young adults.1
Looking at one aspect of this political identification – whether people see themselves as supporters of a particular political party – the overall trend is clear, as the chart above shows. There has been a general decline in commitment to a particular party – and the only surprise is perhaps that the fall is not steeper.
But the next chart explains why this might be the case, and is
about the clearest illustration of the challenge facing political
parties that we’ve seen.
The first key point here is that each generation is almost ruler flat (allowing for some short-term blips) and in strict generational order, which suggests a very strong cohort effect.
It’s the significantly more solid party identification among the pre-war generation that is doing a lot to hold the average up
There is little or no sign of a lifecycle effect - for example, of more recent generations settling down to follow a particular party and take the place of pre-war party supporters (the upswing among generation X and generation Y in 2010 will be worth following, although it is likely to be circumstantial, related to the general election).
The second key point is that it’s the significantly more solid party identification among the pre-war generation that is doing a lot to hold the average up. As this generation dies out therefore, a decline in party support looks inevitable – the generational tide is working against this type of political identification.
1 Park, A. (2000) British Social Attitudes 17th Report; Butler, D. and Stokes, D (1969) Political Change in Britain