A combination of demographics and greater turnout gave the baby boomer generation an advantage of 4 million votes over millennials at the last general election, according to a report that warns of a growing inter-generational political divide. With likelihood to vote closely tied to being a homeowner, the turnout gap between younger and old people could increase further, the Resolution Foundation said. The thinktank has analysed turnout figures for every general election since 1964, as part of the work of its Intergenerational Commission, which is trying to understand inequalities between age groups. It found that in 2015, the vote gap between baby boomers (those born between the end of the second world war and the mid-1960s) and millennials (defined here as people born from 1981 to 2000) was a combination of sheer numbers and the fact that the latter were a third less likely to cast a vote. The statistics showed that a total of 10.6 million baby boomers voted in 2015, 67% of the demographic’s population. In contrast, 6.4 million millennials voted, which was 46% of those of voting age.
The report defines turnout as the proportion of the voting-age population who cast a vote, as against the usual definition of the percentage of registered voters who cast a ballot, so as to give a broader picture of democratic engagement across generations. This was important, the authors said, as evidence suggested that registration has been declining over time, particularly for younger people.
This generational difference in turnout has grown over the decades, mainly from the mid-90s, as generation X – identified here as those born from 1966 to 1980 – lost the voting habit. In 1964, the analysis found, there was just a three-percentage point gap between the turnout for those aged 66-80 and the 21-35 group. But by 2005 this had increased to 26 percentage points, and has stayed near that ever since.
Given that the likelihood to vote tends to not change too much as people age, the report’s authors said, declining registration and turnout among successive waves of potential first-time voters “presents a major challenge for future elections”.