Why older voters are not the key battleground in the independence referendum

The only age group in which a majority say they will vote No is 60+. It’s a heavy majority at that – 59% No to 36% Yes with 5% undecided in the latest YouGov poll – which explains why it tips the balance to give No an overall lead. This generational divide has led some to say the Yes campaign should focus on older voters as the key battleground in the referendum. But there are numerous reasons to believe that this would be the wrong strategy.

Pragmatically, older voters are more likely to use postal votes, and so a disproportionate number of the 60+ vote will already have been cast. 1 in 6 votes are postal in the referendum, a sizeable chunk of the electorate. There are fewer undecided voters too, with the last three You Gov polls having 4-8% of this age group as undecideds, compared to 9-13% of 25-39 year olds.

The polls indicate that the Yes gains are coming both from undecided voters and soft No voters, but there may be less prospect of older soft No voters changing their minds. As Mike Smithson pointed out on Political Betting: “We also know from other polling that the older you are the less likely it is that you will change your mind. That relates to all elections and not just the referendum.”

Is it just an age thing that makes older voters more likely to vote no – a desire to hold on to the status quo? The size of the fall-off in support for independence argues against this. It seems unlikely that so many current 40-59 year-olds will change their minds as they pass 60.

Growing up in the second world war and the ‘golden age’ that followed may have ingrained a sense of Britishness, and more importantly a sense of success and achievement with it. The building of the welfare state including the NHS alongside low unemployment and economic growth defined the early part of today’s pensioners’ lives. Many will have been established in jobs for life by the time the economy faltered.

By contrast, the Thatcher era dominated the early lives of many under 60s, which will inevitably colour their perception of Britishness. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon recognised this when mentioning Maggie within the first minute of their respective TV debate contributions.

For the reasons above, the 60+ No vote may be more immune to persuasion. It would certainly seem risky to focus on this age group at the expense of others.

By Breck MacGregor Tagged