‘We all have our own minds’: Testing the older voter stereotype

By Sophie Donovan
December 09 2019, 09.40

Brexit left behind a social divide between those wanting to Leave the EU and those wanting to Remain.

It also left behind dissonance between the generations.

Noted in various national columns was a trend where young blamed old for the Referendum result and a host of other political ills.

Journalist and writer Anne Karpf termed it the ‘old people screwing millennials trope’.

Former MP Chuka Umunna also noted bad blood, claiming these attitudes have resulted in a society ‘more divided by age today than at any other time in modern history’.

Taking to the streets of Spelthorne, a Surrey constituency with a median age of 41, we tested whether this stereotype had any factual grounding.

What became clear was that although older members of the electorate, aged 60 and above, claimed they have their own minds, their political views were largely shared.

Talking of Brexit, 71% of the people we spoke to had voted Leave in the 2016 Referendum.

Robert Holmear, 61, a Spelthorne resident for 45 years said: “I voted to Leave because I think the EU is undemocratic and unelectable.

“I’ve got no problem with trade and when it was a common market, brilliant idea, but it’s gone too far.”

Nigel Hedges, 54, crossed the same box: “I did vote to leave. I guess it was mainly immigration.

“I do like people from everywhere, but it’s just a matter of numbers. I felt that there was a lot of strain on public services.”

On voting age, 75% of the people we spoke to supported 18 being the minimum age at which a young person could vote.

Tom Mallaburn, 72, an Elmbridge resident for 45 years, said: “Absolutely not. I think having brought up two boys myself, I don’t think at 16 children are responsible.

“I don’t think they think clearly or analyse situations clearly. They can learn things by rote, but I think at 16 their opinions [are] a bit confused.”

Farnborough resident Pat Ireland, 70, agreed: “I don’t think that 16 or 17-year-olds know enough about politics to vote. I think they need those growing years to work out what they want.”

Jameel Mohammed, 60, disagreed: “Give the youngsters a chance. You know, they’ve got voices, they’ve got to live through all this nonsense.”

What united all the voters we met was their awareness of this generational blame game.

Mr Mohammed said: “There is a stereotype, but it’s well-founded because a lot of older people have this weird notion that they’re better off out instead of staying in.

“I don’t follow the trend, but the majority of older people, like my three elder brothers, will all say, ‘vote Conservative, vote Conservative’.”

Ms Ireland thought the younger generation needed to take life experience into consideration.

She said: “I think the younger generation kind of blame the older people for the way that the country’s in, in this day and age, and I think that that’s wrong.

“The younger people really need to understand the trials and tribulations that the elderly generation that we’ve got today and the problems that they face within the country. I think they need more understanding.”

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