Ignoring older voters is perilous for pro-Europeans

by Nick Kent | 11.04.2018

Pro-Europeans must engage with older voters if they are to win a people’s vote on the outcome of the Brexit talks. It’s not enough to pin all our hopes on a newly invigorated younger generation riding to the rescue.

With just a few months to go before key parliamentary votes on the terms of Brexit, voters remain divided on the issue of EU membership. There has been a drift from Leave towards Remain, which we can see in the last six months’ opinion polls. But one thing remains constant: older voters are still far more likely to support Leave than younger ones.

In 2016, 60% of voters over 50 voted for Brexit, and it was even higher at 64% amongst those over 65. By contrast, under-25s were twice as likely to vote Remain, by a margin of 71% Remain to 29% Leave.

A recent study has offered one explanation for the age differences in the 2016 vote. It identifies that younger voters tend to be positive about immigration, multiculturalism and gay marriage whereas a majority of older voters view them negatively.

Faced with this stark division of attitudes some pro-Europeans are in danger of believing that the way to stop Brexit is to get a higher turnout amongst young people and to persuade previously disaffected Labour supporters to support Remain. Even if these things were achieved, and there are important reasons why it will be difficult to do so, it is unlikely to be enough to achieve a convincing majority in a new referendum.

Remain campaigners have to find arguments that reach older voters. It’s no good simply dissing their views or trying to persuade them that they were conned by the Leave campaign – that comes across as patronising. Bluntly, too many Remain campaigners are portraying older voters as either stupid or racist.

Instead, Remain campaigners should focus on empathising with the concerns of older people who have seen their country change dramatically in ways they may not always have liked and at a speed they have found hard to adjust to. After all, they are not alone in their concerns about immigration or multiculturalism – about a third of voters aged 18 to 44 think immigration has changed Britain for the worse and that multiculturalism has weakened the country. To recognise that people are concerned about immigration is not to endorse racism.

Secondly, we need to take the argument about Europe away from cold economic analysis and focus on more emotional issues such as security and opportunity. After all, we are talking about a generation that remembers the Cold War as we enter a new era of global insecurity, with threats all around us. We need to harness the patriotism of older voters as we unite against the threats from a resurgent Russia, Islamist terrorism and the rise of China. And we need to ask older voters, who have had the opportunity to live, work, study or retire in the EU, why they want take these rights from their children and grandchildren.

Finally, given that older voters are more likely to read newspapers that are antagonistic to the EU, pro-Europeans have to go out and meet older voters in person. Older voters care about this country too and we should respect that, listen to their views and acknowledge their legitimacy. If we are not willing to take people of all ages with us, then we will not win a people’s vote.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

7 Responses to “Ignoring older voters is perilous for pro-Europeans”

  • We need to return to basics. The movement which led to the EEC and subsequently the EU was primarily designed to create a lasting peace in Europe and it was recognized as such by the attribution of the Nobel Peace prize to the EU in 2012. But antagonisms between countries can arise quickly as we have witnessed in the UK since the EU referendum ( racial and anti-foreign feeling has mushroomed since the vote) and the peace we have enjoyed since 1945 cannot be taken for granted.
    Older citizens need to be reminded of this and the horrors they will have experienced or heard about from their parents as a result of the last war. As for immigration this is not a EU problem. The UK government has simply not applied the rules and safeguards provided for by the EU to prevent EU immigration becoming a problem. And lastly older citizens should be reminded of the certain economic consequences of Brexit which will affect them as much as anybody else.
    The big problem with all this of course is how to get these messages across to the older members of the UK population in the face of the lies and misinformation churned out daily by the nationalist press in the UK ? In fact, what sort of democracy are we when this sort of problem cannot be dealt with in a proper fashion ? Liberty of the Press yes but not Abuse of that liberty.

  • I am an old person and a Remainer. 99% of my friends are old persons and Remainers. We are angry and incredulous and desperate. We do not need to be wooed. We are here.

  • Some salient points, but I suspect you’re actually understating the amount of work that needs to be done.

    What’s troubling is that when you go on Twitter or look BTL on the Indy/Graun then you realise very quickly that far too many remainers haven’t yet realised that a) they actually need to convert leavers, bad news alone won’t do it for them and that b) insults and condescension won’t do it either.

    BestforBritain’s poll, while celebrated (bizarrely imo), about a second referendum suggests that around a sixth of opponents will need to be won over in the next 5 months if there is to be any chance of enough MPs backing a ‘final say’ amendment.

    And yet rather than wake up to that, too many Remainers continue to insult and harangue as if they don’t need to win the opportunity for a second referendum.

  • I think it is possible to change the minds of only those who voted “out” as a protest vote, partcularly on issues like the underfunding of the NHS. Those are the people who should be addressed. I think there would be enough of these to win another referendum for remain.

    I have a brexiteering family member, who stands to gain nothing from Brexit, is on benefits and has voted to leave. I have come to believe she would rather set the country on fire than remain in the EU, yet she can articulate nothing that makes sense to me. She talks about schools being overcrowded (they aren’t here and there is a newish PFI one nearby that has been closed due to lack of students) and out of control immigration (if there is, it certainly isn’t happening anywhere near where she lives.) She will never be convinced because she is not fundamentally a cooperative person. Some people are like that and it isn’t worth arguing with them. She is in her early sixties, but her mother, I’m certain would have been a remainer, as she always identified proudly as European, and would have been very worried by what’s happened.

    There needs to be an offer by a political party to ameliorate the issues that concern people who voted out. People wanted rises, funds for the NHS, and more of a sense that the government was listening to them. I thought Labour might take up the cause, but, once again I and others are sadly disappointed. We might win a second vote, but until someone addresses the concerns of the reasonably-minded who voted out, they will not be motivated enough to change thier minds. Perhaps only a new Party can do that, but the remainer-in-chief, Theresa May, has betrayed us all by pulling the pin on the Article 50 grenade to secure her position in number 10 – leavers included, as the country is not in any way in a postion to flounce out of the EU just now. Even Brexiteers know this, hence the “transition period. ”

    Perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to some catastrophe will come to our aid. After all, we do knee-jerk very well.

  • Another oldie here who campaigned and voted for Remain. I despair at the content of some newspapers which seem to be favoured by my age group. Some of it is inaccurate and some downright nasty especially when discussing “freedom of movement” aka immigration.
    So I am asking what can I/we do to get more accurate and less emotive reporting?
    I would also ask that some of the younger Remainers please to stop insulting my generation as being stupid.
    I was lucky as I attended University at a time when it was less common (around 5%) and I believe this helped me to continue to want to learn new things and to be objective when assessing arguments.
    The majority of my contemporaries did not have that advantage and can re-act very badly to what they see as a privileged younger generation calling their views stupid and invalid. I know that as a “baby boomer” I am also seen as being part of an intergenerational problem which needs to be addressed but insults usually lead towards more not less entrenched views.

  • I’m part of the Baby Boomer generation but I’m a Remainer. My generation when we were young liked to shock the establishment. In the late 1960s and early 1970s some ‘dropped out’ joining communnes and went to rock festivals. The Glastonbury music festival from those times seem to be the only survivor. It could be many therefore who voted Leave was a kind of rebellion which is still there with the Baby Boomers. I hope this is the case. It could be those who ‘dropped out’ or rebelled and became part of the ‘hippy’ scene would be possible to convert if they have not converted already since more information about Brexit has come to light and that info is not good news. We need the People’s Vote which I hope will save the UK making thiat drastic step. Incidentally many of those who attend the annual Glastonbury festival are remainers as they were in 2016 just after the referendum. They were asked what they thought of the outcome of the vote.

  • I will take issue with the other comments and believe we need to evangelise the freedom of Freedom of Movement. What is not to like about the ability to live, work and study in France, Germany or Poland?

    I have suffered a £200 phone bill in Russia but roaming in Germany is free. I am entitled to emergency healthcare in France but need insurance in the US. These benefits are real and while the elderly or untraveled may not use them, they have children and grandchildren who do…