Are we nearly there yet? How many days to the election now: 80? 1,000? It will feel like the latter by the time we get to 7 May.
This far out, it doesn’t really matter too much what the parties pledge and promise. No one will remember by election day – not once all the inevitable gaffs and awkward “ordinary voter” encounters go wrong – never mind, the debates.
Policy announcements aimed at older voters will be saved up for closer to the day. They actually vote, you see: better to let them go to the booths with those pledges (pensions? Tax relief?) fresh in their heads.
So for now, you might expect to see policy announcements aimed at the more undecided. Policies like taking a little money from pensions to help alleviate some of the student debt burden, announced this week by… oh, does it really matter?
Because the reverse policy will probably be announced closer to election day when parties start targeting older voters. Small wonder then, putative first-time teenage voters are ambivalent.
Most of the 18-year-olds I spent the weekend with were highly unlikely to vote at all. Here’s what I learned.
They care about: student loans, tuition fees, how they are ever, ever! going to be able to move out, the student housing and funding crisis, and, starkly put, “how I’m ever going to be able to afford to just live”.
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
1/6 Settled Silvers
These are the comfortably-off over-60s, still in work or drawing a decent pension – or both – who are enjoying their entitlements such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licence. They are worried about immigration and Europe. Both the Conservatives – who are pledging to keep benefits for wealthier pensioners – and Ukip want their votes
2/6 Squeezed Semis
Slightly older than the Harassed Hipsters, they are the second key group for Labour’s family-focused election strategy. They are married couples on low to middle incomes who own unpretentious semi-detached homes in suburban areas. In 2001, these were the Pebbledash People sought by the Conservatives. Now the pebbledash is gone and a modest conservatory has been built at the back
3/6 Aldi Woman
In 1997 and 2001 she was Worcester Woman – a middle-class Middle Englander shopping at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Today, the age of austerity means she still goes to Waitrose for her basic food shop but cannily switches to Aldi for her luxury bargains such as Parma ham and prosecco. Identified by Caroline Flint, she is a key target of both Labour and the Conservatives
4/6 Glass Ceiling Woman
In her thirties or forties, she has an established career under her belt, perhaps in the “marzipan layer” – one position below the still male-dominated senior executive level. She is now, according to Nick Clegg, forced into making the “heart-breaking choice” between staying at home to bring up her children and going to work and forking out for high-cost, round-the-clock childcare
5/6 Harassed Hipsters
One of the two key groups identified by Labour as crucial to hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street. Well-paid professional couples, often with children, they live in diverse urban and metropolitan areas rather than the suburbs. More comfortably off than most swing voters, they are time poor – struggling to balance raising a young family with busy work schedules
These are mainly first-time voters, though some are in their twenties – students and digital-age generation renters helping to fuel the “Green Surge”. Idealists, but with no tribal loyalty to any party, they are anti-austerity, middle class, living in urban areas. Despite studying at university or recently graduated, they are struggling to find decent jobs and want cheaper housing and a higher minimum wage
So far, so... if not selfish, then at least self-centered. “Do you care about things that are not directly about you?” “No. Not really,” was the blunt, honest, response.
They claim most 18-year-olds don’t care about supposedly big issues like immigration. Admittedly, these teenagers were west Londoners, used to living among integrated immigrant communities.
Here’s a random selection of quotes from my mini focus groups: “most 18 year-olds only care about themselves”; “young people don’t vote because they can’t be bothered, they don’t know enough”; “we don’t see many differences between the Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives”.
“Ukip is different but no one we know would vote Ukip”; “perhaps more people would vote Green – it is our futures, but we feel it is a wasted vote”; “it’s totally uncool to vote Lib Dem. It is social suicide and pointless”.
These highly educated teenagers never watch Question Time. To them, PMQs is “just lots of old men shouting”. They believe the political system is too old-fashioned, and that Britain should “get rid of the pomp and ceremony.”
“We don’t read newspapers or watch the news. We see enough ‘small scale’ news on Twitter, the Mail Online, Metro or the Standard…”
Judge them at your peril. That teen may well be your son or daughter. Their self-centeredness is not really so different from other demographic groups. It’s just narrow in that they don’t have any jobs, dependants, properties or investments to worry about.
It’s clear they are untouched by the parties, let alone their policies. If any party actually wants them to vote in May, they have a hell of a challenge ahead of them, starting with the medium by which to reach them, let alone the message.
Stefano Hatfield is editor-in-chief of High50. Twitter: @stefanohat