The German election has highlighted the increasingly dominant role played by an older (and ageing) electorate across the world. Those over 60 in Germany make up over three in ten of the electorate (20 million of the 62 million) whilst the over 50s comprise almost half of those entitled to vote.
In those countries with an ageing society, not only are more older people eligible to vote, but they are also more likely to vote. In the 2005 German election for example 85% of older people voted compared with just 66% of the 21 to 25 year age group. And ahead of the Japanese election in August just over half of Japanese people in their 20s said they intended to vote, compared to 84 percent of respondents in their 60s planned to vote.
But the key question is whether this voting power translates to a greater political and policy interest in ageing issues. Certainly in Germany there are indications that it does. Ahead of the election the German Government raised pensions 2.4 percent despite inflation being close to zero. They also introduced legislation guaranteeing that pensions would not be cut even if wage levels go down.
In the American Presidential election, Barrack Obama won two out of every three votes from people aged 18 to 29. But there are already fears among some Democratic supporters that the mid-term elections will feature an older electorate than the presidential elections (younger people can be less inclined to vote in congressional elections) making it difficult for Mr Obama’s administration.
However, whilst older people are more likely to vote than other age groups, if they are considered to be less likely to switch their party allegiance than other age groups, it is possible the mainstream political parties could take their vote for granted. In the Japanese election the older electorate were, of course, a target for politicians. But at the same time, the parties courted the “yawarakai hoshu-so” (flexible conservatives), younger well educated middle classes who are known to be floating voters, and whose views have been shown to be decisive at election time.
Without a doubt, what all of this highlights is the need for Governments across the world to do more to get more young people voting. Unless they succeed, there is a major risk of intergenerational conflict.
Ahead of an election in the UK it is not yet clear if the ageing population is having a major influence on any of the parties or their big media machines. The Government’s Big Care Debate has attracted some attention but it can’t be claimed that the issue has risen to the top of the political agenda. And the only media coverage for the new Ageing Strategy was on the issue of the bringing forward of the review of the Default Retirement Age.
In the context of the UK election, it will be fascinating to see how UK politicians view older voters. Will it be a group they need to attract, and if so, will we see announcements akin to the German one in the forthcoming pre-budget report? What is certainly a truism is that the political parties ignore the ageing society at their peril. David Sinclair