I will refer to the Triple Lock Pension in the UK as an example here:

"The triple lock was introduced in 2010 by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. It was a guarantee to increase the state pension every year by the higher of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%." (source)

I am wondering what the reasoning behind it is? Is it a concession made by a government in an attempt to pander to older voters, who generally have a higher propensity to vote? From an economic point of view, such a pledge doesn't make sense. The UK has been going through a period of austerity, with total public spending dropping by 3% in real terms from 2010 to 2011.

Pensions represent a huge portion of the UK's budget (£138.1 billion as of 2013). Pledging to always increase it every year ties the government's hands, economically speaking, as other areas of government are forced to take a disproportionately higher cut in order to compensate.

From a moral perspective, is it fair to always expect an increase? When the UK is recovering from recession, and spending is at a deficit, is it reasonable for such a pledge to be in place?

Anyway, I have only recently started following politics myself, and as such I am not aware of the circumstances under which this pledge was made, so my question really boils down to the following:

Most Western democracies have aging populations, and statistics tend to suggest that older people are more likely to vote.

So if the premise of my question is correct, is it considered an issue (perhaps unfair to younger generations who will have to live out the consequences of votes which are more decided by the elderly)?

Is there a tendency for democracies to pander to older voters, and if yes, should it be considered as a problem?

  • 3
    There are a lot of different questions in this question. I see a few different empirical questions as well as one moral one. Please edit this to focus on a single question. Commented May 24, 2017 at 13:15
  • @indigochild I added in the bold part at the end to clarify the question, is it okay now?
    – mrnovice
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 13:23
  • 2
    "should" is still asking for opinion.
    – user9389
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Yes.... and no. There is a tendency to pander to voters. Not "voters" as in eligible voters, but voters as in more likely voters.

In the United States, younger voters vote the least, as a percentage of those eligible to vote. One study/group, called the "Election Project," run out of University of Florida, tracks voter turnout demographics. Breaking down the age groups to 18-29, 30-44, 45-59, and 60+, you see slightly less than a 10% difference, roughly, in participation between each age group, representing about a 30% participation disparity between the eldest and youngest groupings.

Election Project: US Voter Turnout Demographics

Voters who vote determine who gets elected. It makes sense that those who make it a point to participate would get pandered to more than those who don't.

Is it "fair" that the elderly have a greater say in decisions that, arguably, impact the younger as much or more? Absolutely. It is entirely within the power of younger voters to actively participate and make themselves a group to be pandered to. They chose not to, collectively, and therefore abdicated the opportunity to have their voices heard in a more meaningful way in those decisions. It's a choice, arguably, that was made by the voters, and the priorities of the politicians in that regard only reflect the will, or lack thereof, of the voting populace.

At least, in regards to the United States, that is.

  • 1
    The question asks about democracies in general, but this answer is focused on the U.S. What about the rest of the world? Commented May 24, 2017 at 14:50
  • 2
    @indigochild This answer is focused on the US because that's what I have readily available confirmable statistics for. I believe my answer is a universal one, but can't back it up with the kind of numbers I posted here, so I restricted it to what I could provide evidence for. If I find more examples across societies, I will edit. I am aware of that shortcoming. Thanks for the feedback! Commented May 24, 2017 at 14:59
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    "It is entirely within the power of younger voters to actively participate and make themselves a group to be pandered to." Not necessarily. It's a lot easier to take time to vote when you're retired than when you're working full-time. 18-22 year-olds are also often away from their home state for college and unable to travel back just to vote. Voting by mail is possible in some states, but you generally need to set it up in advance.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 20:30
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    @AndrewPiliser - No, not "some states." There are exactly zero states that don't allow for absentee voting. 18-22 year olds can also register and vote at their at-school residence. Yes, it is easier for a retired person, but there's just as much, if not more, going on in the lives of 30, 40 and 50 year olds. One might also argue that the elderly are physically more challenged to get to the polls, so, no, the disparity is one of choice. I'd be interested to see if you have anything that claims otherwise. Commented May 24, 2017 at 20:35
  • 1
    The last paragraph implies that young voters deserve the negative consequences of older people voting based on a choice other members of their ascribed identity made. I imagine a lot of people consider this unfair.
    – aebabis
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 22:20

I'm going to pass on the pandering question because you answer that affirmatively in your own question and the empirical evidence agrees with the supposition so overwhelmingly that a cursory review indicates it's true. Social Security in America is called the Third Rail of Politics precisely because if a politician dares touch it he dies.

As for the moral case, I will just offer a few tid bits of information. In most developed countries the richest co-horts are the elderly, by a long shot. The poorest are the young. That is not to say that there aren't elderly that are financially unstable. That's obviously the case. But what is also obvious is why are we subsidizing the most affluent at the expense of those that are the poorest. That doesn't make sense.

The growing divide between the rich and poor in America is more generation gap than class conflict, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal government data. The rich are getting richer, but what's received little attention is who these rich people are. Overwhelmingly, they're older folks.

Nearly all additional wealth created in the USA since 1989 has gone to people 55 and older, according to Federal Reserve data. Wealth has doubled since 1989 in households headed by older Americans. Not so for younger Americans. Households headed by people in their 20s, 30s and 40s have barely kept up with inflation or have fallen behind since 1989. People 35 to 50 actually have lost wealth since 1989 after adjusting for inflation, Fed data show.

Nor does the delaying of those payments make much sense. Consider if you were able to purchase a home or plan for your own retirement through investing earlier in life. The time value of money would make us all richer, if these assets were put to productive use sooner, rather than channels of consumption in retirement.

  • 2
    This answer needs to be backed-up. Please edit to either affirm your expertise on the subject or include references to sources to back-up these claims and arguments. Commented May 24, 2017 at 18:57
  • @indigochild hard to tell what's common knowledge around here and what isn't, but in any event, referenced.
    – user9790
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 19:26

Is it a concession made by a government in an attempt to 'pander' to older voters, who generally have a higher propensity to vote?

Pretty much. See here.

is it considered an issue (perhaps unfair to younger generations...)

It's definitely considered an issue by the Labour Party as our elder brethren tend to vote Conservative (see the link above).

Whether it's unfair is, of course a matter of opinion. Unless there is evidence that the 18-24 cohort are being prevented from voting, there's a strong argument to say that it's their bed they're making (and presumably staying in /s).

  • 1
    The question asks about democracies in general, but this answer appears to be specific to the UK. Do you have anything on the rest of the world? Commented May 24, 2017 at 14:49
  • "staying in" is questionable. Take a glance at emigration trends from the national office of statistics some time.
    – Vality
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 19:23
  • @Vality Not sure I follow. Emigration of British citizens is trending down. Net emigration of British citizens is ~60k/year. I can't find any breakdown by age. Currently there are about 6mm 18-24 year old. So, unless you have reason to believe that everyone leaving is young and everyone coming back is old, I don't think emigration is a significant factor.
    – Alex
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 9:06

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