I was looking through the wikipedia article for the 2017 general election in the UK, and found these numbers provided by a YouGov poll that broke down the voting results by demographic.

Most of the results were fairly unsurprising (older people and homeowners tend to support Conservatives etc.) but I found this demographic breakdown very surprising.

YouGov work status statistics 2017 UK GE

It shows that, except for retired people, every demographic based on work status voted in a higher percentage for Labour than for the Conservatives.

As it only provides percentages and not numbers, it's hard to get a sense of how large the turnout of each of these demographics was, but it's still hard to believe that the election was swung to a Conservative victory based solely on people who were retired.

The difference between retired people voting Conservative or Labour wasn't even the largest gap: whilst retired people voted for the Tories by a 39 point margin, students majoritively voted for Labour by a 45 point margin. The smallest margin out of every other demographic was part-time workers at a 4 point lead for Labour, which still seems like a fairly significant lead.

Based on the UK's OADR from 2016 (Number of people over 65 for every 1000 aged 16-64) in 2016 of 285, the proportion of the UK voting population that was retired in 2017 would have been around 22%-23%.

Whilst this isn't going to provide an exact number (data was taken a year before GE, UK citizens aged 16 & 17 are included in the data but cannot vote, some people retire before age 65) it should give a fair approximate, and it's unlikely that the retired population would have been over 25% of the entire voting population.

The same poll also gives a breakdown of the percentage of eligible voters within each age group that turned out to vote, and shows that older voters turned out more than younger ones. However, I still find it incomprehensible that there was enough of a turnout of retired people to override the numbers of voters in every other work status.

Is there any other evidence besides this YouGov poll that supports this data? Was the Conservative vote share victory in the 2017 election entirely due to retired people voting for them?

  • 8
    Minor pedantic point: A majority by definition is greater than all other options combined, e.g. greater than 50%. A plurality is when a choice has the most votes. Labour has a plurality in all categories but Retired, but only has a majority in Student, Unemployed, and Other.
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 12:22
  • In 2016 18% of the population were 65 and older (i.e. retired). Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 18:16
  • No other pollster has done a breakdown like that, so who knows if it makes any sense. Both yougov and ipsos have done a breakdown by social grade (ab, c1, c2, de) in which Conservatives came ahead in most categories, but this can't easily be used to check the yougov breakdown by occupation... because of the complicated algorithm used in the social grade breakdown (it involves not just the subject, but their head of household as well). Pollsters do agree that age is the new main divide though... but it's not clear if pensioners are the cutoff. Yougov put the crossover at age 47. Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 20:11
  • N.B. "The average incomes of retired households are now higher than those of working ones, once housing costs are accounted for. Small wonder that they want to keep the status quo. [...] elderly folk have also been coddled by the Conservatives—most obviously by the “triple lock” on the state pension, which David Cameron, Mrs May’s predecessor, implemented in 2011. It ensures that pensions rise in line with whichever is highest: inflation, earnings or 2.5%." economist.com/britain/2017/05/04/… Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 20:44
  • @MartinSchröder That was supposed to say "voting population". I've changed it now. Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


At first sight, I agree it looks a little puzzling, but consider that the Students were the only group that substantially preferred Labour ( 64% to 19% ), and there are not so many of them ( 3,092 students vs. 12,475 retired, weighted figures ), and their turnout was lower ( 67% to 80% retired ).

Of the other groups, the Labour lead is relatively small ( 45% to 39% for the largest other category, Full Time ).

Overall, the Conservative vote share victory ( 44% to 41% for Labour ) certainly wasn't entirely due to retired people voting conservative, but retired people were certainly an important factor in the result. They voted 63% Conservative, 25% Labour, and they had the highest turnout ( 80% ) of all the categories.

I worked out these figures ( on the weighted sample numbers ) to show how the Conservative victory came about.

C = Conservative, L = Labour.
Students:    3092 x 67% = 2072.   C:383     L: 1,325  =  L + 942

Retired:    12476 x 80% = 9981.   C: 6,288  L: 2,395  =  C + 3,892

Full time:  21188 x 69% = 14,620. C: 5,701  L: 6,579  =  L + 878

Part time:   7722 x 66% = 5,097.  C: 2,038  L: 2,242  =  L + 204

Unemployed:  2172 x 45% = 977.    C: 273    L: 528    =  L + 255

Not working: 4195 x 57% = 2,381.  C: 860    L: 1,143  =  L + 283

Other:       1771 x 57% = 1,009   C: 302    L: 554    =  L + 252

Total Labour margin in groups they won: 2,814
Total Conservative margin in Retired:   3,892

Overall difference is C + 1,078

This margin is 2% of the whole weighted sample ( including those who did not vote ), or 3% of those who voted (36,137). The large swing to C in the retired group is enough to outweigh the smaller swings in the other categories.

  • 1
    Minor point: "swing" usually refers to the last election as baseline. But it's also true that the Conservatives gained ground in 2017 compared to 2015 among the 65+ age bracket. They had a +24 lead in 2015 in that age group, increased to +36 in 2017. Their lead in the 55-64 group also increased from +6 to +17 between these two elections. This lead pollsters to conclude the UK is increasingly polarized by age bbc.com/news/uk-politics-40331136 Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 20:30

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