I’ve been working with a team of radio producers, Vicky Spratt and Lewis Goodall, on a documentary for BBC Radio 4 called Generation Right. We’re looking at the political views of our generation — Generation Y – to see whether today’s twentysomethings are a new breed of right-wingers.
Compared to their predecessors, ‘Gen Y’ have shifted to the right on economic issues, while they have slid to the left socially (with more progressive views on homosexuality, women’s rights and immigration). In our programme we set out to explore why.
An analysis of research by pollsters IPSOS Mori suggests that unlike generations before us, Gen Y have a much more individualised outlook and a greater sense of personal responsibility. Take benefits for example. Polling analysis suggests that Gen Y are not particularly keen on spending more money on the poor. However they also don’t believe someone owes them a living.
Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of IPSOS Mori’s social research team, suggests that because Gen Y haven’t had a lot of help themselves – with student loans, tuition fees, housing – it has conditioned them to believe that they need to look after themselves. But as well as these short-term political factors, there’s also the question of underlying social trends – ones that promote individualism, from consumerism to technology.
It’s easy to think that social networks have made everyone far more social. But that’s not necessarily true. ‘Revolutions in technology make it very easy to connect, but connect in a peer-to-peer way,’ says Dr Bernie Hogan, a sociologist from the Oxford Internet Institute.
‘It’s not “I’m connecting to this group”, it’s “I’m connecting to this individual”. It leads to a sense of us being both very “networked” rather than very “grouped”, and very networked as individuals,’ he says. Hogan also points out that people who use social media don’t log on collectively and negotiate collectively. Instead, Person A interacts with Person B and those specific relationships are what matters.
Greater consumer choice also gives scope for greater individualisation. But what impact could this have on the political landscape when Gen Y becomes a bigger force in the polling stations?
‘There is a natural conservative constituency amongst younger people that is there to be won by the Conservative party. They naturally believe in a smaller state with lower taxes and a shrunken welfare system and that’s something that the Conservatives could benefit from,’ says Toby Young.
But Mark Kidson of the British Youth Council argues that the views of Gen Y aren’t aligned with the menu set out by any one political party. In around 30 years Generation Y will have taken the reins of power. At that stage, they will be in the age bracket most likely to vote. One wonders what changes Westminster will be willing to make in order to woo them.