Have you been paying attention? How Brits have engaged with the general election campaign

Top of the charts

Morning all,

Has anyone else noticed the difference between this election campaign and the parliament that preceded it? When they write the history books, I am confident they will describe the 2019–2024 parliament as ­nuts. We left the European Union, suffered the biggest pandemic in a century, saw the biggest war on European soil since 1945, and witnessed the return of double-digit inflation. I am pretty sure no one had on their bingo card “It will become illegal to sit on a park bench” or “our free-market-loving Prime Minister will spend £56 billion subsidising energy bills”.

By comparison, I think it’s fair to say the election campaign can be summarised as knackered: we could all do with a lie down. But while this election may have been all style vibes over substance, we’ve been working hard to provide some policy and issue grit with our election briefings, which have all now been published as of this morning (well done, team RF).

It’s been thirty-seven days since Rishi Sunak stood in the pouring rain to announce the election, and this time next week we should know who will be leading our next Government. We at RF have been doing our best to see that the election period is informed by facts, and focused on the issues that matter. So we thought we’d spend our last TOTC before polling day checking whether anyone is, in fact, listening. It’s also good to reflect that, although there are big differences in how parts of our society think about politics and this election, there are also issues that unite us.

I hope you enjoy the last weekend of the campaign. We’re on holiday next week, so TOTC will return on Friday 12th July.

See you on the other side,


Interim Chief Executive
Resolution Foundation

Is anybody actually listening?

Maybe the most over-used phrase of the campaign is “cut-through” (though “all bets are off” has emerged as a late contender). Political news junkies may have eagerly devoured the manifestos last week, but best-sellers they were not.

YouGov’s new ‘cut-through tracker’ attempts to quantify the stories that the general public are actually absorbing, and it makes for revealing reading. The story with the single greatest cut-through at any point was the tragic death of Michael Mosley, which had consistently reached 30 per cent of the public after the first week of June. The campaign has been a regular background hum for some, with roughly one-in-five voters saying they’d heard a lot about it throughout the month.

The two greatest moments of campaign cut-through? Rishi’s early departure from the D-Day commemorations, and the election betting scandal. Scandals aside, this time last week nearly three-times as many people said they’d heard about the missing teenager in Tenerife than had heard about the party manifestos. The parties may be shouting about their plans for change – but it appears that few people are hearing them.

Have I got news feeds for you…

So, what are people hearing, if it’s not the main political parties? Every election since 2010 has been hailed as the “first social media election” but it’s clear that media habits *have* changed, and those shifts are most visible along age lines.

Younger people just don’t watch news programmes on TV, and rarely pick up a newspaper. Instead, they’re getting news from social media and online. More than four-in-five of 16-24-year-olds get some of their news from online outlets, but fewer than two-in-five people over the age of 75 are using these platforms. The age gap is even bigger for using social media: only 16 per cent of people aged 75 and over accessing news on these platforms, as opposed to 71 per cent of 16-24-year-olds. NB if you want to follow RF on social media, you’ll find us on X and Instagram.

Radio treads the true middle ground, with access to radio news peaking among the middle-aged. There’s a reason why centrist dads are trying to monopolise the 21st century’s answer to radio stations, aka podcasts. It’s hard to imagine these divergent news consumption habits (as typified by that viral article) aren’t having some effect on voting habits – more on that shortly…

Call me Dave

These increasingly online generations will be influenced by their ballot papers as well as their newsfeeds. Who do they actually get to vote for? Well, this will be a record-breaking election in at least one sense, with more individuals on the ballot than ever before. 4,515 peoples’ names will appear on ballot papers across the land next Thursday morning, 365 more than the previous record which was set in 2010.

But which names are these exactly? Using data collated by Democracy Club, we totted up the most frequently occurring, and a certain trend emerged…

There are more Daves (104) running for election than there are Sarahs (43), Helens (26) and Dans (23) combined. Could the lack of cut-through for political messaging throughout this campaign have anything to do with a level of out-of-touch-ness exemplified by the proliferation of Ians running for election? I shall leave that up to you to decide.

Who’s got a polling card?

Much hay has been made in recent years about age becoming a stronger predictor of vote than class (we wrote about it here). So, the age distribution of voter registration is eyebrow raising. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pension-age voter who *isn’t* registered to vote, with an impressive 96 per cent of the 65+ population present on the electoral roll. At the same time, a scant 60 per cent of 18-19-year-olds are registered, and even among the 25-34-year-olds, one in four voters are not registered.

That might be down to political disengagement (see first chart), but housing tenure may also play a part. As you’re all aware, soaring house prices and stagnant wages have put home ownership out of reach of more and more young households, forcing them to spend longer than ever in the private rental sector. And people who rent move more frequently, dropping off the electoral register in the process. As you can see above – 95 per cent of owner occupiers are registered to vote, but only 65 per cent of private renters.

But also maybe, just maybe, the kids aren’t quite galvanised at the notion of putting another John, Chris or Ian into the House of Commons.

What next?

Having dwelled for a moment on the distinctions that exist between us, it’s always helpful to remember the things that bring us together as well. Research from Nuffield College, Oxford has revealed that growing cohorts of middle-aged and older Brits are sympathetic to the ever-mounting challenges facing younger adults, and even support state investment in them.

That sympathy is shown to be most pronounced among people with family ties to younger adults who are struggling financially. Only 39 per cent of people aged 40-59 across the general population are supportive of prioritising affordable housing, but this rises to 47 per cent among people whose younger relatives are struggling. These relationships appear to be motivating older adults to support policies that benefit younger generations, with the possibility of punishing parties whose policies do not at the polling booth.

Whether this dynamic will have a marked effect on polling day remains to be seen – but its worth remembering amid the ever-escalating attack-lines and political tension, we ultimately have each other’s backs. Britain is a collective effort – let’s get things back on track shall we?