How old is the average Conservative Party member?

Published: 9th Oct 2017

In brief

Claim

The average age of a Conservative Party member is 72.

Conclusion

It’s almost impossible to know exactly. Recent academic research suggests that 57 is probably the best estimate.

"the average age of a Conservative Party member is 72"

The Bow Group, 5 October 2017

Is the average Conservative Party member really 72 years old? It’s almost impossible to know exactly, but 57 is probably the best guess for now.

So reports that the Conservative party is ageing out of existence may be premature, according to large-scale research done by Queen Mary University and YouGov, reported in the Times.

It also found that all major parties have a similar average age, which is in the fifties.

No one really knows the true figure

72 is an estimate used by the Conservative think tank the Bow Group, in a press release published in October. A previous press release in July stated that the average age was 68.

Other sources’ estimates from 2017 have put the figure at 57 and 71. Previous reports have put the figure at 66 and 54 in 2015, 68 and 59 in 2013, 55 in 2009, and 62 in the 1990s.

57 might be a more reliable figure

A post on the Bow Group’s website headlined “The Bow Group finds that the average age of a Conservative Party member is 72” suggested that the Bow Group themselves were responsible for the estimate.

They have clarified that they were not. They told us that "the Bow Group has had sight of a report that is not in the public domain."

It appears to be based on unpublished internal party reports and one or two surveys, according to Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London.

The Bow Group told us they "did independent work in 2013 which came up with a figure of 68" and that this "was based upon reports from senior members of the voluntary party and reports from a wide array of local associations." They told us: "That work suggested that the figure of 71.5 may now be plausible especially given the abolition of the Party's youth wing in the intercerding period."

57 is a better estimate according to Professor Bale and two colleagues at Queen Mary. Their figure is based on a large sample from YouGov which should produce more reliable results. It is the only estimate we have with a published methodology.

The Bow Group doubt this estimate: "Based on our experiences and data we feel it is very unlikely that the figure of 57 is accurate." They also point to the recent growth of Labour's younger membership and argue that the age gap of only 4 years that the Queen Mary researchers found is surprising.

There are no official figures from the Conservative Party.

Labour and Lib Dem members aren’t much younger

Although 57 is heading towards the retirement age, SNP, Labour, and Lib Dem members aren’t much younger. Their members’ average ages are 54, 53 and 52 respectively, according to the Queen Mary research.

What this tells us is that “People who join political parties are abnormal”, Professor Bale says.

Conservative members do not look very different to the other major UK parties’-they tend to be older, whiter and wealthier than the average population.

Always a moving target

Any estimate “can only ever be a snapshot of a moving target” as membership bases are constantly shifting and always hard to measure, Professor Bale points out.

The Queen Mary team estimate that the average Conservative member’s age has increased from 54 to 57 since the 2015 general election.

So the average age of party members is always hard to pin down. The estimate of 72 is not definitive, and 57 may well be closer to the mark.

Update 10 October 2017

Shortly after we published this piece, the Bow Group responded to our request for information, and confirmed the 72 estimate comes from unpublished internal party research. We are still trying to clarify more information about the methodology behind it.

Update 11 October 2017

We updated this piece with further information from the Bow Group.


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