As we pick over the bones of the recent Conservative Party Conference, there is much talk about the fact that age has replaced class as the most relevant indicator of voting behaviour.
The catalyst for this interest in voter demographics was of course the June election result. A YouGov poll identified that:
• 61.5% of under-40s voted Labour, whereas just 23% voted Conservative
• 47% of 50-59 year-olds voted Conservative vs. 37% Labour
• 58% of 60-69 year-olds voted Conservative vs. 27% Labour
• 69% of 70+ year-olds voted Conservative vs. 19% Labour
The implication of these data is that the Conservatives need to win over the youth if they are to stay relevant into the future. This could suggest that there's a need to target youths as a distinct group in their own right, separate from the loyal oldies.
This explains all the discussion and policy announcements at the Conservative Party Conference, relating to tackling the cost of living, housing and student debt. It also explains the stated need to 'educate' younger voters about the nation-ruining realities of Socialism.
I only hope that those advising Theresa May at this time do not simply go for this easy option; focusing their efforts on a suite of tactical policies to try and 'win over' the various voter blocks according to their apparent differences. Rather, the Party should spend the majority of its time and effort explaining the very real benefits of capitalism and free market economics. This is where they will secure genuine long-term relevance and resonance, across all demographics.
Thankfully, the Manchester Conference also indicated a positive step in the right direction: that the Conservative Party communications team is beginning to treat potential voters as a single 'Conversation Cohort'.
From a Verbalisation perspective, a Conversation Cohort is the name we give to cross-demographic consistency, relating to the way an audience uses and responds to language. It also describes the degree to which this language susceptibility can be a predictor of particular behaviours. This flies in the face of traditional demographic profiling, which typically segments people according to their age, earnings, etc.
Profiling Conversation Cohorts starts from the position of unity: which lexical triggers, traits or responses are common among the entire audience, irrespective of their demographics? For example, there can be much more in common, lexically, between a young and an old voter, than between two young people or two old people.
It is these language triggers and similarities that could provide particularly fertile ground for the Conservative Party, as they set about designing the right policies and communications strategy ahead of the next election.
Understanding the primary Conversation Cohort could enable the party to 'target' potential voters by their language usage in a more empathic way, rather than simply by their age or other demographic differences. This would be a strategy that genuinely unites, rather than segments and divides.
If we examine the concerns and language of the two groups in question - the young who didn't vote for the Conservatives, and the older voters who did - we see (and hear) that there is one common language trigger: topics related to the nature, means and consequences of capitalism.
It doesn't require Sherlock Holmes to work out that the young are attracted to Corbyn, not because they necessarily want a Socialist country or the nationalisation of key industries, but because they feel that the modern world is unfair and stacked against them. Capitalism is not working for these people - not least because they can't actually afford to own capital of their own (in the form of a house). Their lexicon, although weighted towards the aggressive on this topic, is still engaged with the subject.
At the opposite end of the spectrum there are the older voters who have benefited from capitalism and who are now sitting on increasingly valuable capital of their own. They have grown up experiencing the benefits of free market economics. They are habituated to its by-products and benefits. Clearly, their lexical usage will likely weight to more defensive language relating to this topic. Again, it is the topic (either overtly or by association) that is the consistent trigger, irrespective of their differing opinions.
Demographic segmentation would lead you to believe that a two-pronged messaging strategy would be necessary to attract these two distinct target audience groups, with their differing realities and beliefs. But it would be a significant mistake if the Conservatives were to travel down this particular messaging dead end. While the two groups have quite different lived experiences, they are still unified by their awareness of the current 'system'.
A Conversation Cohort assessment would identify that these two distinct demographic clusters are in fact unified by their propensity to respond to the notion of capitalism (albeit negatively or positively depending on their age).
It is only by continuing to treat the Conservative Conversation Cohort as a single entity, that the Conservatives will be able to create and communicate the necessary meta narrative to overcome these demographic clusters. This will allow them to attract all potential voters to the benefits of free market economics / capitalism. To fail in this task threatens much more than the future relevance of the Conservative Party - but rather, the entire engine that drives our employment, entrepreneurial activity, educational attainment, technological innovation, etc.
The Conservatives need to re-establish a unified narrative that explains the benefits of a responsible capitalism. One that aligns with the fairness agenda of younger voters, as well as the more risk-averse agenda of older voters.
The real solution for the Conservative Party over the long term is surely to keep this majority Conversation Cohort front of mind. To unify all demographics around the need to refresh capitalism - rather than to reject it or ring-fence it entirely - and build out from there. To reinvigorate the party's verbal core as the politics of aspiration, industry, commerce... but also of responsibility, whether individual or social.
It is only having established this new Conservative overarching narrative, that the party is then able to genuinely 'walk the talk' with a suite of new policy ideas to tackle the "burning injustices" as defined by Theresa May.