Today’s post is a Fergus-Free Zone. Don’t worry, we will return to him in due course.
Today’s Guardian carries an opinion poll with a narrow but clear lead for Leave. What is striking, as the paper makes clear, is the difference in opinions between age groups. 53% of 18-34 year-olds support Remain, while 54% of 55 years+ support Leave.
Most worrying for Remain, while 51% of the younger age group say they plan to vote, among the older voters that figure rises to 81%. And the move to individual voter registration has led to disproportionate numbers of young people dropping off the electoral register, while older voters are more likely to turn out to vote. We have already seen this effect as older people form a voting bloc that makes touching pensioners’ benefits like free TV licences, bus passes or pension rises politically impossible.
There are, of course, massive caveats about this, and every other poll at this stage. Predictions of turnout are notoriously unreliable. There is a very long way to go in the campaign, and experience of referendums elsewhere suggests that opinions tend to harden in favour of the status quo as the vote approaches. Reasons for choosing safety first appear to be more compelling than a leap in the dark.
Nevertheless, it appears possible that pro-European young people will find themselves bundled towards Brexit by their older relations. That worries me, and I think it should worry you regardless of how you intend to vote in the referendum. If you plan to vote Remain, clearly you should be worried about losing. But even if you plan to vote Leave, you should be worried that the legitimacy of your victory will be undermined by poor turnout from other groups. And you should be very worried about the backlash from people who think they’ve been robbed: young people who will disproportionately bear the burdens of Brexit. Europe may join housing as a flashpoint.
Be afraid, be very afraid, of setting up conflict between the generations.