James Johnson is co-founder of JL Partners. He was the Senior Opinion Research and Strategy Adviser to the prime minister 2016-2019.
Mention the next generation and conservatives shudder. On either side of the Atlantic, the same images come to mind: a total disregard for tradition; the abolition of the police; the end of gender; the death of the family. A legion of new political leaders imbibed in hard-left ideology. Avocados and pronouns abound, with not a historical statue in sight.
But the next generation could end up being a lot more conservative than we all think.
It is most marked in the US that Donald Trump is currently leading Joe Biden by one point in the national polls but amongst 18-29-year-olds (Generation, or ‘Gen’, Z), Biden dominates by a margin of 16 points. That is where most analysis ends and the avocado takes start.
But dig deeper into the attitudes of Gen Z and a sharp contrast has developed: between the views of men of that age, and those of women. Amongst male Gen Z’ers, Biden leads by only four points, compared to a huge 33 points amongst younger women.
The differences do not end there. Gen Z American men proudly say they would die fighting for their country if they faced invasion, while Gen Z women are the group most likely to say they would rather surrender and survive.
Can romance paper over the divide? Polling by Change Research on young Americans’ so-called red flags when it comes to dating suggests not. Top of the list for women is if their partner “identifies as a MAGA Republican”. Top of the table for men? If their partner “identifies as a communist”.
Men were also more likely than women to say that saying “Black Lives Matter” is a red flag, and much less likely to consider listening to Joe Rogan or identifying as a conservative as a turn-off.
The same is happening in the UK, albeit at a slower pace. Amongst young women, Labour has a 34-point lead over the Conservatives, by 42 points to eight. But amongst young men that lead is 23 points, in line with Labour’s lead overall.
On more conservative policy positions, younger Brits are leaning right regardless of gender. By a margin of three to one, they think that a tight control over spending should be the government’s main economic priority. Similar proportions say that the government should always be looking for ways to cut tax. More Gen Z’ers than not believe there is too much reliance on welfare and benefits in Britain today.
It does not end there. Young men are twice as likely than young women to think Britain is the greatest country in the world. Both Gen Z men and women say the death penalty is appropriate for some sentences. And – fingers in ears, internationalists – more than half of 18-29 year olds agree the government should always put the needs of British people ahead of others.
Does this mean the young – especially young men – are the saviours of a transatlantic conservative century?
Not if you like booze. Or want them to make babies. Or want them to get a job. A recent study found that the number of American school leavers who have ever tried alcohol is at its lowest ever level. In the 1970s, almost nine in ten school leavers went on dates: that is now barely more than half.
And though conservatives might think it is good news that Gen Z want to see tax come down, they might be more disheartened by their appetite to work in the first place: the share of 17-18 year olds who work for pay has plummeted.
There is something else unique about this generation. Whether right or left, male or female, they are democracy doubters. Polling for Onward by JL Partners found that six in ten Gen Z’ers support the idea of running the UK with a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament/elections”, compared to only 29 per cent of over-55s. Focus groups suggest this is borne out of apathy: “what has democracy done for us?”, they ask with a shrug.
This generation of young men looks up to Elon Musk, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Andrew Tate. It often pays to be sceptical about the influence of very-online influencers on usually not-very-online people. But nine in ten British young men told a recent YouGov poll they are aware of who Andrew Tate is, with one in three openly supportive of his – rampantly misogynist – views.
That means there are five million men in the UK with a positive view of Tate, one million of whom are 18-29 years old.
Much of this is due to the role of social media, as young men turn to easy answers for rejection or loneliness. But elites who have overseen an education crisis for white working-class boys and a decimation of blue-collar jobs should take some blame too.
This is no generation for the making of a Reagan or Thatcher revolution. This is a new cocktail: traditional values mixed with a near-performative patriotism, small-state capitalism blended with a distaste for democracy, the macho gym-goer and the spurned virgin rolled into one.
Conservatives cannot rely on them. The West can’t either. Think of the closest example of a Tate or a Lawrence Fox fan you know. If you don’t know any, think of the two of them. They might boast that they would in one of my polls, but would they really stand there and die for their nation?
Instead, conservatives must stop worrying so much about mass vegetarianism, widespread gender dysphoria, or the end of the family, and turn their attention instead to how to engage the new cadre of young men knocking at the door of democracy.