Press Story

  • New analysis of every election since 1964 finds rapidly growing turnout gap between the haves and the have nots
  • High earners, university graduates, homeowners and older people all have more sway over policy making
  • Unequal policy responsiveness risks stoking populism, warns IPPR

The next election is set to be the most unequal for more than six decades, due to a ballooning turnout gap at elections and the growing role of money in British politics, according to a new report from IPPR.

Detailed analysis of every election since the 1960s shows a stark rise in the turnout gap based on age, income, education, class, home ownership and ethnicity.

IPPR finds that nine in every 10 people in the top third of the income distribution voted in the two most recent general elections compared to only seven in the bottom third.

In the 1960s, the turnout gap between social groups was negligible. By the 2010s, it had grown to 18 per cent between the top and bottom third of earners; to 23 per cent between renters and homeowners; to 15 per cent between those who did and did not attend university; and to 28 per cent between those who are 61 or older and 18-24 year-olds.

The bottom third of earners are around three times more likely to say it is not worth voting than the top third. The report finds a similar difference between those with and without university degrees. Renters are also more than twice as likely as homeowners to say it is not worth voting.

Differences in who speaks in UK democracy extend far beyond voting. Almost one in three university graduates has directly contacted a politician, while around one in 10 has joined a protest or lawful public demonstration. By comparison, only one in seven people without degrees have contacted a politician and fewer than one in 25 has joined a protest.

One consequence of these growing gaps is that government policy is more responsive to the preferences of the well-heeled than of the worse off.

The outsize influence of the better off is one way to explain the puzzle of rising inequality in UK democracy, according to IPPR. Income and wealth inequality has grown and remains high, despite a majority of the lower two third of earners supporting greater redistribution consistently for the last three decades, compared on a minority among the top third, according to new analysis.

This reality is compounded by a concentration in party memberships, political donors and career politicians:

  • The number of MPs entering parliament from working-class jobs has fallen twice as quickly as the share of the public working in similar jobs. Only 7 per cent of MPs can be considered working class compared with 34 per cent of working-age adults, according to IPPR estimates.
  • The proportion of the electorate that is a member of a political party has fallen from around one in 12 citizens in the 1950s to around one in 50 today, finds IPPR. Another study estimates 86 per cent of Conservative and 77 per cent of Labour party members are middle class (see Note 4).
  • Just 10 per cent of donations – those from the largest donors - account for more than half of the total received by each of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties a study found (see Note 4). There is also evidence of a strengthening relationship between campaign spending and votes won in the UK, and growing concentration of wealthy donors over the past decade, especially for the Conservative party.

IPPR says the UK risks entering a ‘doom loop’ where policy is becoming ever less responsive to citizens, in turn stoking populism and further undermining faith in democracy.

The think tank says snapping out of it will require a new wave of constitutional reform, laser-focused on levelling up power and influence in the UK. The report argues the UK’s “democratic machine needs rewiring” if living standards and life expectancy are to start improving across the board again.

Dr Parth Patel, senior research fellow at IPPR, said:

“For the first time since the birth of democracy in this country, people do not expect their children to be better off than them.

“In the face of insecurity, people naturally want control - to take back control of a political process that has allowed wages to fall after flatlining for a decade, and locked generations out of owning a home.

“There are real differences in who gets their way in our democracy. Policy is more responsive to preferences of the well-heeled than of the worse off, and people know this – but it seems to be a blind spot for most politicians.

“No matter who’s in power, our democratic machine needs rewiring. If people are once again to be authors of their own lives, and to feel secure, they must sense their influence in the collective decision-making endeavour that is democracy.”


Dr Parth Patel, the report’s author, is available for interview


David Wastell, Director of News and Communications: 07921 403651

Liam Evans, Senior Digital and Media Officer: 07419 365334


  1. The IPPR paper, Who decides? Power, influence and inequality in British democracy by Dr Parth Patel, will be published at:
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request

  4. Data used for IPPR analysis is from British Election Study, British Social Attitudes and European Social Survey datasets. The two studies mentioned are Bale, Webb and Poletti (2019) Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century, and Routledge and Cagé, J. (2020) The price of democracy: How money shapes politics and what to do about it, Harvard University Press.
  5. IPPR (the Institute for Public Policy Research) is an independent charity working towards a fairer, greener, and more prosperous society. We are researchers, communicators, and policy experts creating tangible progressive change, and turning bold ideas into common sense realities. Working across the UK, IPPR, IPPR North, and IPPR Scotland are deeply connected to the people of our nations and regions, and the issues our communities face. We have helped shape national conversations and progressive policy change for more than 30 years. From making the early case for the minimum wage and tackling regional inequality, to proposing a windfall tax on energy companies, IPPR’s research and policy work has put forward practical solutions for the crises facing society.