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Guest Lecture: Dr Elizabeth McLeayImagining Politics when over half the population is over 40

Page updated 20 Sep 2007

Key Messages from Dr Elizabeth McLeay's Guest Lecture presented at the Treasury on 18 February 2003.

Dr Elizabeth McLeay

Victoria University

Key Messages

Predictions about future political trends are particularly difficult in New Zealand, because New Zealand lacks systematic data on political attitudes. It is, nevertheless, possible to form some tentative conclusions by drawing on fragmentary data from a number of sources.

1. How does New Zealand's political culture regard older people?

Surveys generally find that the majority of New Zealanders believe that the government has a role in providing a decent standard of living to older people. It is difficult to tell, however, whether people are expressing self interest, or whether they see old age support as a conscience issue.

Members of Parliament have traditionally been older on average than the population as a whole. If current trends continue, however, the age gap will become increasingly narrow. Some have speculated that this will lead to MPs' priorities being more closely aligned with those of the population.

2. How will ageing affect political participation?

The relationship between age and support for any particular political party is complex. Over the past 20 years, for instance, political parties have seen their support among older voters fall or rise substantially from one election to the next. Data from 1996 also show that the 'young' elderly can show different patterns of support from the 'old' elderly.

Some surveys find that older voters have more 'traditionalist' attitudes, such as disapproval of pornography and respect for authority. It is difficult to tell, however, whether these are age or generational effects.

Around the world, older people are more likely to vote than younger people.

3. How will ageing affect the policy agenda?

Discussions of population ageing often focus exclusively on negative consequences. A few issues such as health and superannuation often crowd out other issues such as life-long learning.

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