Tory party members: The tiny segment of the population who get to choose the next prime minister

SEVENOAKS, ENGLAND - JULY 22: Conservative Leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak campaigns with Tory activists on July 22, 2022 in Sevenoaks, England. Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak is running against current foreign secretary Liz Truss to become leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. Sunak has promised “a return to traditional Conservative economic values” and will cut taxes only after inflation is under control. (Photo by Lia Toby/Getty Images)
Conservative leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak addresses party members in Sevenoaks on Friday. (Getty Images) (Lia Toby via Getty Images)

For the second time in three years, less than 1% of the UK population will be electing the next prime minister.

It is the roughly 200,000 Conservative Party members who will be deciding between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss in the party’s latest leadership contest, with the winner becoming PM by default. It was the same in 2019, when members chose Boris Johnson over Jeremy Hunt.

Given the maximum five-year term a government can enjoy, it means Sunak or Truss may not have to face the wider public in a general election until January 2025 - though they could decide to call a poll earlier than that.

For now, though, the identity of the next PM is in the hands of the members, so who are these people? Yahoo News UK takes a look…

Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership candidate, Liz Truss speaks to the press during a visit to the children's charity, Little Miracles in Peterborough, to speak about the cost-of-living pressures and her vision to ease the burden on families. Picture date: Thursday July 21, 2022. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss on the campaign trail in Peterborough on Sunday. (PA Images via Getty Images) (Stefan Rousseau - PA Images via Getty Images)

Who are the Tory party members?

First of all, the exact size of the current membership is unknown, but experts expect it to have grown from the approximately 160,000 individuals it stood at during the 2019 leadership election to roughly 200,000.

Each person pays up to £25 a year in order to participate in Conservative party politics.

In terms of demographics, January 2020 research by the Queen Mary University Party Members Project suggested Conservative members are more male, older, more concentrated in the South and more well off than the general population.

Some 58% are aged over 50, 39% of whom are older than 65. According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, the median age of the UK population is 40

Of the total membership, 63% are male. According to the ONS, the UK is 49% male.

Age ranges of the Tory party membership. (Yahoo News UK)
Age ranges of the Tory party membership. (Yahoo News UK)
Nearly two-thirds of the Tory membership are males. (Yahoo News UK)
Nearly two-thirds of the Tory membership are males. (Yahoo News UK)

The membership is concentrated in London and the South of England, with 56% living in those areas. Just 6% of members live in Scotland.

Regions where Tory Party members live. (Yahoo News UK)
Regions where Tory party members live. (Yahoo News UK)

Four out of five Tory members are in the social grade ABC1, which is used to denote middle class. According to YouGov, 57% of Britons are in the ABC1 category.

Tory Party members by social grade. (Yahoo News UK)
Tory party members by social grade. (Yahoo News UK)

What do Tory Party members think?

According to research, Conservative members are distinct from the general population in their overwhelming support for Brexit, with 76% backing Leave.

Support for Brexit among Tory members. (Yahoo News UK)
Support for Brexit among Tory members. (Yahoo News UK)

When it comes to their priorities for the next prime minister, Conservative members consider sorting the cost of living crisis (43%), growing the economy and keeping unemployment low (32%) and stopping illegal English Channel crossings as the three issues they are most passionate about, according to polling by Opinium.

The focus on the cost of living tallies with the wider public, with Ipsos research last month finding 40% of Britons cite it as their biggest concern.

The issue Tory members care most about (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)
The issue Tory members care most about (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)

Despite the leadership contest focusing largely on the issue of tax cuts, party members are not necessarily ardent tax cutters.

Only 29% of members, according to Opinium research, want to reduce tax and spend less on public services, while 38% want to keep taxes and public spending around the same as it is now.

Tax views of the Conservative membership. (Yahoo News UK)
Tax views of the Conservative membership. (Yahoo News UK)

In terms of who they are likely to pick as leaders, party members currently favour Truss, according to the latest YouGov research.

Some 49% of party members surveyed said they will vote for the foreign secretary, compared to 31% for ex-chancellor Sunak - while 15% are undecided and 5% say they won't vote.

Members are expected to receive postal ballots by 5 August and will then have up to a month to make up their minds before the ballot shuts at 5pm on 2 September. The winner of the contest will be announced on 5 September.

It will mean the next PM will have been decided by an unrepresentative segment of the wider population, according to Prof Tim Bale, who led the Queen Mary University membership research.

Watch: Sunak says evidence suggests Tories would lose next election under Truss

Read more: Not obsessed with politics? Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss' plans explained

"Conservative Party members are far from being a microcosm of the UK's population," he said.

"Compared to the rest of us, they're much more likely to be male, to be white, to be reasonably well-off, and to be middle aged or elderly. They're also very concentrated in southern England.

"Critics are bound to observe that it's bad enough that the next prime minister will be chosen by [a very small proportion of voters], but the fact that they are so unrepresentative as well makes it, if anything, even worse."