Academics abandon Tories

May 11, 2001

Conservative Party support on campus has slumped for the third election in a row, according to an ICM poll for The THES .

Only 5 per cent of the 501 academics polled said they intended to vote Conservative on June 7. This is down from the 8 per cent who said they would vote Conservative in 1997 and 15 per cent in 1992.

Of the 3 who expressed a voting intention, Labour polled 65 per cent (up from 64 per cent in 1997), the Tories 7 per cent (down from 10 per cent in 1997 and 17 per cent in 1992) and the Liberal Democrats 22 per cent (up from 21 per cent in 1997 and in 1992).

It will disconcert the shadow education team that half of those intending to vote Conservative disagree with the party's big idea to free universities from reliance on state funding for teaching by giving them one-off endowments of perhaps £1 billion each. Just 42 per cent agreed. Overall, only 13 per cent of academics backed endowments; 69 per cent did not.

This will be particularly galling for the Tory team since higher education policies have become more important in determining how academics will vote. Overall, 82 per cent of all academics polled said higher education policies were a key factor in deciding how they will vote. This is up from 58 per cent in 1997 and 57 per cent in 1992.

Although academics are more likely to vote for Labour than for any other party, there are some signs of disillusion after Tony Blair's first four years in power.

Taking all 501 respondents as the base, just 42 per cent said they intended to vote Labour. This is down from 51 per cent in 1997 and 50 per cent in 1992. The fall may be explained in part by a doubling of the proportion of academics who were undecided at the time they were polled by ICM between March 26 and April 6. A total of 82 academics, or 16 per cent, were undecided compared with 8 per cent in 1997 and 4 per cent in 1992.

The poll also shows that many of those who said they planned to vote Labour were worried by key government higher education policies.

Nearly 90 per cent of the 212 professed Labour voters agreed that undergraduate tuition fees, introduced in 1998, deter enrolment. This compared with 83 per cent of Tory supporters and 86 per cent of Liberal Democrat backers.

Among Labour supporters, more than 80 per cent agreed that means-tested grants for undergraduates, scrapped in 1999, should be re-introduced across the United Kingdom. This compared with 79 per cent of Conservative supporters and 90 per cent of Liberal Democrat backers.

Nearly 90 per cent of Labour supporters thought that student hardship was harming academic achievement. This compared with 83 per cent of Tory supporters and 96 per cent of those who backed the Liberal Democrats.

More than half (56 per cent) of Labour supporters thought that academic standards had declined because of the expansion of student numbers. This compared with 88 per cent of Tory supporters and 68 per cent of those intending to vote Liberal Democrat.

These concerns may not stop most academics voting Labour in June, but such simmering fears could boil over in a second Labour administration when any deterrent effects will be more obvious, as will any negative effects of the government's policy of continued higher education expansion.

Of those expressing a voting intention, lecturers in arts and education faculties were most strongly Labour - 83 per cent and 74 per cent respectively plan to vote for the ruling party.

Academics in post-1992 universities tended to be more pro-Labour - 70 per cent of them support Labour as against 61 per cent in older institutions. There was more support for the Liberal Democrats in the old universities compared with new, 26 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

Election 2001 index page

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