'Campus vote' could count

April 8, 2005

Higher education voters could swing marginal seats in the May general election

The fate of at least ten parliamentary constituencies could rest in the hands of students and academics in the coming general election.

The Times Higher has identified marginal seats where the "campus vote" has the potential to oust or retain the sitting MP - whether Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat.

Eight of the ten most vulnerable seats are held by Labour. Three of these seats - Selby, Cardiff Central and Durham - are held by backbench tuition-fees rebels and a fourth - Bristol West - by an MP who abstained when the Government's reforms were put to the Commons vote.

But the Tories will face a challenge from Labour in a marginal seat they hold - Canterbury - while the Lib Dems will come under pressure from the Tories in Colchester, one of their two seats in the East of England.

Six of the ten seats are Tory targets, two are targets for the Lib Dems and one is a Labour target, while the last is a three-way marginal.

But the potency of the campus vote will depend partly on turnout and whether one or more issues has enough political resonance with students and staff. Opinion polls conducted on campuses for The Times Higher by OpinionPanel Research have predicted a relatively high student turnout. On a ten-point scale, 62 per cent of respondents rated their chance of voting at between eight and ten.

Simon Henig, senior politics lecturer at Sunderland University and co-author of the Politico's Guide to the General Election 2005 , said:

"Students and university employees could have a crucial bearing on a significant number of marginal seats, particularly now the election looks likely to be held during term time.

"But whether the student and academic vote will sway the outcome hinges on a number of factors: where students are registered to vote, whether they will vote at all, and whether there is an issue that will push them to vote in the same way."

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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