‘Cleggmania’, fees and the student vote

Lib Dem leader’s success in televised debates and party’s stance on tuition fees yield upturn in support. Melanie Newman reports

April 30, 2010

The televised debates between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have boosted student support for the Liberal Democrats, new research shows.

A poll of more than 1,000 students by Opinionpanel Research conducted after the first two leaders’ debates found that half of those planning to vote back the Lib Dems.

Support for the party has almost doubled since the start of the campaign, although the results do not take into account last night’s third and final debate.

Opinionpanel attributed the growth in student support for the Lib Dems to the initial televised debates, in which the party’s leader, Mr Clegg, performed well.

About 66 per cent of the students polled say they saw at least some of the debates and 40 per cent say the events helped them to decide how to vote.

Of the 14 per cent of respondents who say they had changed allegiances after watching the debates, almost all switched to the Lib Dems, with about 33 per cent moving from the Conservatives, 25 per cent from Labour and 18 per cent from having been undecided.

Almost 25 per cent of students polled rate Mr Clegg highly, compared with 7 per cent at the start of the election campaign. Only 11 per cent say they “didn’t know” how they would rate the Lib Dem leader, compared with 29 per cent at the start.

The change for Mr Brown was less dramatic, with the proportion rating him highly shifting from 8 per cent at the beginning of the campaign to 10 per cent this week.

Support for Mr Cameron remained static at 7 per cent.

“The extent of the change is particularly important given the size of the undergraduate population (1. million),” Opinionpanel said.

However, turnout among students is traditionally low, with about 22 per cent not registered to vote according to Electoral Commission statistics.

The National Union of Students suggested a growing awareness of the parties’ position on university tuition fees could be responsible for the shift.

Mr Clegg has vowed to scrap the fees over six years, whereas neither Labour nor the Conservatives have revealed their position.

In addition, more than 66 per cent of Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidates have signed an NUS pledge to oppose any increase in tuition fees in the next Parliament. A large number of Labour candidates have also signed up (212), while only 15 Tory hopefuls have put their names to the pledge.

Aaron Porter, NUS president-elect, said: “Lib Dem candidates are clearly benefiting from their commitments to oppose higher fees, as are many from the Labour Party.”

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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